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Better Vacation Photos 101

Everyone today is a photographer, thanks largely to cell phones that take better pictures than some expensive cameras. So now you have the ability to snap that great vacation picture at your fingertips, but with a little forethought they can be fantastic pictures.

Know what you’re capable of.

Know how to operate your camera and know what it can do, be it an expensive digital type or the camera on your cell phone. I discovered recently that my cell phone camera can operate in “burst mode,” which means that in six seconds it can take 20 continuous photos. I discovered this quite by accident while shopping, and consequently ended up with 20 pictures of a box of waffles and a bag of dog food in my shopping cart at Walmart. This feature would have been great to utilize when my son was learning to surf, documenting in a series of photos that first triumphant moment when he stood up on his surfboard and then subsequently fell off, rather than documenting my buying habits. However, I’ll know for next time. I came home and looked up information about my phone's camera online to find out what else I was missing and I was amazed at its capabilities.

Take a lot of pictures. And then some.

My family teases me because I don’t just take one picture of my subject. I take lots. And then a few more. I move around my subject and shoot from different angles. If taking pictures of people, I move them around. With only taking one picture and then moving on, you run the risk of catching someone mid-blink or with a dorky look on their face (and them subsequently getting ticked at you for posting that unflattering picture on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.). Also, taking pictures from different angles and perspectives can completely change the mood of the shot. And unlike the film days, it’s very easy to just delete those pics that you don’t want. Taking multiples gives you lots to choose from. Which leads me to….

Make like a Boy Scout and be prepared.

Nothing is more frustrating than just knowing that shot of a lifetime is coming up and you get that “low battery” symbol. Or you have no more room on your memory card and you furiously try to delete other pictures hastily so you can catch your 74-year-old mother-in-law ziplining in Jamaica. (Not that this has ever happened to me… ) Don’t forget your chargers, memory cards, and extra batteries.

Smile – you’re on candid camera.

Everyone has that picture of the fam posing in front of ____________ (insert name of famous landmark here). And there’s nothing wrong with that. But some of the best shots happen when nobody’s looking. Capture that moment of everyone just having fun and not being posed. One of my favorite pictures is of my daughter and her cousin when they were about 5 years old, holding hands and walking down Main Street, USA in Disney World. They were walking away from me so you can’t even see their faces, but you can just feel their joy. Sweetest. Picture. Ever.

Tell your story.

What made you want to travel to your destination? The food? The culture? The cute monkeys? (I may or may not have once booked a cruise solely because one of the ports was St. Kitts – home to the cute green vervet monkeys that love to party.)

Tell that story through your pictures. Capture the details by taking pictures of the local food, landscape, people, street signs, maps, menus, ticket stubs, etc.

Let everyone play.

There’s always that one person in the family who is the designated photographer. In my family, it’s me. Years from now I don't want my grandchildren to wonder why I never went on vacation with the family because I was always on the other side of the camera and never in any pictures. Over the past few years I've learned to relinquish control (somewhat) over the camera to make sure I get others' perspectives and to make sure I appear in some photos. Let everyone have a turn. It’s fun to see things from the perspective of a seven-year-old. Rely on the kindness of strangers and hand them your camera for a shot with you in it, and then offer to return the favor.

Finally, remember….

Nothing can help you revisit your vacation the way photographs can. They can transport you in an instant, long after the bags have been unpacked and the credit card paid off, to that tropical beach or that Sunday afternoon at the Eiffel Tower. They are moments frozen in time that will live forever, so make sure you don't blink.

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