Tips for Taking Good Vacation Photos

When I'm not blogging on TAR, I'm managing a team of creative video and photography professionals who produce beautiful imagery for a variety of clients.  I thought I'd share a few quick tips that will help ensure your vacation photos come out looking great.

Start With The Basics

You don't need to spend a fortune on a camera to take great photos.  Lets start with the simple to use point-and-shoot camera.  These little digital cameras have come a long way and many take some fantastic photos.  I've always been a fan of Canon's PowerShot line of cameras.  You can usually find a good point and shoot for around $200 or less.  A point and shoot is easy to use because you just turn it on, point and snap a photo.  You don't have to have an advanced understanding of focus or aperture.

When selecting a point and shoot camera look for two things megapixels and optical zoom.  Any point and shoot with a 4-5x optical zoom is decent.  Look for a minimum of 12-15 megapixels.  This will ensure you get crisp, large photos that you can alter and edit after your vacation.  

So what is optical zoom, you might ask?  This is the zoom ability of the camera using actual optics, meaning the lens physically zooms in.  Optical zoom is good because your camera is using physical optics to enlarge the image.  Digital zoom on the other hand is just the camera zooming in by enlarging an image.  When you do this pictures tend to get grainy or fuzzy.  If you can avoid it, don't use digital zoom.

Here's what I like about Point and Shoot Cameras:

  • Affordable
  • Use easy to find and inexpensive SD cards
  • Extra batteries are usually inexpensive or disposable
  • Doesn't require advance knowledge of photography or how to operate a camera
  • Portable
  • Many models also shoot video

Point and shoot cameras are a good option if you are going to shoot family photos on vacation or snap occasional photos of landmarks and attractions.  If you want to shoot scenic photos, wildlife or amazing architecture you may want to look at cameras with interchangeable lenses.

DSLR

If you're feeling a bit more adventurous jump into the world of DSLR photography.  DSLR stands for Digital Single-Lens Reflex.  In brief, what that means is what you see through the viewfinder is what you are going to see in your photograph.  Before digital cameras, when you snapped a photo the image would be exposed to the 35mm film.  Today, with a DSLR this happens digitally.  

DLSR cameras start in the $300-400 range and go into the thousands of dollars.  On the lower end look at the Canon EOS Rebel line, in the mid-range check out the Canon 60D, and near the top end look at the Canon 5D Mark iii.  (I mention Canon, but Nikon also makes excellent DSLR cameras)      

DSLR cameras require more knowledge, but once you get the basics you can take some amazing photographs.  In addition to the cost of the camera you will also need to buy lenses.  I highly recommend spending a little extra money in this department.  Many cameras will come with a "kit" lens.  This is an inexpensive lens the manufacturer paired with the camera to get you started.  The problem with many of these lenses is that they are cheap.  Good lenses are expensive, but the options are excellent.  If you want to snap really clear photos you want good glass.

What ranges of lenses should you get?

  • Get a good wide angle lens.  This is in the 15-30mm range.
  • Buy a good medium range lens.  This is in the 30-135mm range.
  • If you're going to shoot wildlife or objects fare away get a good telephoto lens.  This is in the 150-400mm range. 

Stop in your local camera shop to look at cameras and lenses before making a purchase.  Then compare prices online.  One of my favorite places to buy cameras is B&H Photo in New York.  Another good shop is Adorama.  These resellers offer good customer service and fair pricing.

General Tips

Here are some helpful reminders that will help you take better photos.

  • Avoid your flash if possible.  DLSR cameras make it easy for you to set your own exposure and achieve good results without a flash in lower light.
  • Take more than one photo to make sure you get the perfect shot.  With digital cameras it's easy to erase the bad ones.  Gone are the days of wasting film.
  • Use autofocus, but pay attention to what your camera is focusing on.  Even professionals use autofocus on still cameras.  
  • If using your cell phone camera know its limits and aim for photos in good light.
  • Don't use digital zoom.  There is never a good reason to use this feature.  Your photos will come out blurry.
  • Carry spare batteries and media cards.  
  • If you have a DSLR camera with detachable lenses put a UV filter on all of your lenses.  They are inexpensive and if they break are easy to replace.  This piece of glass will also protect your lens.
  • If you are using a telephoto lens a monopod or tripod is a good idea.  
  • Don't stand in front of a sunset and ask someone to take your photo.  You will become a silhouette.  Cameras need light in front of the subject to show off that subject.  If you use a flash you will lose the sunset in the background.  Instead, try taking a photo with your face to the sunset.  It won't be in the photo, but the setting sun provides great light on your face for a nice photo.