Have you ever wished you could return from a trip with better vacation photos?

While today’s “automatic everything” digital cameras and cellphone cameras almost take the photos for you, there is still a human element involved. Improving your pictures from snapshots to creative images that deserve to be called photographic art takes time, instruction, experience, the proper equipment and a creative “eye.”

10 tips for taking terrific travel photos

These 10 tips may not turn you into a pro, and perhaps they’ll only be reminders, but hopefully they’ll bring you another step closer to taking photos you’ll be proud to include in your photo album or to post on your Facebook page or other social media!

1) Fill the frame with your subject

First, determine what the subject or focal point of your photo is. If you are photographing people, make sure there isn’t too much space around them, but also don’t cut off their heads. (This was a unique characteristic of photos taken by my Mom… Can anyone else relate?) Being able to look through the viewfinder (or display on a digital camera) and really see what is within the frame takes practice, but is a skill you can develop.


tips for taking terrific travel photos

The author captured this portrait of a Greek gentleman on a the isle of Patmos


A photo of the author’s father taken by her mother years ago – she learned what NOT to do!

2) Don’t shoot into direct sun

Unless you have a “fill flash” setting, taking a photo of a person standing with the sun or other bright light in back of them will cause the person to be dark. The camera will pick up the bright light, not the person’s face. Instead, allow the sun to be at your back with the light on the person, but not so much light that they have to squint! Position the person so they are in indirect light or open shade.

3) Don’t take photos when the sun is directly overhead, if you have a choice

Photos taken early in the morning or later in the afternoon, when the light is soft and warm, rather than bright and harsh, will become your best photos. Professional photographers get up at dawn to get the best landscape shots during what is often referred to as the “golden hour,” the first hour after the sun comes up.

4) Who doesn’t love a good sunset photo?

The last hour of light before the sun sets is also called the “golden hour,” so check the local sunset time and plan accordingly. Preparation and patience are needed to get a really good sunset photo, not to mention luck! You have a short “window of opportunity” before you lose the light. Take plenty of photos to make sure you capture the beauty you are witnessing!

Everyone loves sunset photos!

5) Get ideas from professional photos of locations you’ll be visiting

Brochures, websites and magazine articles about your vacation destination can give you some great ideas for shots you may want to capture. Your photo of the same location may not turn out exactly like the one(s) you saw – and you may not want it to. But professional photos can stimulate ideas for your own creativity, and perhaps give you a tip for where to position yourself to get the best angle of a famous landmark.

6) Take photos from lots of different angles

One of the best tips for taking terrific travel photos is to shoot from different perspectives.

First take an overall photo of a historic building, straight on. Walk to one side and take another. Stoop down and shoot up. Take a vertical shot, then a horizontal. Next, concentrate on “pieces and parts.” Photos of an interesting window, an old iron gate, an interesting carved door or other feature can make your photos stand out from the standard snapshot.

Don’t forget to look up!

Looking up at the Parthenon in Athens

There are many different angles from which to photograph the Parthenon at the Acropolis in Athens

7) Review the photo you’ve taken – and take another

If you need to get closer or farther away, take another photo. If you have a zoom lens, take an overall shot, then zoom in for a tighter one. When you have some down time, review the photos you’ve taken that day and delete duplicate shots and bad ones so you’ll have more room on your memory card. (While this may not seem as important when taking photos on your cell phone, photo files will eventually fill up your phone’s storage capacity, too.)

8) Take photos of signs

Photograph road signs, license plates, restaurant and hotel signs, historic markers and other unique signage will help you remember where you were and, if you like to create photo albums of your trips, will add interest and information. If you are on a beach vacation, write the place and date in the sand and take a photo, which can become the title shot of your album or online photo gallery.

Anguilla licence plate

Pikes Peak Summit in Colorado

Montpelier Plantation “weather station” in Nevis

Monkey crossing in Nevis

Allegretto Vineyard Resort, Paso Robles, California

9) Remember to take your camera’s manual with you

Refer to the manual, especially if you aren’t totally familiar with all the camera settings. If you can, review the settings before you leave on your trip. You may find out about a cool feature that you didn’t know existed. (If you don’t want to carry a manual, you can often download a copy onto your computer or smartphone.)

If you primarily shoot with your mobile phone, make sure you are familiar with its settings, too, and experiment with options other than the standard photo. Try taking a panoramic photo, for example, or switch to the “square” setting if you plan to post photos to Instagram. Consider also vertical pix, which now make some of the best Instagram travel photos.

10) Pack an extra camera, extra batteries and an extra memory card

You’ll be happy you did if, for example, your primary camera quits working or is lost or stolen.

If you travel with your laptop computer, iPad or other notebook, download your photos daily to preserve the images you’ve already taken.

If you travel with both traditional digital cameras and your mobile phone, take photos with both when time permits. You can then easily email pix taken on your phone to family back home throughout your trip (or post them on Facebook or Instagram).

Wouldn’t your grandkids love to see your pix of the iguana you spotted or dolphins riding the wake of your boat?

*All photo credits (except lead and sunset photos): Debbra Dunning Brouillette 

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