10 Tips to Capture Your Best Vacation Ever

Every year your vacation photos suck. The color is washed out, you thought you got everyone in the picture, oops, your second cousin Jim looked down just as you snapped the photo, or maybe you were amazed by the grandeur of that cathedral in France, all ten of them you visited. You tried to get the whole thing in and so it looks ¼” size and you ended up getting photobombed by a pigeon. And then on top of that, you took all the pictures on your phone and your phone died and now you don’t have anything but a distant memory of your best trip ever…

I am here to tell you that it can be different, you can get great trip photos with your phone and have those memories to share with all your friends and make your co-workers jealous.

Here are 10 tips to help you get better pictures.

    1. Carry your phone with you everywhere.
      Often the best pictures happen without planning, and you want to be ready.
    2. How does this camera phone work?
      Before you leave, spend a little bit of time exploring all the settings available on your camera. Learn how to use the timer for timed exposures so if no one is around you can still be in the picture. (It’s always nice to have proof that you actually did make it on the trip). Do you have a panorama setting or video capability? Do you need a selfie stick or maybe just a mini tripod that fits in your backpack? There are all kinds of add-on lenses now for phone cameras. Maybe you want a macro lens if you’re going to a botanical garden or a long telephoto if you’re going on a safari? Make sure you have enough batteries and a charger that works in the country you are traveling to. Also, make sure to have enough memory and a backup system if you are taking a laptop. Cloud backup may be available, but what if you don’t have internet? Be prepared.
    3. Tell a story
      Take a day or just a single event and capture moments that tell the story of it. Look for images that share the emotion, the wonder, or the details of the location or event you are experiencing.
Color of Local Life
Grandmother and her Grandchildren in Bulungula South Africa by Cheryl McDonald
    1. Look for a different point of view
      Sometimes looking down from a higher elevation or looking up from the ground or bottom step of the staircase, or closing in for a detail can tell your story and can also make for a more interesting photo than just a straight on shot. Is that Sequoia redwood massive and you want to show that? Ways to show the scale might include looking up the trunk to the sky or capturing your Uncle Fred next to the tree. You don’t need to get the entire tree in the shot. Just a piece of it tells the story of just how big that tree is.
Table Top Mountain in the distance at the Capetown Shopping Mall by Cheryl McDonald
    1. Look for color and drama
      Which could be local festivals or open markets. Look for colorful displays, costumed dancers or your girlfriend enjoying the best pistachio gelato ever at a sidewalk cafe. And that leads me to
    2. Food Photos
      Not necessary to capture every meal of every day. Unless of course, you are a food photographer for Gourmet and every meal you eat can then become a research write-off. Most meals are pretty boring. Capture the ones that fill the plate with color or the chef created an artful masterpiece, or if you just bought a dozen donuts at the best donut store in the world and you want to brag.
    3. Scenery and Location photos can be boring or spectacular
      If you’re going to a scenic location it’s important to plan the timing for scenic shots. The time of day can really make a difference in outdoor photography. There are apps for your phone that can help with that. Two I use are GoldenHour and LightTrac. Sunrise and the hour or 2 after or Sunset and the hour or 2 before are the best times of day for the most color and drama. Another good time for outdoor photography can be on a cloudy day. Clouds always add interest to the sky, but also the colors are clearer and stronger on cloudy days. Shooting in bright sun midday is the worst. If that’s your only choice look for contrast to capture, you can always turn it into a black and white after you return home.
    4. Capture moments of you and your party.
      This is where the timer and tripod or selfie stick comes in. Often you can find another tourist or local who is happy to take your photo, however, it is nice to have the option to be able to set it up and do a little more than a stiff pose in front of the fancy Italian fountain you discovered today. Taking candid photos of your group can be fun as well, just remember to be kind and don’t post those pictures of your boyfriend with food in his mouth.
    5. Get in close
      It’s not necessary to have the entire cathedral, why not capture the stained glass over the door, or your 5-year-old looking up to the ceiling next to that massive column? You will have a memory instead of a documentation photo like the one you saw in the encyclopedia.
The “Pie Girls” at the Julian Pie Company in Julian, CA by Cheryl McDonald
    1. Capture the Local Flavor
      Where ever you go look for the culture that defines that location. Think about ways you can tell the story of where you have been. Maybe it’s events, or wildlife, or even those colorful characters who work in the places you visit. Often you can get candid shots, however, if you ask permission for a photo, you might also get some history or detail from your model about where you are or who they are. You just might make a new friend or gain some insight about the culture you are visiting.




Bonus Tip #11 is this, don’t forget to print your photos when you come home. Why not create a simple photo book with a service like Mpix.com or Shutterfly.com? Photos on phones or even hard drives can disappear and your trip is only just a memory.

Hope these tips help you take great photos and add some fun to your best vacation ever. Enjoy!

Here you can download a free pdf of these tips.