Travel Photography: Take Home More Images From Vacations

Travel Photography: Take Home More Images From Vacations

Hey, who doesn't like a good vacation? If you're anything like me then a big part of the vacation is not just going to be what you see and what you eat, but a good portion of it will be what you get to take home with you.

One of my favorite things about traveling is simply the opportunity to go experience other cultures. Our planet is full of such incredible diversity that I am beginning to think that it's impossible to experience it all. But that doesn't stop me from wanting to try. Granted, I'm not the most well-travelled person out there with a camera, but I have visited enough places while lucky enough to have a camera with me, and I have learned a few things over the years.

The biggest lesson that I have learned is to stop worrying about trying to get the perfect shot all the time. Sure, having the tripod and the time to capture some unique shots of these unique locations is always a blast. But if you spend so much time trying to get one shot that you forget to enjoy the rest of the experience around you, then you're still missing out. For me, my travel souvenirs are almost exclusively the images that I bring home with me. Yes, I want a couple epic ones that can get thrown up on a large print, but I have often found myself capturing some of the smaller moments of things that simply don't exist where I live.

Street performers - San Francisco, USA

Palace guard - Stockholm, Sweden

One of my favorite things to do is to simply take the time to just observe the people around me, just doing their natural thing, in their city. Just observing what life is like in this place; enjoying it and appreciating it for what it is. A full immersion experience into another place and another culture — I love it. Then I like to find a couple of candid opportunities to capture something that reminds me of what this culture is really like, usually something that is intrinsically different that what I see in my own home town. Obviously, don't be an idiot about it, be cognizant of who you're trying to capture and whether or not you should be aiming a camera at them.

The main point that I'm trying to make here is to remember to take the time to enjoy everything about the trip, not just the final destination. Sometimes it's the individuals who help you out along the way, the ones who point you in the right direction, the ones who are just doing their job in their corner of the world that makes the trip worthwhile. Every once in a while, try capturing such people as they do what they do, because those pictures always have a great story behind them instead of just being yet another random photograph taken in yet another random place across the world.

Mariachi singer - Enseñada, Mexico

Textile artisan - Cusco, Perú

What's your approach to photrography on vacations? Share some tips in the comments below.

Log in or register to post comments

10 Comments

1. Make sure all my gear is travel friendly - lightweight tripods, light stands. Compact cameras and lenses.
2. Wide angle lenses (taking in more of the environment).
3. Extra batteries and charger
4. Research those "memorable" pictures and famous landmarks and either come up of an idea to do something different or at least save time by learning the best time to shoot and what challenges might be faced i.e. shadows, traffic, security guards etc
5. Wardrobe and accessories for girlfriend on point. A wonderful dress and hat can add a bit of colour and spice to the photo.

Rex Jones's picture

Some great tips, thank you for sharing, Darren!

My wife and I were traveling from Anniston, Alamaba to Huntsville for the Rocket Museum and back on a vacation. I had my 5D Mk III on the console and my wife was taking photos with her smartphone. We passed by the Tennessee River (I think a few times) and a few lakes.
At one point, I mentioned to Paula "You'd probably get better photos if you shot in landscape mode". She said "Yea, you're probably right."
On the way back to the motel, we stopped at a few boat landings to take some photos.

Rex Jones's picture

That is so fun! I grew up in Tennessee and visited Huntsville once when I lived there. You'll have to share some photos from that trip if you have them, I'd love to see!

My problem is, being so immersed in the experiences, I often forget to take photos. :-(

Rex Jones's picture

Hey, it happens to everyone. :) Way to enjoy those experiences!!

I can definitely relate to the author's experience having missed many shots trying to take the perfect image. For my next vacation, I am going try this approach - shoot on auto when on tours or when time and place do not allow for using a tripod and time on manual and schedule specific times and places for manual shooting with a tripod for the best image. Leslie

Jeff Morris's picture

I used to focus so intently on the "hero" shots I wanted to get on vacation that I would completely fail to capture the moments that were truly memorable. So I would come home with some photos that I enjoyed editing or printing, but they looked like every other photograph of those places (wow, a shot of Manarola's harbor. How... unique).

Very consciously I began seeking out "moments" rather than "places". For me, this means focusing more on the people than on the architecture that I'm normally drawn to. This also means that many of my travel photos are impromptu, which is against my nature as a photographer and therefore tend to derive more pleasure when editing. When I plan out a shot, I know every detail in my head before ever opening them up to edit later. But with street photography I get to relive the moment.

NOW... as for planned shots, I have several of those per trip, time permitting. For those I'll do all sorts of research like Sun Surveyor, Street View when possible, satellite imagery, and anything else I can get my hands on to determine where to set up, how early I need to leave to get there, alternate angles, etc.

As far as "time behind camera", I have gotten to the point where I don't spend the whole vacation actively seeking out possible photographs. Instead I take time to appreciate and enjoy a place (especially since I want my wife to feel like she's not vacationing alone). And IF something strikes me as an opportunity, I'll pop the camera out and take a shot or set up the tripod if it's a scene that will stay put long enough.

Finally, take a few selfies. Be a tourist now and then. Photography is fun and all, but the experience of a new place overshadows everything else.

Lee Stirling's picture

The biggest change I made to improve my travel photos is to include people in my images. It's one thing to capture a beautiful beach at sunset or a famous landmark standing out with nobody in the frame, but to put people into your images helps put emotion into your images. Some of the best photos from my recent trips are those that showed how my kids were experiencing being in a new place, trying new things. It makes a more personal connection as I look back at those images now and better tells the story of what we did.

I come at this from a different perspective. While traveling I am constantly looking for "the shot". Others may do this differently, but I'm looking while I'm eating, drinking, engaged in the local "scene" and while I'm learning about the cultures of the places I visit. For myself (only) I find that this state of awareness makes me see things that I otherwise would not. My wife is artistic in her own right, but is not a photographer. She too is always on the lookout for shots. In fact, she's probably responsible for having sighted my best work!

I do have one tip to share. Travel takes me to beautiful places, but being on the go means that I'm not always at a great shot location when the light is optimal. For this I use the Photographers Ephemeris. I'll find the orientation of a landscape from Google Maps, let's say, and then use the Ephemeris to see when the light will be at it's best. When doing travel landscapes/cityscapes/monuments I always try to get at least one shot a day that I can schedule in advance when I know the conditions will be at their best. I like the Ephemeris, but I understand that there are other apps that provide the same information.