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Picta Photo Tips

5 Secrets to Taking Perfect Vacation Photos

April 12th, 2021

National Geographic photographer Jad Davenport poses five crucial questions.

Go ahead, blame Instagram. There’s never been more pressure on non-professional photographers to come back from vacation with the world’s best photographs.

But don’t worry—those anxious questions you’re asking have answers that will set you up for better shots, less stress, and a much better vacation overall. See if the camera you have is the best for you, and how a little research and practice around the house will set you up to capture fantastic images.

What’s the BEST camera to take on my trip?

The one you have on you. Professional and semi-pro cameras are complicated to use and can be heavy and awkward to carry. Small point-and-shoot cameras (cameras that don’t have interchangeable lenses) easily fit into your jacket pocket, a beach bag, or purse. You’re more inclined to take that camera everywhere and be ready when something unexpected and cool happens—like dolphins briefly surfing the ship’s bow wave, an impromptu selfie with a local, or a sunset view as you round a bend in the road.

How do I get better shots?

Simple: stand in front of better stuff. Seriously. Going to Athens? Spend a few hours Googling images to see what places other photographers photographed, what time of day they worked in if they shot from a high angle (maybe a hotel room balcony or overlook) or street level. Browse coffee-table books at your library or favorite bookstore. Start jotting down ideas in a notebook and download a map you can write on. A little bit of time spent on research pays big dividends later.

What’s the most important piece of photographic gear to bring?

An alarm clock. Light makes or breaks photographs. If you want pictures that have an emotional and sentimental kick to them, plan on getting out at sunrise and shooting for an hour or two. Likewise, get out again in the late afternoon when the light turns yellow, the shadows lengthen and the world takes on a sentimental look. Late afternoon is a wonderful time to make some portraits of friends and family or people you meet along the journey. Remember that notebook? On the very first page jot down sunrise and sunset times of wherever you’ll be. But remember, it’s your vacation, not a job. It’s fine to sleep in!

What’s my story?

Photographers call it a theme; it’s what helps us decide what to shoot—and just as importantly—what not to shoot. You’ll exhaust yourself quickly if you try and photograph everything all the time (and no one wants to sit in front of their computer for hours deleting random images). Ask yourself a few simple questions: What excites you about this vacation? Is it that three generations will be at a family reunion? Maybe your theme is simply “my family.” Have you always wanted to explore the Italian coast because of the food? Maybe your theme is “landscape and cuisine.” It doesn’t have to be complicated or impressive; anything that helps you focus your energy will make photography more fun, and when you’re having fun, you’ll take better pictures.

What if my camera intimidates me?

My cameras intimidate me. I probably use about a tenth of the features on them, and despite having shot professionally for 30 years, I still fumble around with shutter speeds and F-stops. Lucky for you, you’re reading this before your vacation. Get out and start practicing. Give yourself an assignment at home—and a theme—and spend a weekend playing with your gear. The beauty of digital photography is the instant feedback.

Print your vacation photos