If you haven’t gone on vacation yet this summer, then there’s still time! Cruises, beaches, far off places – they’re yours for the taking, and photographing. Even just a quick jaunt to your local watering hole can yield great ‘vacation’ shots with just a few quick tricks. In fact, great vacation photos are less about exotic locals and more about framing, focus, and the right light. So, throw down a beach towel and grab your nearest point and shoot or DSLR.
Focus on Faces
This tip is extra relevant if you’re a professional or enthusiast photographer. Amateur photographers typically understand that the whole point of vacation photography is to capture memories. Scenery is beautiful, but unless you’re trying to sell your pictures, then you can probably find an equivalent shot on Google. Instead, focus on the people – family, friends, even that goofy German guy in the hostel. Take pictures that you and your travel companions can laugh about in ten years. For intimate shots of faces and expressions, work with a wide aperture (shallower depth of field) and a 50mm to 85mm lens.
Consider Quality of Light
When you’re visiting a new place, it’s easy to get so wrapped up in your surroundings that you forget to consider light quality. But harsh shadows and washed out images won’t communicate the splendor of your vacation. Instead, enjoy that time to just be! If you’re out and about for lunch, focus on spending quality time with your fellow travelers. Be present. Work on building those special memories outside the lens.
However, if you want to capture lush atmospheric shots, then set aside some shooting time during golden and blue hours to work with magic light. Take notes in a journal (or on your phone) while you’re out during the day. Then, when your pals are resting, take another loop around the city with your camera to revisit the spots you liked.
Take a Disposable Camera
Everyone has a Smartphone these days, if not a Point and Shoot, Mirrorless, or DSLR. Sharing our shots is the easiest it’s ever been – on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Everybody loves to see and share vacations from around the world. However, consider taking shots that are just for you and your family. Bring a disposable camera – or an instant camera like Impossible, Fujifilm Instax or Leica Sofort. If you have kids, let them take charge of it. Disposable or instant cameras force the viewer to select their happy moments with care, rather than snap shots rapid fire at every second turn. Choosing film can also help strike balance between ‘behind the lens’ and ‘in the moment.’
Keep an Eye Out for Animals
Another secret to capturing the mood and ambiance of a place is to focus on its fauna. Funny little Italian street dogs, stray Israeli cats, wandering geckos all over Latin America, horses in Mongolia, donkeys in northern Africa – they’re all fair game! The best way to shoot wild animals is typically with a zoom lens, but you can get a lot closer to domesticated animals with just a regular prime. After all, zoom lenses are expensive, and frankly, you can find a picture of a tiger on the internet.
Ultimately, you don’t go on vacation to take pictures. You go to relax and spend time with your family and friends. You don’t have to make photography your number one priority to get some great shots in! Carve out some ‘just for photography’ time to focus your eye without driving everybody else crazy. Make the memories while they happen. And frankly, as long as you go beyond the staged family vacation pose, then you’re going to end up with some interesting photographs.