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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
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.

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