Thursday, February 24, 2005

Vacation photos made easy

How often have you taken pictures during your vacation only to develop them later on to find them devoid of any of the beauty you saw during your trip? Those awesome shots of snowcapped peaks or crystalline lakes just don’t seem as eye-popping once the photo has been developed. The colors are flat, images appear lifeless, or maybe the picture’s too dark in some spots and washed out in others.

Taking a bad photo happens to all of us. It’s disappointing and can get quite frustrating when the camera doesn’t quite capture things the way we see them. Learning which aperture setting or shutter speed to use, along with remembering how everything can affect the photo, such as the angle of the sun or whether the sky is overcast or clear, can get quite overwhelming.

Automatic point and shoot cameras have made photography much easier, but they don’t always capture the vivid colors and beauty we see with our eyes. If you’re into digital, there’s software available that can turn just about any mediocre shot into something more pleasing.

But what if you’re not the next aspiring Ansel Adams and simply want to take a photo without all the gadgets or computer software? It’s easy. By being aware of what you’re shooting and remembering a few things while you’re doing it can turn those ordinary shots into great photo memories. Of course there’s much more to the craft and it’s up to you how much further you want to take the learning process, but regardless photography should always be fun!


The first thing you should be aware of even before you start taking pictures is what type of film to use. Film varies according to its ISO number, which stands for International Standards Organization. The ISO number describes the film’s speed and sensitivity to light.

For example, if you’re using a simple point and shoot camera outdoors on a sunny day, ISO 100 color-print film is a good choice. The higher the ISO number the faster the film. Taking pictures of speeding racecars or other sporting events require a faster film to catch the action. ISO 800 film would be a better choice than ISO 100.

Before choosing your film consider the kind of elements in which you’ll be taking pictures. Is it sunny or overcast? Is it indoors or outside? Stationary scenery or fast moving objects? Films with ISO numbers of 400 or more are considered fast. Less light is needed for proper exposure with faster film, so a higher ISO number is better for shots in dim lighting or for action shots.

When in doubt use ISO 100 for outdoor photos and ISO 400 or higher for indoors.


Light is the key element that makes the difference between a great picture and a disappointing one. When the light is right even the most boring subject can come alive and seem interesting. When considering lighting, timing is essential. The best pictures aren’t always taken when it’s most convenient for the photographer.

Most vacation photos are taken when parks or other popular tourist attractions are open, which is usually during normal daytime hours when the sun is high in the sky. During that time, the sun is more directly overhead causing shadows to be much shorter. Contrast is much harsher and glare from the sun can also be a problem.

The best pictures, however, are taken when the majority of us are still sleeping or have put away our cameras and sitting down to dinner. Timing is vital when trying to capture that perfect moment while the lighting is at its best. The sun won’t wait. You’ll have to be the one to adjust your schedule. If that means having to get up an hour early or delaying dinner so be it. It’s a small price to pay if you want the chance to get some great travel photos.

Early morning light tints the earth with a multitude of colors giving it warmth and enhancing your subject’s beauty and personality. Fog can linger after the sun has risen giving your scene a dreamy quality. Shooting at sunset also has its advantages regarding color, especially if there are clouds on the horizon. They’ll reflect nature’s hues for a more dramatic shot. To add even more interest, include a foreground subject, such as a gnarled tree, a rock formation, or a couple holding hands.

The angle of light determines the overall affect of your picture. Your subject can appear quite different when lit from various angles, whether it’s from a natural or an artificial light source. Be aware of the sun’s angle and try to spend some extra time taking pictures when it’s at varying heights in the sky. You’ll be surprised at how much better your subject appears when the sunlight isn’t so harsh.


Knowing the direction of the sun is very important. However, it’s also important to understand how the sun’s angle will affect your photo in regards to where the highlights and shadows fall. Shot with the light source in the back, your subject will look completely different than having the light source in front. Find the best direction for the light and you’ll be able to better capture the inner beauty of your subject.

Front lighting is when the light source is in front of your subject. This type of lighting produces a fairly shadowless picture because the shadows are being cast behind and away from the subject. Although it is a safe way to shoot, and the most common for vacation photos, it’s not very exciting or artistic. It doesn’t adequately show the subject’s texture or color. Built-in flashes often produce this type of flat frontal lighting.

Sidelighting emphasizes your subject’s texture, shape, color, and produces strong shadows. It’s less harsh and gives pleasing highlights. Outdoors, sidelighting occurs when the sun is low in the sky (sunrise and sunset). It is preferable when taking scenic pictures.

Backlighting is light coming from behind your subject. It casts shadows towards the camera producing a bright edge around the subject and causing translucent subjects to appear to glow. It can produce beautiful pictures, but take precautions so direct light doesn’t hit the lens causing a loss of contrast or color.

Of course there are other elements of lighting that can affect your photo, but by considering the direction of light it can make a big difference in your picture’s overall quality. Remember, light can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. It’s up to you decide which it will be.


Beauty is considered to be in the eye of the beholder, and when on vacation far away from the stresses of daily life everything is much more colorful and grand. Finding that majestic mountain, picturesque meadow, or other architectural wonder seems almost too easy while on vacation. But finding it is only half the battle.

Really seeing it is the other. All the high-end equipment in the world won’t help you if you don’t see what’s going on in your photo. There’s much more to photography than simply pointing your camera at your subject and clicking away.

Be aware of the little things in your picture. Often times we are too focused on our subject to see what’s going on in the rest of the photo. At some point you’ve taken what you thought was a great picture to find out later there was a telephone pole or some other gaudy distraction right next to your subject.

Look through your viewfinder and really see what’s going on. Get in the practice of studying everything in your scene. Is it too busy with unwanted people or other distractions? If so, find another angle to alleviate some of the clutter. This will help to crop out unwanted people or objects. Another angle might also give your photo a different and more unique perspective. This can inadvertently add something with texture, color, or other eye pleasing quality that you might have missed the first time you composed your shot.

Simplify your scene to enhance your subject.


For most people, when we look at things we see them for what they are. For example, when we look at a chainlink fence we might simply see a fence. But do we notice the crisscross shadow pattern it makes on the brick wall behind it?

Or how about the office building you pass by everyday on the way to your own building? Do you see the reflections of the city in the windows or notice how it turns a vibrant orange in the late afternoon sun? There’s beauty all around us. We just have to learn to see normal things differently. Don’t see a tree as a tree. See it for its shape, texture, color, or other photographic qualities.

Shoot your scene from a higher or lower position rather than from eye level. Pay attention to lighting and shadows. Look for lines, shapes, and patterns. Tilt your head to get a different perspective. Move the camera until the background is less distracting. Notice textures, such as peeling paint or weathered wood. Find color, such as the red umbrella the man in the black overcoat is carrying.

Get in the practice of creative seeing. You’ll be surprised at what you might discover.


- Experiment to see what works and what doesn’t. It’s the best way to learn.
- Practice makes perfect. Don’t expect to get a perfect shot every time.
- Take pictures that interest you, whether they’re of the usual tourist attractions or the doorknobs at your hotel. You’ll have much more fun shooting what you want and then sharing those funny stories of how those pictures came to be.
- Let your photos show your personality, not just your vacation destination. Show off a little.
- Get creative. Don’t be embarrassed to kneel down or stand on a bench to enhance your scene.
- Have patience, an open mind, and above all, have FUN!

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