Vacation Travel Photography 101

Wait for great light and put someone in the picture! - Silhouette, rule of thirds, leading lines. This is 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.


  • 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.


  • 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


    • 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.


  • 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 Andro id device. (Full disclosure: I am a co-creator of Easy Release

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