Everybody wants to take better vacation photos. When I teach my beginner classes and workshops, this is inevitably the number one thing I hear my students say they want to learn. With summer upon us, I thought that now would be a good time to share some tips on things you can do to improve your vacation and travel photos.
1 — It’s not about the gear!
Chase Jarvis, a photographer I greatly admire, wrote a book called “The Best Camera is the One You Have With You.” People ask me all the time what they should buy for an upcoming vacation. The truth is that the biggest, most expensive SLR in the world isn’t going to do the average person any more good than a simple point and shoot or a camera phone. Of course there are always exceptions to this… Your camera phone is pretty useless if you want to go on a safari and photograph lions from 200 meters away or if you are taking the majority of your photographs at nighttime, but generally speaking the camera you already have is probably good enough. Besides, nobody wants to lug around 50+ pounds of gear on their vacation! Keep is small and nimble and you’ll more than likely take more (and better) photos.
2 — Scout Ahead
If you are going to one of those “once in a lifetime” places and you want your photos to be special, spend a little time on Google to get a sense for what you might want to photograph. That said, don’t let your quest for the perfect photograph derail your entire trip. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow…
3 — Find your subject
Too often, and I’m guilty of this as much as the next person, we see a beautiful landscape or see something that looks great to our eye so we snap a quick picture. The problem is that the camera “sees” differently than we do. For example, when I was kayaking down the Grand Canyon I was completely in awe of every turn and bend in the landscape. I can’t tell you how many photos I took that look exactly like “a river with tall rocks.” Before you take the shot, think about what the subject of the photos is going to be. A landscape by itself might be pretty to look at, but what is it about that landscape that you want to draw your viewer’s eye to?
4 — Have your camera ready!
Your camera isn’t doing any good if it is always in your bag. Some of my favorite photographs are spontaneous moments that I never would have captured had my camera not been at my hip and ready. If you are using a smartphone or a point & shoot then you already have it at your fingertips. If you are carrying around a DSLR I recommend using something like a BlackRapid strap so you can wear it across your body, both reducing the chance of it falling off your shoulder and of it hurting your neck from carrying it all day long.
5 — Avoid the “postcard shots.” Tell a story instead.
Seriously, if you want a postcard just buy one. The person making it probably spent days or weeks waiting for the perfect weather and just the right moment to take the shot. Is that really how you want to spend your vacation? Your vacation photos should be about your trip and the things you did. Nobody needs to see another boring photo of the statue in the museum. Instead, show off something that you did and that made the trip special for you! Even a bad photograph that tells a great story is better than a beautiful photograph that has been taken a million times.
6 — Don’t forget about editing and post-processing!
When you come back from vacation you’ll probably have hundreds or thousands of photos. Rather than sharing every single photo with your friends and family, narrow them down to just your favorite. If you are on a Mac, use iPhoto. On a PC, Google’s Picasa is a great free program that lets you sort, filter, and make basic adjustments to your photos. For more advanced photographers, Photoshop Elements is a great tool that is easy to learn and reasonably priced. (Note: I teach the Photoshop Elements workshop at Washington School of Photography)
7 — Do something with your photos
Now that you have all these wonderful photos, don’t just let them sit on your computer, do something with them! Here are a few thoughts to get you started:
- Make a book: Anyone who has worked with me knows how strongly I feel that photographs should be printed. Since you’ll probably have 50-75 great photographs that you want to share, consider making a book using a service like Blurb.com. They make good quality coffee-table style books at reasonable prices and they have incredibly easy to use layout tools. I have a book of my Grand Canyon trip on my coffee table that gets picked up by almost everyone who comes to my house.
- Print your favorites: For those one or two super-special photos that you want to have printed large to hang on your wall, I recommend using a company like MPix.com. They do fantastic work and are reasonably priced.
- Make a slideshow: There are great slideshow tools online such as Animoto and Proshow Web that make creating slideshows a breeze. Try them out and publish them to YouTube for your friends and family to see!
- Share online: If you want a place to post galleries of your images for all your friends and family to see, look no further than Flickr. While there are a ton of online photo sharing services, Flickr is (in my opinion) one of the best and cheapest services out there for consumers.
I hope you found this helpful. If you are still struggling to take awesome vacation photos always remember that you can hire me to come along and take them for you (just kidding… sort of…).