Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Tips For Taking Better Vacation Photos

Green Shutters and Fresh Laundry

It's August already and if you're in the United States you're smack in the middle of one of the hottest summers ever!  Did you take a summer vacation?  Are you planning on taking one?  Last year I saw this fantastic guide for taking better photos of new places and I shared it here on the blog.  I'm definitely one of those people who loves to find a new way to photograph a place familiar to so many people so here are a few tips of my own for taking better photos while on vacation.  This little tutorial focuses more or urban vacations but if you're going someplace that is less so, check out this post for some tips on shooting landscapes!

1.  Research your destination.

Yes, it's been said before that one of the most helpful things you can do before going away is researching your destination.  There are few things I love more than planning a trip.  Whenever we get ready for a vacation I get myself all worked up about where we're going to go, what we're going to bring, where we will stay!  I love all these little details and as part of the planning I pick up a guidebook and spend some time studying it before we go.  I don't plan out each day Clark Griswold style but I like to have a general idea about the places we can visit.  Yes, you can look at photos online but in my opinion there's nothing like a glossy guidebook to get you excited about the place and all the photos that you'll be able to capture once you're there.  This way you can also learn what the best time to shoot a particular photo is - is it early morning, afternoon or sunset?  When I actually arrive at the location I already have some ideas in my mind.  The idea is not to copy a photo but rather to put your own spin on a place that has been photographed so many times before.

Place de la Concorde, Paris

2.  Don't just shoot the typical things.

In other words, use your imagination!  I always find that my most interesting vacation pictures are the ones that were unexpected.  The ones that make me remember the smell of the place, the sounds I heard, what we had for lunch on a particular afternoon.  Yes you should definitely photograph Notre Dame while you're in Paris but what about the plaza behind it or details from inside?  There are a billion pictures of this historic and breathtaking place but only one that will remind you of how good it felt to rest for a minute on a bench in the little plaza behind it and live in the moment of your Parisian vacation.

to be young
Taken behind Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

a few wishes
Taken inside Notre Dame.

le petit chien et la fille.
Taken behind Notre Dame.

3.  Become a documentary photographer.

Plates for Sale
Some where in Mexico.

When East Meets West
Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

Along the lines of what I just said, don't just take your typical vacation photos but stretch your imagination and document the entire day with fun details.  One of my favorite places to go when I visit my family and friends in Buenos Aires is the antique market in San Telmo.  On this particular day I was all about photographing every single detail from the wares to the people.  I remember that I was pretty cold but the sun was beating down on us and helped to ward off a complete chill.  I remember the cast of characters hanging out on the sidewalks, the live music on the street, the smell of the food from the bars and the general hum of all the voices pouring out of them.  Document everything around you and when you're back home looking through your photos you will be transported right back to your time away.

te siento más buena, más buena que yo

History in Some Bottles


esta noche volveré

4.  Take a day to live in the place.

Yes, you're a tourist but that doesn't mean you have to act like one.  What I mean is, if time allows, set aside a day to just walk around with no particular place to go.  Choose a random neighborhood, pick up a magazine to find out what the new lunch spot is, spend an afternoon hanging out like a local.  Talk to the front desk of your hotel to find out a cool place to hang out and relax and take your camera with you.  I love to sit in a park, cafe or restaurant and just watch people.  Rent a bike, take the bus so you can see the place from a great vantage point on the cheap, take a hike or rent a car.

Sorry Street
New Orleans.


5.  Don't go too crazy with your gear.

I do it all the time.  I get packed up for a vacation and I bring two cameras, three lenses, my flash, my Instax, my iPhone, filters, the tripod ...the list goes on.  And then what happens, I end up choosing one or two lenses and  a couple of filters throughout the trip and I have to drag around my bag of gear.  I know some photographers feel naked if they don't have everything that they think they will need but experience and time have shown me that I'm better off without so much stuff.  Just be sure to bring a ton of memory cards!  If you feel better taking it all with you, do it!  By all means.  I've personally been much happier (and more confident) and have enjoyed my vacations more with fewer bells and whistles.  Also, don't underestimate the power of the pocket camera!  I've definitely taken my share of pictures with a trusty point and shoot just because of the sheer convenience.

(Blood) Orange
Some where in Italy.

The Sacred


The Renaissance is not Black and White

Under the Bridge

Me in Lucca, Italy

If the purpose of your vacation is simply to shoot, then that's a different story but I'm assuming that you're visiting a new place for some time away to enjoy and explore.  So do it!  And have fun in the process.

Do you have any tips for taking better vacation photos?

And by the way, if you're interested, many of these photos are available in my Etsy shop!

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