Insider Guide to Taking Great Vacation Photos

Photos make great souvenirs; here are our insider tips for how to make your vacation photos the best they can be. First, take lots of photos. Remember that it is often quantity that helps the pros achieve their quality — they might take hundreds of photos in a single session to find that perfect shot. For most of us, the easiest and most cost effective way to do this is with a digital camera. Don’t forget to erase the images with closed eyes and cut-off heads so you’ll have more room in your camera’s memory for the good ones and won’t have to download as often. Learn all about your camera. Yes, we recommend that you read the manual. Sound boring? Maybe, but knowing all your camera’s capabilities will help you choose the settings that are most appropriate to your situation. And you might pick up some extra tips, like dating your photos, that will come in handy.

Time it right. Outdoor lighting is perfect during what professionals call the “magic hours” — right after dawn and just before sunset. For most people, there is more magic in the latter, but if you are traveling through time zones that make early mornings feasible, you might also find that the peace and quiet inherent to this time of day makes framing the perfect shot easier. Noon is the worst time to take photos because the sunlight is too harsh   (and is also likely to make your travel companions squint — and who wants that  in their photos?).

Light it right. The sun or indoor light source should always be behind you (the photographer), illuminating your subjects so they don’t appear in silhouette. Worried that there isn’t enough sun? Remember that on overcast days, the light is softer so there are no harsh shadows on the faces of your subjects.

Set up your shot. Take a moment before you snap each photo to examine exactly what is in the frame. These tips will help you set up shot:

Think of triangles. As you compose your shot, try to include subjects on three different levels. For example, if you are photographing three people, have one person standing, the second sitting, and the third person kneeling down in front. These different heights make the composition more interesting than lining people up in a row. Keep things in proportion. If you are using a wide-angle lens, you may find that whatever is closest to you as you snap the photo appears exaggerated and out of proportion. You can escape this problem by stepping back a few feet and then zooming in.

Fill the frame with your subject instead of leaving lots of empty space around it. If you need to, move closer or zoom in. Experiment with different angles. Try approaching your subject from different directions and holding the camera both vertically and horizontally. Take a second look. Is that a tree branch or lamp post sprouting from someone’s head? Check what you see in the frame one more time, to make sure the shot is set up the way you want  it.

Good moods lead to good pictures. This shouldn’t be hard — you’re on vacation after all! Professional photographers are always thinking about ways to add energy, interaction and movement into their photos and you should, too, remembering that laughter evokes all three of these special qualities.

Look your best. Whether you’re in the photo yourself, or taking photos of the friends and family with whom you are vacationing, following these tips to make sure everyone looks as wonderful as they really are: Minimize a wrinkly or shiny face. Airplane trips can be very dehydrating, so use extra moisturizer to keep skin looking radiant, since the camera can make sallowness and wrinkles appear more pronounced. Of course you don’t want a shiny face either — so use foundation   and translucent powder when necessary. And be sure to extend foundation to the neck and decolletage since differences in skin tone will be more apparent on camera.

Maximize available light. Set up your shot   to get as much light on the face as possible. Indoors, pose your subject close to the window or other light source. And indoors and out, always use the flash — the light will illuminate the skin and conceal imperfections. The exception is for photos taken on a white sand beach or out in the snow — the reflective qualities of the scenery itself will help light up your subject’s face.

Act natural. To keep your subjects from looking too posed and rigid, keep up a natural conversation as you set up the shot, have them sit on or lean against something, and have them hold onto   something — even just their sunglasses or hat — to ensure that their hands aren’t straight down by their sides.

Banish double chins. Avoid the dreaded double chin by ensuring that the camera is at or slightly above the subject’s   eye level. Shorter photographers can achieve this by having their subjects sit   down and look up toward the camera, or by having their subjects bend their knees a little bit. (And now you know why fashion photographers so often use tep ladders!)

Don’t blink. Closed eyes can be a problem   for everyone (we all have to blink from time to time), but it seems to be most pronounced in group photos when just one person with eyes closed requires another shot. So tell everyone to shut their eyes and count to three. On the count of three, say something funny or unexpected so that everyone will open their eyes and laugh, and you’ll snap the perfect picture.

Turn, turn, turn. By directing your subject   to turn his or her head slightly and look over your shoulder rather than directly into the camera lens, you’ll avoid both the “deer-in-the-headlights” look and help your subject look slimmer, since in the resulting photo, the viewer’s eye will be drawn up and down rather than from side to side (if it is a   full-body shot, encourage the subject to turn his or her whole body for the same reason)