10 Ways to Improve your Vacation Photos



This has probably happened to all of us. We’ve just come back from an exciting trip and want to share all the wonderful moments with our friends and family. But after a brief moment we seem to be the only ones still enjoying the picture-show. Everyone else has quickly lost interest.

So what can we do to stop putting people to sleep with our vacation photos?

Here are some tips to help you take vacation photos that everybody will love. It’s easier than you might think, and it definitely doesn’t require expensive equipment. Keeping in mind some basic rules, you can take stunning images even with your mobile phone.

Let me take you to Paris and show you how with these 10 ways to improve your vacation photos:

#1 – Don’t rush – take your time

It often happens that you get to a beautiful place and start photographing right away. But wait. Unless it’s a sunset or fast moving group of people, nothing is going to run away from you. Instead take your time to wander around a little bit sucking up the atmosphere.

Here’s an example. Last month I went to Paris. When I got off the metro and the Eiffel Tower appeared, I was immediately tempted to take a picture. Actually everybody around me started shooting right away.

I decided to stroll around first. In my mind I was framing, but I left my camera in the bag. This slow approach helped me to get a feeling for the place and to figure out what it was that I wanted to capture.

#2 – Reflections

Avoid the obvious. When everybody is looking in one direction, look the other way. You may be surprised what you’ll find: impressive reflections, for example.

This is a great way to show a familiar sight in a new light – such as the Eiffel Tower. The giant monument can be seen from almost every point in downtown Paris. It is reflected in car windows or in water puddles at night.

The distortions add a sense of humour or even mysteriousness. Those viewing the image can quickly identify what’s in the photo, yet the unfamiliar perspective puzzles them.

DPS Reflection 2

#3 – Tilt your camera

When taking a picture of a sunset, the horizon should be straight. But when it comes to buildings, it’s perfectly all right to tilt your camera to create a new angle. Don’t be afraid, not everything has to be placed perfectly aligned in the center of the frame.

Just don’t do it part way. If you opt for an uncommon perspective, do it all the way. That is to say let the observer understand that you tilted the camera on purpose, and that the building is not accidentally inclined either to the left or right.


#4 – Incorporate the surroundings


When sightseeing we are never alone. There will always be other tourists around. Thus getting a clear shot with no one in the picture is often impossible. What you can do instead is to incorporate other people into your composition.

It’s actually quite a lot of fun to photograph other people taking pictures. You add another story and layer to your images: a picture within a picture.

#5 – Frame within a frame

Holes, doorways or windows are perfect elements to use as other frames within the frame of your camera. This way you can add another dimension and more depth to your images making them appear almost three-dimensional.

But, that’s not all. Light shining through a window with its reflections and shadows is visually pleasant. And peaking through a window subconsciously suggests some mystery and being able to witness something from a hidden point of view that maybe wasn’t meant for our eyes to see.

DPS Frame 1

#6 – Geometry

Look out for lines and patterns that can be used to lead the eye of the observer and make your picture more dynamic, like this winding staircase (below), for example. The eye gets hooked on the left top corner and follows the stair railing as it curls towards the center on the right.

DPS Geometry

Lines are a simple, yet very powerful tool, of photographic composition that make images more interesting and engaging.

#7 – Light

Photography is painting with light. So the quality of light is very important. Bright sunlight at noon, with its harsh shadows, is different from the soft tones of a sunset. Be aware of the different emotions that can be evoked by light and use it as a tool to create strong effects.

With backlighting you can create interesting silhouettes, for example, as can be observed in this image of a monument (below). The foreground is heavily underexposed. There are no details in the monument or the tree. Everything is stripped down to its basic shape and form, yet still allowing you to identify at first glimpse what kind of scenery is documented in the image.

DPS Light

#8 – Clean frames

One common mistake is to incorporate too many elements in one frame. A panoramic shot is great to give an overview of a place. But in general it’s more effective to clean up your photos. Keep it simple.

Simplicity of the frame helps the human mind to better process the information – faster and more efficient than if the observer is confronted with an overloaded image.

Ask yourself: What do I want to say with this picture? Then throw out all the elements that are not important to the statement you wish to express.


#9 – Details

Zoom in. Sometimes it’s difficult to capture everything that’s unfolding in front of you. When I was standing in front of the castle of Versailles I was overwhelmed by its pure magnitude. The big courtyard leading up to the main entrance, and the impressive long stretched building in the back. What to make of a situation like that photographically?

A good way to resolve a panorama like that is to focus on details. As hard as I tried I couldn’t get a clean shot of the golden gate and the castle. There were either some other tourists taking picture or all the elements were overlapping each other.

DPS Detail

#10 – Be playful

How many pictures do you have standing rigid in front of an important building, or beautiful landscape? There’s nothing wrong with the typical “I-have-been-there” shot. But it’s more fun to spice it up a little bit.

Interact with your surroundings, create unusual perspectives and use your imagination. Not just you, but your friends and family back home will also enjoy looking at your next vacation pictures.

DPS Playful

Do you have other tips for better vacation photos? If so please share in the comments below.

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Kai Behrmann is a professional journalist and photographer based in Hamburg, Germany. His passions are documentary and travel photography. In 2012 he founded online photography blog Top Photography Films. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

  • anon

    I can’t exactly be sure, but I think I may have walked past you while you were taking the Eiffel-puddle shot. Was it the evening of Feb 2nd by any chance? 🙂

  • Kathleen Mekailek

    I am glad to know that I am not the only one who looks for different ways to capture my trips. These were taken at a fort and while others were busy with canons and uniforms, I found myself attracted to the texture of the doors, the ferns growing out of the brick and of course a window picture. For some reason, I like to have at least one picture taken through a window and in this case, the heavy thick brick walls and iron grate just called to me (that one has not been processed at all- it is exactly how it came out of the camera, that is why the date stamp is visible)

  • Wow. That’s a coincidence. But that’s exactly the day the photo was taken 😉 I hope you had a great time in Paris and enjoyed the city as much as I did! Cheers

  • Hello Kathleen, thank you very much for sharing your images. I think you did great. It’s always a good idea to leave beaten paths trying to look for a personal angle. Textures in walls or little details are excellent topics to focus on.

  • Kathleen Mekailek

    thank you for your response. Those photos were taken by a point and shoot camera and I received my first DSLR in December. I only hope to keep learning and improving; and, articles such as this keep pushing me forward and let me know it is okay to look for the unconventional. My profile picture is actually a shot I was able to capture of my daughter as she was laughing at her niece about a week ago.

  • That’s great to hear and all one can hope for as an author of an article like this. Photography gives you so many option and there’s always something new to learn. I wish you all the best for your way as a photographer and lots of fun and success with your new camera!

  • Agree with all, it’s just the ‘be playful’ (at least in the pic posted as an example) that is overused and usually plain silly or annoying, if not done with extraordinary taste (which happens really seldom)

  • anon

    Nice. I saw you shooting and then some people copying you in other puddles with their point and shoots. It stuck in my mind. Lovely city indeed! Never tire of going there.

  • I agree with you, the example for “playfulness” is a widely seen one and I can understand your remark. Yet in my opinion it works to illustrate the point being made, but you are absolutely right that it’s rather difficult to not cross the line with this particular concept.

  • It’s such a small world 😉 What are the odds of this to happen? I love that story!

  • amir ed

    thank you very much for sharing your images

  • what camera are you using? You can shut off the date imprint so it doesn’t put it on the front of the images, but it will still be part of the files “metadata” which is readable on computer but not visible

  • wow too funny hey!

  • mike

    wow wish I had the money to go to paris

  • Hello Mike, Paris is definately worth a visit, but the destination is actually not so important. You can bring home great pictures from any trip 😉

  • Kathleen Mekailek

    That one was actually before I really ventured into photography and was made using a Kodak point and shoot compact. I received my first DSLR in December and have been practicing like crazy (7100 shots so far)

  • marius2die4

    From all of my trip I try to get the maximum.

  • gotcha!

  • Tim Killmeyer

    When I was in Italy a few years ago many of the sites we visited had signs up saying “No Photography” but it was mostly due to the fact that they didn’t want any flashes going off. I had to show most of the people in my group how to turn their flashes off. But I took pictures everywhere – even got a good picture of the Sistine Chapel ceiling holding my camera in my lap while seated by the door in the back of the chapel. I never got questioned until one of the last days while in Florence and we went to the place that has Michelangelo’s “David.” They had signs everywhere prohibiting photographs and much security. I held by camera at my hip and took the picture below. Within seconds a woman came up and berated me and made me put my camera in my pocket. There were security cameras everywhere and someone must’ve picked me up. I think they just want to sell more coffee table books at the gift shop. I always thought it was a decent shot “shootin’ from the hip.”

  • Barbara Brock

    Thanks for this article. It was helpful. I am going to Washington D.C. in a couple weeks. Monuments and buildings are not really my thing (photographically) but I’m going to use your techniques here to try and take shots that take those iconic spots to another level! That’s the goal anyway…..!!

  • Hello Barbara, thank you very much for your kind feedback. I’m glad that you were able to draw inspiration from my article. It’s always great to set new goals to take one’s photography to the next level. I wish you all the best for your trip to Washington D.C. If you like, you can share some images afterwards in this discussion. It’d be interesting to see the results. Best regards, Kai

  • Hello Tim, thank you very much for sharing your experience. You are right, shooting inside historic buildings or museums you have to carefully check if you are allowed to take pictures or not. In most places, taking picures is allowed but without flash as you mentioned.

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