Tips to Shoot Better Vacation Photos
It is that time of the year again. With the brisk northerly wind blowing in and schools shutting down for full two weeks, people have started to leave behind their maddening city lives for a couple of weeks of tranquility and rejuvenation.
Vacations are also the time when people tend to make more images. Resultantly, cameras tucked away and forgotten for almost a year are being brought out, dusted and readied for use.
Good photography requires a lot of practice and planning. But when you have just a couple of days to prepare, your vacation photos turn out, well, pretty much like everyone else’s.
Hopefully, the following tips will help you make some better vacation photos this time around. After all years from now, these images are all that you will have to remember those special moments spent with your family. That’s all the motivation some people will need.
1. Shoot More Using Natural Light
I love natural light. I can shoot with it all day long. When I am on vacation natural light is almost all the light that I use to make my images. That is, even when I am shooting indoors. It is the key to some of my better vacation photos.
I prefer large hotel windows to bare flashes. Tight places and bare flash isn’t a combination that I like. They always create harsh shadows and strong contrasts. Shadows don’t make great vacation photos.
Whenever you can, use white walls, white sheets, anything neutral that you can get your hands on to reflect light for filling in those shadows. Avoid using flash like the plague.
2. Pick the Fastest Lens You Have
If you can carry only one lens pick the fastest and sharpest lens you have. That's a key aspect of shooting better vacation photos.
Most people only have the 18-55mm lens which comes as a standard with a lot of crop cameras. That’s a good lens. Surprisingly underrated.
If you use it properly, you can get better images with it than someone carrying a 24-70mm f/2.8 and has no idea how to shoot with it.
The reason I suggest a fast lens is so that when the light is low, you can compensate that by opening up the aperture and therefore allowing more light to enter the camera.
A wide aperture saves you from having to slow down the shutter speed or increase the ISO. In the first case, you risk image blur and in the second noise.
3. Understand the Quality of Light
You cannot shoot better vacation photos, any photo for that matter, without first understanding the nature of light.
Note, in the previous paragraph I mentioned low light and not poor light. There is a difference. Low light is not necessarily poor light, but the reverse is sometimes true.
Hard light is an example of poor light. Hard light is unflattering and produces shadows and contrasts.
The light that has a strong color cast is another example of poor light quality. Light with strong color cast requires individual planning, both during shooting and post-processing, to counter.
Good light can be soft, but does not always have to be diffused, is constant and is usually without a weird color cast.
It is perfect for both portraits as well as landscapes. Having said that golden light is probably the only time of the day when I don’t mind the strong color cast.
Soft constant light, such as those on overcast days, is the best for most types of photography. It produces very little shadow, almost wrapping a face in a cocoon of light. It is ideal for portraits, product, flower, and food photography.
4. Shoot in Bad Weather
Bad weather is not something that you'd associate with better vacation photos. You may have often complained that bad weather is a real let down when it comes to shooting great vacation photos.
You’d be surprised to hear that bad weather can be excellent for making photos. Every natural phenomenon has its unique proposition for making images.
Bad weather is no different. In fact, clouds, rain, and fog, they are all great elements to use in your vacation photos. The light is diffused and soft which makes the colors pop.
5. Don’t Change Lenses, Change Perspectives
I don’t always change lenses when I am on vacation. I have a clear understanding of what a certain lens is capable of and pick my lens for the day very carefully.
Yes, I cannot do everything with a single lens, like shoot macro and then the perfect wide angle landscape immediately after, but I take that shortcoming in the stride and choose the images that I can make instead of regretting the ones that I cannot. Anyways, I prefer to travel light when on vacation.
Let’s say that I am hiking for the day and I know I am going to get great landscape photo moments; I would invariably pick something like the 16-35mm or a 35mm prime to shoot with.
What if I were to make portraits? A wide angle lens is traditionally not the best lens for portraits. But, there is nothing that forbids me from trying? The trick is in placing the subject right towards the middle of the frame and shoot from a little further away.
But what if you are stuck with a wide angle lens and your subject or composition is few millimeters of focal length away? Take a few steps forward. On the bright side with a wide angle lens, you have a higher chance of getting sharper images than a telephoto lens when you are hand-holding.
6. Use an ND Filter
An ND filter stops light. That has its benefits, beyond just the obvious ones which I have already discussed before. An ND filter allows you to shoot wide open even during day time.
Meaning you can use an aperture much larger than what the exposure meter suggests considering the ambient light value in the scene. This way you can get those nice out of focus or bokeh even for broad daylight portraits.
7. Use the Quick Recall Buttons on Your Camera
Recall buttons are those instant camera settings which are life savers in some situations. Let’s say that you notice your son about to make dive right into the hotel pool and make a splash.
You pick up your camera and by the time you set it to a fast aperture and continuous auto-focus, fast ISO, etc. you miss the moment. Did that ever happen to you? I bet it has.
To avoid heartburns like this, save your most used camera settings which you can recall with just one button or dial touch. My Nikon has two such instant recall buttons – U1 and U2. It saves me an incredible amount of time when I need my camera to capture.
8. Use Back-Button Focusing
Back button focusing is basically about assigning the task of focusing to a button other than the shutter release. Usually, the shutter release serves the dual purpose of focusing and image making.
Back button focusing takes away one of those functions. The benefits of that are immense. When you relieve the shutter button from the task of focusing, you don’t need to press it down until you want to make the image.
Plus, your camera will not try to refocus when you press the shutter button. That is a big advantage when you want to make that off-center composition. No more manual focusing and no more refocusing.
9. Plan Some Shots But Shoot Candid Whenever you Can
I do make plans when I prepare my vacation itinerary. But whenever I am on the road plans go right out of the window.
Traveling with a child is never easy, and therefore I have to be as flexible as I can. It is not the same thing as when I am traveling on an assignment, and everything goes like clockwork. I do plan but end up shooting my best images candidly.
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Wanderlust at heart and a shutterbug who loves to document his travels via his lenses; his two passions compliment each other perfectly.
He has been writing for over 7 years now, which unsurprisingly, revolve mostly around his two favorite pursuits.