It's frustrating to spend lots of time (and lots of dollars) on a major trip only to return with lackluster pictures. Yet there are easy ways to improve the odds that at least one shot among your next batch of vacation photos will earn a place in a frame. Here are some tips to help.
Start shooting before you leave home. That's especially important with a new camera. Reading the manual on the plane is not enough, says Eliot Cohen, a Washington, D.C., photographer who teaches digital photography. "Practice with it before you take important pictures," Cohen says.
Make the foreground interesting. "A rock, tree or statue can work," says Scott Stuckey, author of National Geographic's Ultimate Field Guide to Travel Photography and managing editor of its Traveler magazine. "Even better is a shot of a person doing something that relates to the landscape - a fisherman tending his nets, a cowboy on horseback, even a tourist taking a picture." Sunsets aren't that interesting, Stuckey says. "Turn around and photograph the landscape where the setting sunlight is falling, with the sun at your back. That's where the interest lies."
Go beyond the posed picture. "Vacations pictures are about remembering moments, not just places," says Susan Walsh, an Associated Press photographer. Shots of your friends in action capture the fun of a trip. "They remind you what you were doing," Walsh says.Don't forget the locals, Stuckey advises. "They reveal the character of a destination more than any other photographic subject," he says. "
Plan your outdoor photos for the first and last hour of sunlight. Midday sun tends to make pictures flat and shapeless. The day's "golden hours" give objects more shape and definition. Regardless of the time of day, Cohen recommends using light from the sides of the frame. "For people, look for softer light, more diffuse, even in shade, for more revealing detail," he says. For buildings, Stuckey suggests balancing sky light, street lights and lights from within. "At that point, the building is glowing, looking its best," he says. "Add life to your city shots by putting interesting human activity in the foreground, with the building only in the background."
Get as close as you can to your subject. Try to move in and "fill your frame," says Charles Dharapak, an Associated Pressphotographer. "If you can get closer, I'd say the results will be sharper." Avoid using the camera's zoom in low-light. The zoom lens usually engages a slower shutter speed to collect more light, which increases chance of blur from movement.
Know when to turn the flash off and when to turn it on. It's not always obvious. Faces and other objects in shadows cast by a bright sun may need that extra light. "Many people figure if they're outside they don't need the flash," says Baltimore photographer Walter Rowe, editor of the Travel Photographers Network website. "Flash can help lighten up those areas so they don't appear so dark." At night, not using the flash might be the best way to capture an image. But for a longer exposure, the camera will need to be steady to avoid blurring. Use the camera's timer to avoid the downward movement that comes with pressing the shutter button, advises Rowe. Steady yourself against a wall. Try placing the camera on a flat surface.
Check the edges of the frame as you compose a shot. Look for objects you don't want in the picture. At the beach it might be a trash can; in the city it might be an orange construction barrier. Then reframe accordingly. When using a digital camera, review all the elements once again after taking the picture. If a post or a tree is sticking out of someone's head, reshoot.
Buy the largest memory card you can afford. And bring extra batteries or the battery charger and adapter. "Don't be afraid to take a lot of pictures," Dharapak says. Walsh adds, "You've already paid for those megapixels, so use them." On a long trip, look for a photo store that can download your pictures to a disc. You risk losing all your photos if you drop your camera in a river or if it's misplaced or stolen.