In my previous post, I talked about getting a new camera before your summer vacation. I generally don’t think you should get a new camera just because your old one is…well…old. However, I hope it helped summarize the key points to keep in mind when shopping for your new toy. So let’s move on to the actual photos!
I don’t know about you, but before a vacation, I know I’m guilty of thinking I’m going to take the most amazing & artistic photos. Something I can put as my computer desktop wallpaper and maybe even enlarge and frame on my living room wall. For a travel photographer, this may well be pretty common, but as an average person, I think it’s an unrealistic goal. That’s not to say you won’t be able to take amazing photos, but the idea that you’re going to be the next great travel photographer in your spare time is something you should just admit is not going to happen.
So how do you take better vacation photos? Well, in a few short bullets, here are the things you should keep in mind:
- Focus on what you love
- Have your camera ready at all times
- Photograph in the moment
Notice that I’m not talking about your camera or its setting at all in this post. I may post about that in the future, but I fundamentally believe that the key to great photos is not the camera or the settings.
Focus on what you love!
I can’t tell you what to take pictures of while on vacation since I don’t know what you’re into. Me? Well, I love taking photos of people so when on holiday I focus my photography mainly on my family with a few other things thrown in there. I want to remember my daughter’s reaction upon seeing flamingos at the bird park; my daughter will only be this age once. The flamingoes (or their descendents) will be around forever. Here’s some photos of my daughter enjoying herself during a trip to Singapore:
But you may love photos of architecture or subways or sunsets or flowers. So think about what you really love and concentrate on photographing that while on vacation. I can’t give you tips for every situation you might be in, but here’s a good site to start with for reference: Digital Photography School.
The point is that you shouldn’t plan on taking photos of anything and everything. If you do that, then your mental focus is just lost and you’ll likely end up with a jumble of photos that really aren’t very memorable. If you can’t decide on just one thing, that’s okay, but narrow it down so you can really concentrate. Chances are you’ll end up with a really nice set of photos that you can actually present to family & friends. Doesn’t a wall full of Parisian architecture photos sound more interesting than blurry photos of the Mona Lisa behind bullet proof glass? Thought so.
There are also some things I choose to totally stay away from. I personally avoid taking photos of “the sites”, landscapes, and zoo animals. Why? Well, for a variety of reasons:
When it comes to “the sites” and landscapes, I’m just really not good at that type of photography and more than likely, you aren’t either. You know what? Take a couple of photos of the sites, but other than that, do yourself a favor by just buying postcards of the sites. Mail them to yourself while on vacation and you’ll have nice souvenir to put on your fridge at home. For landscapes, there’s a huge level of skill & planning required there. While I’m certainly working on that skillset, I definitely don’t do it while I’m on vacation. The two times I’ve done that was while I was visiting Kerala in India and while visiting the Grand Canyon. That’s it. No more getting up at the crack of dawn for amazing sunrise photos or enjoying a sunset through a viewfinder.
As for zoo animals…well, do you really want to be carrying a gigantic lens all day then stand by the lion exhibit until you get a big yawn or growl? All the while complaining that you don’t have enough zoom on your camera? Seriously…enjoy the day with your kids…watch them get excited about the animals and leave the “wild animal” photography to the pros…who actually do it in the wild and not behind zoo exhibits. Then, when you get home turn on Animal Planet or crack open National Geographic.
One last note on this to help you “discover what you love”…unless you’re going to the uncharted jungles of the inner Amazon, chances are, other people have photographed the same spots that you’ll be visiting. So have a look around at what other people have photographed. And I’m not just talking about pro-level desktop wallpaper examples. I’m talking about checking with your friends or searching on flickr.com. You don’t need to copy those photos, but I bet you they’ll give you some ideas. Take this a step further and check travel guides like Lonely Planet for specific things that might interest you and then search for specific photos online. Again, the idea is to get your creative juices flowing and find ways to incorporate interesting activities on your vacation with photos capturing the fun & relaxation.
Have Your Camera Ready at All Times
How are you going to take memorable photos unless you have your camera ready to take photos? That means out of the bag, lens cap off, ready to take a photo. You don’t have to be like paparazzi and take photos of every second of your trip, but keep that shiny toy with you and think about what you can photograph. Hanging out poolside? Well, take photos of your umbrella topped drinks, your kids in their floaties, or whatever catches your fancy. Going parasailing? Take that camera up with you and take pictures showing what it’s like to be up in the air like that! Walking the street of Paris? Take a picture of that street vendor, or the line outside the Musee D’Orsay, or reflections off the pyramid at the Louvre.
My point is that there’s ALWAYS something to photograph. And to be honest, the most interesting stuff happens between the times when you have your family or friends stand in front of a site and smile for the camera. So keep your camera around your neck. Better yet, keep it in your hand and remember to focus on what you love.
Here’s a few photos we took while at Newport Beach. My wife and took turns playing with our daughter, but also just let her have fun in the sand. In the meantime, we had the camera sitting on top of the bag, turned on and ready to go. The photos are nothing totally special, but they help us remember why we went to Newport: to enjoy our time off with each other.
Photograph in the Moment
I know that sounds really cheesy, but let’s think this through…when you have your camera ready, you should be ready too and in a reasonable spot. Those beach photos with our daughter? For the most part, we were sitting in the sand with her, not standing up. That allows us to take photos in the moment…as participants, not just observers. Don’t wait to take photos only when everyone’s smiling and looking at the camera. Sure, it’s nice to get some of those, but take lots of photos in between. It’s the fun things in between that you’ll probably remember anyways. So why not have some photos to help you recall things?
I’m going to refer you now to something that’s totally scripted and not specific about vacations, but it’s still totally relevant to my point. If you’ve seen the show “Modern Family”, you may have already seen this. Here’s a snippet..skip to 15:51 in the video if it doesn’t do so automatically (bear with the ads, sorry, it’s the only way to embed this video):
In this recent episode, the mom of the family is trying to plan the perfect family portrait. It’s taken months to get the scheduling right, get the right clothes, etc, etc. And then everything starts to fall apart. The stairs aren’t perfect so she tries to fix them for the photo. When that fails, she wants to use the backyard, but the sprinklers turn on. Etc. etc. In the end, the family portrait that they love is one where everyone has mud all over them, but they’re happy. They’re in the moment. Yes, it’s cheesy and totally scripted, but I’ve got photos with the same essence. And you should too!
Check this photo of my mother with my daughter. Like any grandmother, she wants to have a nice dressed up photo with her granddaughter. While getting ready for the photo, something made both of them laugh. It’s far from the perfect photo, but I actually like it a lot more than the photo I eventually took where they were both looking at the photo and smiling. This one is in the moment and reminds me how much my mother loves being with her granddaughter…and vice versa.
So I leave you with you these reminders when taking vacation photos:
- Focus on what you love
- Be ready
- Be in the moment.
If you keep just those three things in mind while on vacation, I think you’ll be much more happy with the photos you take. They may not all be perfect, but they’ll be memorable, personal, and real.