How To Take Better Vacation Photos, With Tips From Travel Photographers

Written for MyCentralJersey.com and DailyRecord.com on 3/3/15

It’s a Sunday afternoon, and you’re not entirely sure how you ended up trapped in a distant family member’s living room.

You try to pay attention to the photos that they are motioning to from their position on the couch next to you, but you find yourself going through the motions, nodding and smiling at what seems to be the appropriate moments.

How does someone have so many photos of the same beach? How much longer am I going to have to sit here and look at these drab vacation photos?

We’ve all been there. Held hostage by a well-meaning companion, we are forced to sit through one boring vacation photo after the next. However, it doesn’t have to be this way.

A cabin that Palecek frequently visits in Ontario, Canada where she wakes to watch the sunrise with a cup of coffee. (Courtesy of Heather Palecek)

A cabin that Palecek frequently visits in Ontario, Canada where she wakes to watch the sunrise with a cup of coffee. (Courtesy of Heather Palecek)

According to Heather Palecek, portrait, celebration and travel photographer of Hamilton, the best travel photos retell the story of your trip and allow you to visually relive your experience.

“In 20 years, the goal is to be able to look through your album and smile when reminded of a romantic night under a blanket of stars or be able to smell the morning dew from that camping trip you took in Oregon,” she said.

For a recreational photographer, this can sound a lot easier said than done. But with tips from Palecek and Songquan Deng, owner of Songquan Photography of Edison, any camera-dutied family vacationer can take more compelling photos.

One of the easiest things that travelers can do to create more interesting photos is to look for new, interesting perspectives. “Rather than photographing the Seattle Space Needle from the same spot everyone else does, photograph it through a window reflection, from below or from far away out your car window so you can document a story about the moment you saw it,” said Palecek.

Palecek had to hitchhike for the first time in her life and then walk along a winding dirt path to get to the top of a waterfall which had a view of Telluride, Colorado and the neighboring forest fires in the Summer of 2012. (Courtesy of Heather Palecek)

Palecek had to hitchhike for the first time in her life and then walk along a winding dirt path to get to the top of a waterfall which had a view of Telluride, Colorado and the neighboring forest fires in the Summer of 2012. (Courtesy of Heather Palecek)

When choosing a new perspective, travelers should focus on details that will remind them of their specific trip through all of their senses, Palecek continued. “A photograph of the New York City skyline from Hoboken will remind you that you once visited NYC, but you’d make a more compelling argument if you had a close up photo of a pigeon eating a pretzel on a dirty sidewalk while people walked by or a close-up photograph of that delicious margarita you drank at that hole-in-the-wall bar on the Lower East Side,” she said.

She also mentioned that finding focal points, such as that pigeon or margarita, can make a landscape photograph more interesting because one central element that the eyes are drawn to is created, although obviously everyone is going to want at least one wide-angle landscape shot of a city or park.

However, since photography is the art of light, following the light of a scene is one element that cannot be forgotten within these methods. Although light can be controlled in a studio, the same cannot be said for shooting outdoors.

According to Deng, travelers should face their cameras away from the sun, which means shooting to the west in the morning and to the east in the afternoon. When it comes to landscape photography, like taking shot of a sunset or a cityscape, travelers should aim for the early morning and late afternoon. “As the sun is less bright, photos are less likely to have blowing out highlight and dark shadow,” Deng said. “The warm hue of the sunlight and soft blue sky also allows your shots to stand out with brilliant colors.”

An adult mother whale swims in the Klamath River in Oregon as her calf was swimming out of sight. (Courtesy of Heather Palecek)

An adult mother whale swims in the Klamath River in Oregon as her calf was swimming out of sight. (Courtesy of Heather Palecek)

Deng said that timing is the mistake he sees most often in unsuspecting travelers as most people take shots in the middle of the day when the sun is at its brightest, which is the worst time for photography.

“It is understandable as people enjoy their sweet dreams in the early morning and they drink beers and eat their delicious steaks when the sun is down,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with that as people travel for fun and taking photos is just the way they keep their beautiful memories. If it conflicts with your vacation fun, I would say stick to the fun and keep the beautiful sunset in your memory instead of in your camera.”

Many people think that to take beautiful photographs they need expensive, heavy gear, but Deng said that this is not the case, especially for casual travelers who have no need to carry an extra 30 pounds of photography gear with them. His No. 1 camera recommendation is something that many of us already have — an iPhone, due to its size, weight and ability to quickly upload shots to a computer.

Palecek recommends an entry-level digital single-lens reflex camera (DSLR) such as a Canon T5i ($600) or Nikon D5300 ($700) for those who are looking for more versatility with their cameras, although these can be intimidating and a little more cumbersome than a smart phone.

New York City’s Manhattan panorama view with the Brooklyn Bridge and office building skyscrapers skyline illuminated over Hudson River in memory of September 11. (Courtesy of Songquan Deng)

New York City’s Manhattan panorama view with the Brooklyn Bridge and office building skyscrapers skyline illuminated over Hudson River in memory of September 11. (Courtesy of Songquan Deng)

“It is understandable as people enjoy their sweet dreams in the early morning and they drink beers and eat their delicious steaks when the sun is down,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with that as people travel for fun and taking photos is just the way they keep their beautiful memories. If it conflicts with your vacation fun, I would say stick to the fun and keep the beautiful sunset in your memory instead of in your camera.”

Many people think that to take beautiful photographs they need expensive, heavy gear, but Deng said that this is not the case, especially for casual travelers who have no need to carry an extra 30 pounds of photography gear with them. His No. 1 camera recommendation is something that many of us already have — an iPhone, due to its size, weight and ability to quickly upload shots to a computer.

Palecek recommends an entry-level digital single-lens reflex camera (DSLR) such as a Canon T5i ($600) or Nikon D5300 ($700) for those who are looking for more versatility with their cameras, although these can be intimidating and a little more cumbersome than a smart phone.

Both Central Jersey photographers urged all camera users to read the owner’s manual of their camera so that they can have complete control of an image and will know how to use it when the right moment comes.

New York City Manhattan skyline aerial view at sunset. (Courtesy of Songquan Deng)

New York City Manhattan skyline aerial view at sunset. (Courtesy of Songquan Deng)

According to Deng, 60 percent of the beauty in his photos comes from the “shutter click” and 40 percent from retouching, so those who are serious about their travel photography should invest in Photoshop. Palecek also recommended that interested travelers should continue their photography education by taking a course at a local library, conducting personal online research or attending a workshop, such as those offered at Unique Photo.

However, rather than something like a lack of expensive cameras or software, Palecek said the biggest mistake that she sees people make are not taking enough risks. “Too many photographers will take the safe route while on vacation and end up with a lot of posed family photos in front of landmarks when the greatest shots would probably be the candid moments shared amongst your family and friends,” she said. “Take some risks and you’ll surprise yourself with what you end up with.”

 

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