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Dread Taking Photos on Vacation? Read Our Tips

Editor’s note: this post is written by D.C. Pelka, Beth’s longtime travel partner. He is an avid photographer who loves capturing the strange and normal aspects of travel, especially the small moments of local people’s daily lives. You can see some of his photos on our website’s home page. Thanks for sharing your expertise (and some photos) with us!

Travel and Photography – Show me the magic!

What makes travel photography so special? For me it’s about sharing. Sharing holiday pics with family and friends is a great way to share experiences. Travel snaps also help us remember our stories, our adventures and moments because sometimes a picture is worth more that a thousand words. Taking travel photos helps connect us to a place and says, yes I am really going to eat that scorpion.

Eating ants on Khao San Road in Bangkok. Photo by D.C. Pelka.

Eating ants on Khao San Road in Bangkok. Photo by D.C. Pelka.

So dust off your camera and let’s journey into some travel photography tips for beginners.

Do I need that fishing / camera vest thing?

In order to take some magical holiday photos on holiday, you need a camera. Some people travel with three lenses, and dslr and tripod and accessories galore. Well some people would actually be me five years ago. He or she with the most toys wins — wins a sore neck and shoulder cramps. Now that’s not all bad. It’s an excellent excuse to have a happy hour unwind or local massage but those are probably best enjoyed anyway. Pack light and work with the gear you have. Small cameras are really good at catching candid moments. More on that later.

The one that looks like a mountain!

Cameras can be about as confusing as a Berber merchant trying to give you a good deal.

Best of Morocco 115

A Berber shopkeeper who did give us a good deal. Photo by D.C. Pelka.

So a lot of people leave their camera on Auto and that’s great. Camera companies put a lot of time and money into developing this mode and yes it works. On your next trip however you might want to add something a little extra by using the other preset modes that are built into most cameras today. Here are four popular modes.

Scenic mode – The symbol looks like a mountain and is great for wide scenes.

Portrait mode – The symbol looks like a head and it can give some blur behind the person.

Macro mode – The symbol looks like a flower and perfect for close ups of flowers, insects or food!

Night mode – The symbol looks like night and is used for night time photos.

Get to know the settings on your camera, especially the scene functions.

Get to know the settings on your camera, especially the scene functions.

The big stuff first!

A great photo tells the viewer a story. Easy. Well, if you are a professional photographer maybe, but on holiday, that sounds a little too much like work. Aim for your holiday photos to tell your holiday story. Simple.

Start with the big stuff. Are you in Beijing? Take photos of the wall. In Sydney, how about the bridge and opera house. It can be difficult to take a unique or different photo of an icon. Think about different angles, heights, you in the picture, the sky and time of day. Try doing a little homework and looking on Flickr for a particular composition that you like and try recreating it when you are there.

At popular tourist destinations, I often see one person take a picture of something and then someone copies the picture. Great for finding interesting and different things to take a snaps of. Look for the guy with the camera vest, big camera and tripod. They usually don’t smile too much but have good photo ideas.

Sometimes seeing what others are taking photos of will help you get inspiration. Photo by Beth Green

Sometimes seeing what others are taking photos of will help you get inspiration. Photo by Beth Green

You don’t need to take photos all the time. Put the camera down and get a feel for where you are. Feel the bricks in the wall, smell the fresh baked bread or femented fish and see the beautiful. Smile at locals and try to engage them. Be friendly. Walk on roads five hundred years old or dirt trails. Then take pictures of interesting foods, markets, architecture, temples, churches, parks, streets, funny moments, or really anything that gives a place a special feel or that is different from your home. This builds the story. Your story.

I love taking pictures of people. People are rich in similarities and differences. As I refereed to earlier on, a small camera can be disarming and is great for taking candid photos of people. Sometimes, taking out a large camera can create an unnatural photo because people think that they need to pose or even shy away. Sometimes you will need to ask permission but always smile, be polite and show people the photo you took. People love seeing themselves on a camera.

These women were part of a musical ensemble that greeted the Olympic Torch as it passed through a town in China before the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Photo by D.C. Pelka.

These women were part of a musical ensemble that greeted the Olympic Torch as it passed through a town in China before the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Photo by D.C. Pelka.

My vacation is over! I have finished!

Not so fast. What about post production? Oh no. Sigh. This is really not as much fun as taking the pics in the first place but it’s not at all like taking eight hours to hike up a three hour trail with the guy who is chain smoking and has polio gets there first. There’s a few quick and easy solutions that can be found in any basic photo editor to make things easy.

  • Turn everything the right way up or else you will suffer neck rotation pains.
  • Delete the blurry ones. You can just make out the… no I think I dropped my camera.
Delete the blurry photos. No matter how much you liked this guy's music, the picture isn't worth saving.

Delete the blurry photos. No matter how much you liked this guy’s music, the picture isn’t worth saving.

  • Maybe add a little contrast and saturation. Make your photos pop, but remember just add a pinch.
  • If you’re using your phone maybe use Instagram, Pixlr-o-matic or another app for some fun effects.

Time to show off!

Now that you have your holiday pics, your vacation snaps it’s time to share them online at Facebook or Flickr. Maybe have a food inspired night and show your photos to your friends and family. Tell your story and share the experience and you might just end up sharing some understanding too.

Do you have some great travel photos? Share them with us on Facebook!

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