Insider Tips on Taking the Best Photos on Your Vacation - My Family Travels

Here are 10 helpful suggestions from travel writers and photographers for taking the best photos on your next vacation.

The Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), the world’s largest organization of professional travel journalists and photographers, recently polled its members to come up with the “Top 10” tips to help travelers take better vacation photos.

Girl with camera and tripod taking a portrait of a dog.
When taking the best photos, fill the frame with your subject, say photojournalists from SATW. Photo c. Sara Richter for pixabay

“With digital cameras, it has never been easier or cheaper to take top quality vacation photos,” states broadcast travel journalist, Bea Broda. “However, there are still some things that travelers can do to help them come back with stunning images of their vacation,” she said.

Since the pro’s at SATW helped Family Travel Forum judge its Teen Travel Writing Scholarship awards for essays, photos and videos, we know how good their tips are. Additionally, we’re adding tips from National Geographic’s star photojournalist Ira Block, who recently held a workshop for New York Travel Writers journalists. Here are the “Top 10” tips for better travel photos with comments from SATW writers and photographers:

Light Matters When Taking the Best Photos

1. For Ira Block, light is the key element in making images work. He looks for light that will cast shadows or make colors pop. The usual advice is to shoot photos early in the morning and late in the afternoon. Between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., the sun is overhead and the light is flat. Shooting in early morning and late afternoon will add more color and shadows to your photos, giving more definition to the subject.

Although morning and late afternoon are considered the best light for making photographs, some exceptions apply. In the Caribbean, for instance, to capture the water at its most electric aquamarine, shoot the seascape from on high, preferably at noon.” — Patricia Borns, maritime and travel writer/photographer

Fill the Frame for the Best Photos

2. Move in close to your subject for impact (too far back and your photo can be too busy). Get close, and then get closer! Fill the frame with your subject.

“Use your camera to record details you would like to remember later such as street signs, place names and menus.” — Shelly Steig, freelance writer and photographer

Look for Fresh Angles to View the World

Photographer with tripod takes a picture.
Always look for a fresh angle on your subject and pay attention to the background so there are no distracting details. Phots c. S Hermann and F. Richter for pixabay

3. Don’t shoot every photo at eyelevel. Don’t be afraid to get low to the ground or climb up to get a better vantage point. Ira Block reminds photographers to turn around, since the best shot might be behind you!

“Shooting a scene at other than eyelevel can add drama or perspective to an otherwise static setting. Even if you can’t peer through the lens, hold your camera overhead or at waist level and experiment.”– David Swanson, freelance travel writer/photographer

Carry a rubber mouse pad in your camera bag. It will make it easier on your knees and clothing whenever you kneel down for a low camera angle.” — Michele & Tom Grimm, photographers and authors

Taking the Best Photos Requires Attention to Detail

4. Pay attention to details and distractions in the back of the photo or behind the heads of your subjects. Frequently, a telephone pole or tree is sticking up behind your subject. Move around until there are fewer distractions in the background. A bad background ruins a great shot every time.

“Don’t rely on your zoom lens to compose your images. You have two feet. Move about for the best angle and composition.” — Dennis Cox, travel photographer, director of Photo Explorer Tours

Shoot, Shoot, Shoot Some More

5. Shoot lots of photos and edit and erase at night. Digital space is cheap. Shoot in the highest resolution possible. Choose a robust digital photo editor and you can do anything, even with your cellphone photos.

“Bracket your exposures and remember that if the light is low, you can increase your ISO (the equivalent of being able to change film speed) for every shot.”– Catherine Watson, freelance travel writer

“It depends on what you like to do, but I don’t like sitting in front of a computer after a day of shooting. I don’t want to sift through all those extra photos, and I don’t want to crop them. I try every time to get the shot I want on location and capture that moment.”– Ira Block, photojournalist

Add A Sense of Place When Taking the Best Photos

Two photographers taking pictures of cherry blossoms in Japan.
When taking the best photos on vacation, always include a sense of place to help viewers feel the surroundings. Photo c. Yamabon for pixabay

6. Always show a sense of place as to where you are. If in the tropics, frame the photo with palm trees; if in the mountains, frame it with pine trees.

“On cloudy, dreary days, try to include bright colors such as red (a person’s jacket, an umbrella, a sign) in the photo, since reds, oranges, yellows and fuchsias can make a washed-out rainy scene pop with liveliness.”– Susan Farlow, freelance travel writer

Use Multiple Angles to Guarantee the Shot

7. Shoot important subjects from several different angles and vantage points and with different lens and at different exposures. Take an overall wide shot, a medium range shot and a close up detail shot. Check your photos on site to make sure you have your shot.

“When shooting with a slow shutter speed and no tripod, shoot three quick frames in a row, making a better chance one will come out sharp.” — Michael Ventura, freelance travel photographer

“Remember to shoot verticals as well as horizontal shots. Verticals work best for magazine covers or full single pages.” — Susan Farlow, freelance travel writer

Taking the Best Photo Requires Taking Your Time

Photographer in silhouette taking a picture of the mountains at dusk.
It pays to take your time and wait for the right light to capture the beauty of a natural setting. Photo c. Gunther Schneider for pixabay

8. Wait before you click! Wait for the clouds to clear, the truck to move away from the front of the cathedral or other distractions to pass.

“Look around you and see what’s happening. If a child with a red balloon is coming around the corner, wait until she runs into your frame.”– Mary Love, freelance travel photographer and writer

Feature the Locals for the Best Vacation Photos

9. Put local people in your photos. Ask permission first and try not to pose them. Put people in your photos to give a sense of size and scale.

“Learn the phrase for ‘Smile, please’ in the language of the place where you are traveling, and smile before, during and after you click the shutter.” — Maxine Cass, freelance travel photographer

“After photographing a local, turn your digital camera around and show the image to your subject. Everybody is happy to see what a great photo you just took.” — Annette Thompson, associate travel and livings editor, Southern Living

Don’t Be Afraid to Add A Flash

Woman taking notes while walking on a Morocco sidewalk
Although professional travel writers have to take notes, be sure to pause and look around so you can take the best photos. Photo c. Ron Bozman / Media Noche

10. Use fill-flash, even outdoors, to “fill-in” shadows.

“Sometimes you don’t have the option of waiting for the right light. The fill flash will light up a person’s face and remove shadows when the sun is overhead.”– Laurie D. Borman, editorial director, Rand McNally

“Always carry a portable flash,” says Ira Block. Some subjects will just pop out of the frame with a little catch light reflected in their eyes. “That sparkle draws the viewer’s attention,” he adds.

The Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) is a non-profit professional association that works to promote responsible travel journalism and to provide professional support for its members, including travel journalists, photographers, editors, electronic media, film lecturers, television and film producers, and public relations representatives from the travel industry.

Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.

5 Replies to “Insider Tips on Taking the Best Photos on Your Vacation”