Travel Photography

10 Tips for Better Vacation and Holiday Photography

A great trip abroad with your loved ones is an amazing chance for unique holiday photography.
In today’s article you’ll find out how to maximize photography from your trip, while still getting to spend time with the people you traveled there with.


10. Find the Best Spots to Photograph at Your Holiday Destination

Even if you’re not planning to do any photography, learning about the location you’re traveling to will enhance your experience.
Aim for a plan that keeps you on track with places to visit, but is also loose enough to allow you to go off the beaten path a bit.
How are you going to find out about the photos you could be taking?

  • Local knowledge – Is there a way you can reach out to local photographers before visiting a place? It’s a good idea if you can. Joining Facebook groups for the destination you’re visiting is one possible way of gaining a contact.
  • Friends – Do you have a friend who has already visited the place? They may be able to give you some tips.
  • Photography websites – If you’re looking to be independent on your trip, you can still get an idea of the photos taken at your destination. Websites like 500px, Flickr or Instagram allow you to search photos by location.
  • Tourism websites – Tourism websites will show you where the famous places to visit are. You can often use this to plan some of the photos you’re going to take.

An aerial view of the roofs of colored building


9. How to Not Overpack

The right selection of equipment, and a good travel bag to carry it are vital for a photography trip. Like your trip, your bag should allow a split between photography and other things.
You’ll want enough additional space in your bag to carry items like water, and sun cream.
Which photography equipment should also go in your bag then?

  • Camera body – A decent camera body. The trend is towards the smaller and lighter weight mirror-less cameras. As size and weight matters when you travel, the mirror-less camera is a good option.
  • Wide angle lens – This is vital for so many photos you’ll take during your holiday. Photos of your family in front of famous locations? Big epic landscape photos? Interior architecture photography with impact? These all require a good quality wide angle lens.
  • Prime lens for portraits – It’s great to have a lens with a large aperture. You can use it for portraits. Ideal for low light, and street photography the optimum focal length will be 50mm.
  • Tripod – You’ll need this to get top level landscape photos, and in the evening or indoors. Tripods will also allow you to take group photos, with yourself in the frame. A tripod is a large and heavy item. Taking this will be at your discretion. An alternative to a full blown tripod is the gorilla pod.
  • Strobe – A few modifiers to go with it like the rogue flashbender, and ideally radio triggers and receivers for remote flash. You can really get amazing portrait results, and your food photography will be massively enhanced.
Aerial view of rooftops of buildings at evening time
A wide angle lens for landscape photos.

8. Wake Up Early to Avoid the Crowds

There are a lot of good reasons for waking up early for holiday photography. This is your holiday as well, so get the balance right so you don’t need a holiday after your holiday!
Here are the reasons you’ll be up at the crack of dawn for the best holiday photography.

  • Sunrise – There are some location that are best photographed at sunrise. You’ll likely need to wake up at least an hour before sunrise, and it’s best to plan where you’ll photograph from the afternoon before.
  • Local life – Even though you’ll be a tourist yourself, you’ll want to avoid photographing other tourists in your holiday travel photography. To do this waking up early, while other tourists are still sleeping is a great idea. At this time of day you’ll get a real idea of how local life is lived, great for street photography!
  • Me time – Perhaps the most compelling reason to get up early is that it guarantees you some “me time”. You’ll be able to join your family for the rest of the day, having already taken some amazing photos while they were still sleeping.

Sydney Opera house at sunset

7. How to Make the Most of Available Light on a Holiday

A lot of holiday photography means you’ll be photographing in imperfect light. That’s because you’ll be following the schedule of your family, and not the schedule of a photographer.
There may be times where you just happen to be at the right place when the light is perfect, but it’s unlikely to be planned.
How often do you think you’ll get to photograph the evening blue hour, when that time overlaps with dinner time?
Unless you’re traveling alone or with another photographer, you’ll have to compromise.

  • Hard light – Most photographers avoid photographing during the middle of the day, mainly to avoid this very strong hard light. Is it possible to work with this type of light? Of course it is, but you may need to adapt your subject matter. You can use this light for strong, high contrast, and low key street portraits. Even landscapes can work. CPL and GND filters will help here.
  • Photographing into the light – Photographing into the light can be tough. Learn techniques like digital blending, or perhaps try photographing for silhouettes.
  • Low light – Blue hour is the photographer’s choice of low light. When on holiday, you might not get to photograph in this light. Learning to photograph when it’s dark will help. For interior and portrait photos, learn to use a flash and to bounce this off walls or ceilings. Photographing landscape may prove more difficult. A good tripod, and acceptance of more contrast in your photo will help you get good results though.
A father and son walking in the ocean
You’ll need to work with midday sun.

6. Ideas to Help You Avoid Cliche Holiday Photos

Holiday photos can result in quite a few cliched scenes. The most obvious one of all is standing in front of main tourist attractions, a forced smile, and essentially just recording the fact you where there.
As someone who has probably brought multiple lenses, and a nice camera body with them, you’ll want something more diverse than this.
That doesn’t mean avoid portraits in front of famous places, but just be more creative. Don’t be afraid of trying techniques others have used either. Use your own interpretation of that technique.

  • Jumping photos – These can be a lot of fun, and you’ll get more natural expressions.
  • Forced perspective – Pushing back the leaning tower of Pisa? Holding the top of the Taj Mahal? Try your own forced perspective with a long focal length.
  • Crystal ball – Turn the world upside down, and photograph a scene with a different lens objective.
  • Alternative poses – There are plenty of ways to pose beyond the standard line-up. How will you set up a group of people? Will it be the Beatles walk?
  • Silhouettes – This can be an interesting challenge. Just ensure you photograph from a low angle, to ensure the full silhouette of the person or object. You will, of course, be photographing into the light.
A group jumping in front of a body of water
A reflection with a jump photo!


5. Balance Out Portraits and Landscapes

The majority of people will gravitate to either portrait photography, or landscape photography. Look at the holiday photos you’ve taken after day 1. Is there a dominant genre in there?
If that is the case, make a conscious effort to get a more balanced set of photos. Even if you normally concentrate on one area of photography, challenge yourself to get the whole story.
Getting the whole story means a mix of portrait and landscape photos.

A holiday portrait of a female model in asian style dress posing in a forest
Did you take enough portraits?

4. Include Your Family

Taking photos of your family, or fellow holiday makers, should be the main focus of your time. It’s great to have had some me time, and perhaps wake up early in the morning while they’re still sleeping. But questions will be asked if they’re not included!
See how you can get some great photos of them. You’ve already learnt some ideas to get creative with these portrait photos.
You’ll also want to get some natural candid photos of them as well. Hone your street photographer instincts and channel this towards photographing your loved ones.
A family portrait eating dinner outdoors on holiday

3. Capture the Local Culture Through Food

The food you eat is a big part of the trip! It’s going to be as big a part of the local culture as the people in local markets, and the grand architectural masterpieces you’ll photograph.
Get some great food holiday photos, and your friends at home will be jealous and hungry when they see them!
Remember to respect the restaurant, some might not like you taking photos. Be quick as well. No one enjoys waiting to eat while you’re composing.
When it’s possible to get nice photos though, keep the following in mind.

  • Natural light – If you can sit next to a window, this type of side light can work nicely for food photography.
  • Strobes – Provided you can use a flash in the restaurant, bounce the flash off the ceiling. If you can use off-camera flash and a soft box, then aim the light on top of the food and slightly to the back.
  • Angle – The angle you take food photos at can vary. The typical photo is at about a 30 degree angle, and including some background. More overhead angles can also be interesting.
  • Background – Keep the background clean by choosing a relatively high aperture. If you’re photographing down onto the food look for an interesting textured surface.

A close up food photo of plates of sushi

2. Photograph the Location at Night

One of the main periods of down time you’ll get during a holiday is at night. If you’re on a beach holiday you may have permanent downtime, but other trips will typically be active during the day.
That means that nighttime is a good opportunity to get out and take some photographs.

  • Have fun – Look for fun ways to photograph, do that and you can persuade your family to join your photography!
  • Use a tripod – A lot of night photography is long exposure. You’ll need a tripod for this.
  • Light painting – A great long exposure technique is light painting.  It’s creative, fun, and you can involve your family if they’re game!
  • Use the light – Get out and use ambient light for street photography. Alternatively experiment with your own light, and use a flash.

A creative holiday photography portarit of a man sitting cross legged with pink light painting shapes surrounding him

1. Go Through Your Images Every Day to Self-Critique

It’s tempting to take many photos during your trip. This spray and pray approach isn’t really a useful way of getting the best photos though. And it can slow your improvement as a photographer.
Instead it’s best to review your work on a daily basis. Use a critical eye, and decide which photos really worked. Select the best photos you’ve taken that day.
At the end of the trip re-edit your selection by choosing a best of the best. Look to keep this selection to around 20 or 30 images.

The shadow of an airplane in flight on water
Now it’s time to book your flight!