Vacation Travel Photography 101

silhouette, rule of thirds, leading lines.

Here’s a short list of general photography tips anyone can apply to get better results. By no means is this exhaustive or complete, but it just may help photo enthusiasts take home better pictures from their next vacation. At the end is a small selection of pictures you can view as a slideshow (just click the first one!) Taken on various trips, they illustrate some of the tips. None of these pictures are from paid assignments – just casual vacation travel photos.  I avoid getting into “full-pro-photography-mode” while on vacation – it wouldn’t be fair to others traveling with me and wouldn’t be very restful for myself either. Hopefully you find something of use in what’s being offered below.

Equipment:

  • Lose the lens cap – you’ll get more candid and spontaneous pictures. Instead, use a UV filter and/or shade to protect the lens.
  • Lose the case – same as above.  Cameras aren’t as fragile as you think and a few blemishes will prove you use them.  Pristine gear say’s you’re a collector not a photographer! If you’re concerned about preserving resale value many professionals carefully apply black gaffer’s tape to cover the high-wear areas of their cameras and lenses.

Composition:

  • Use architectural and other foreground elements to frame your pictures – windows, door frames, arches, trees, flowers, etc.
  • Use reflections – glass, water, mirrors, even raindrops!
  • Think in 3D – most people only think about left, right, up and down – the flat dimensions. So their pictures look flat.  Think about foreground, background and leading lines.  Then, how best to utilize them to add depth and dynamism to your pictures.
  • Look for different angles – when on a balcony, a bridge or any place high – look straight down! Part of taking interesting pictures is surprising the viewer with an angle they haven’t seen so often. Take the “iconic view” pictures but remember they’ve been done thousands of times and we’ve all seen them, so look for something different as well.
  • Stop shooting everyone full-length and up against a wall – try waist-up and head and shoulders for environmental portraits.  Carefully study the relationship between you, the foreground and the background to place the subject with care.
  • Think – not trying to be funny or obvious here.  The single biggest mistake anyone (even professionals) make is to lose sight of what you are trying to accomplish.  I see this all the time wherever tourists gather.  They take pictures of absolutely everything, in every direction, as fast as possible.  There’s zero thought being put into it and it’s going to show in the final product. Take it all in, think about what would make a good/great picture and how best to frame it up. Pick out the most important elements and eliminate the superfluous.

UW camera = under $300

Light:

  • Don’t be afraid to shoot back-lit – for silhouettes of course but also to rim-light hair and profiles. Takes practice — guarding against lens-flare and getting the exposure just right — but the rewards will be great. Easiest done in late afternoon but can often improve a mid-day situation.
  • Turn off your flash – don’t get me wrong, when used well a strobe can add a lot to a picture.  It’s just not appropriate to leave it on all the time for no particular reason and it isn’t doing anything for you outside of 10-12ft. or so for built-in units.
  • Sunrise/Sunset – When you’re on vacation you can’t always plan everything around the light but you should try to schedule a couple of outings around the best light if you want better pictures.

Editing:

  • Less is more – take as many pictures as you like when you are out shooting but don’t think that, out of sheer volume, you are going to magically produce great pictures.  Practice makes perfect? No, perfect practice makes perfect.  Shooting a lot of bad pictures teaches you how to shoot a lot of bad pictures.  Practice being selective, being critical, figuring out and then applying a creative process. Great pictures aren’t taken – they are made!
  • Study photography – don’t just look at pictures with a thumbs up, thumbs down attitude.  Figure out WHY and WHAT you like or dislike in a picture. Is it the composition, the light, the framing, the subject matter? What would you have done differently and why?
  • Less is more (the sequel) – Only show your best work – the smaller the set the bigger the impact.  Nobody wants to pour through hundreds of your vacation pictures.  show your 20-30 best, from a single trip, at most.

Closing thought: if you ever hope to market your pictures for stock or advertising you may want to consider getting model releases from the people you photograph.  Even if you don’t ever plan to license your images, it may still be a good idea to protect yourself. This app, Easy Release, is the best of its kind and lets you create model and property releases right from your iPhone/iPad/iPod-Touch or Android device. (Full disclosure: I am a co-creator of Easy Release

 

Blowing Through Vancouver

(Copyright Robert Giroux/Getty Images)When I received the call from Getty Images to go shoot travel/tourism, aka: “pretty pictures” in Vancouver a couple of weeks ago with the budgetary stipulation that I could go for only 3 days, and had to have it filed by end of Feb I was outwardly confident and happily accepted.  On the inside I was a little bit unsure.  After all, it’s February, in the Pacific North-West, there are no flowers, no leaves, relatively short days, virtually no tourists and a high probability of rain on any given day – could this even be done?

(Copyright © Robert Giroux/Getty Images)

{click on any image to view slide show!}

As it turns out there are a couple of advantages and I did get lucky with the weather with Sun every day I was there.  Few tourists means fewer obstructed views, shorter lines getting into certain “attractions”, less traffic (I did a LOT of driving around).  Thanks to weather.com being fairly accurate I even managed to pick the right 3 day slot but still only decided the day before leaving to actually commit to hit the road as forecasts change from day to day.

I’ve been to Vancouver quite a few times for work but only once to see the sights and briefly at that… I had quite a few ideas, but probably not enough.

(Copyright © Robert Giroux/Getty Images)

While looking at Google maps, to find directions to the Marriott, I noticed the “photo overlay” feature for the first time.  Yeah, I think it’s been there for a while, but I never played with it.  Turns out this was a hugely valuable research tool to plot my trip and find locations of interest.  Believe it or not, there are lots of good amateurs out there and while I didn’t outright copy anything I found online I’m not ashamed to admit some of the pictures I found there inspired my own versions.

Here are 14 of the 66 pictures that ended up in the final edit.  They are some of my favorites but I think they are also representative of the whole take.  ~ Please comment!

(Copyright © Robert Giroux/Getty Images)

(Copyright © Robert Giroux/Getty Images)

(Copyright © Robert Giroux/Getty Images)

(Copyright © Robert Giroux/Getty Images)

 

(Copyright © Robert Giroux/Getty Images)

(Copyright © Robert Giroux/Getty Images)

(Copyright © Robert Giroux/Getty Images)

(Copyright © Robert Giroux/Getty Images)

(Copyright © Robert Giroux/Getty Images)

(Copyright © Robert Giroux/Getty Images)

(Copyright Robert Giroux/Getty Images)