Better Vacation Pictures Without the Photography Lesson

The North Shore of Oahu in Hawaii

The weather is warming up, and I am getting that itch to go somewhere and do something fun! Got plans for Spring Break? Maybe a big trip this summer?

No matter what your plans are, you always want to come back with some memorable pictures. I know, I know; there’s a bazillion articles out there telling you how to take better pictures on your trip. However, most of them will take you through a mini photography lesson, telling you to be mindful of your lighting and to get to know your subject. If your vacations are anything like mine, you won’t have time (or the presence of mind) to run through a check list of things – you have 5 seconds to snap a picture before that moment is gone!

No worries. Your camera is pretty smart; let it worry about light and all that. As far as the technical side of things, you should only have to point the camera, maybe zoom in or out, and push the button. Better vacation pictures are all about being happy that you caught the moment in a photograph without the distraction of bad elements.

Here are my tips to better vacation pictures:

Photo storage: Ok, you knew this was coming right? This is the practical preparation part: Take extra memory cards, have a USB to back up your pictures, download them to a laptop, whatever you are able to do to make sure you can take as many pictures as you want and not lose them. The last thing you want to be doing when you’re trying to take a picture is clearing space on your memory card. And on that note, the second to last thing you want to be doing is searching for batteries. Always keep fresh/fully charged batteries on hand.

Look at your past vacation pictures: Photography is such a subjective thing; I can’t tell you exactly what makes a good picture and what doesn’t. Taking some time to get to know what you like (and don’t like) about your pictures is a great place to start. You’re supposed to learn from your mistakes, but if you’re like me, the last vacation might have been so long ago, you forget what those photographic mistakes might have been.

Places are great, but don’t forget the people: Looking back at my vacation pictures, I enjoy all the scenic pictures I took, but it’s the pictures of the people I went with that mean the most. Don’t get so wrapped up in all the cool sights that you forget to document who you’re with and what you were doing while you were there (like imitating the tikis — my hubby had me laughing so hard!). And make sure to hand your camera off to a friend – or even a trust-worthy looking stranger – so you can be in the pictures, too! Sidenote: Besides taking my big, expensive camera, I will always take along my point-and-shoot or a disposable camera. This way I have something small I can keep with me all the time, even when I don’t want to tote a heavier camera, and I have something I’m more comfortable handing off to someone else so I can also be in the pictures.

Get the best crop: The moment has arrived and you’re seeing something wonderful, or your kids have that look of awe, and you lift your camera to capture the moment. Take the extra second here to line your picture up where you think it looks best. Maybe this would be better as a vertical shot, maybe you’re cutting off part of a head, maybe you’re getting mostly sky. Try to fill your viewfinder or screen with what you’re trying to photograph before you push the button.


Watch for what you don’t want in your picture: This is my No. 1 mistake; I’ll get so excited and focus only on what I’m trying to get in my picture that I don’t notice what else is there. Now, if this is one of those moments that will be gone in 5 seconds, take the picture! But if this is scenery or your friends/family can hold that pose, you can wait for the strangers to get out of your shot or you can change your angle so you don’t see that ugly trash can in the background. This picture is of Au Lapin Agile in Paris, and it’s terrible! I don’t even remember why I wanted a picture of the building, but you can hardly see it with all the people and the vegetation. Too bad…


Zoom in or get closer: A lot of my vacation pictures are too far away. I think being somewhere in person, things look larger than life and my first impulse is, “I want to take a picture of everything!” When I try to fit “everything” in my frame, “everything” gets small really quickly. The nice thing about digital is you can take lots of pictures, so after you try to capture the whole scene, don’t forget to get closer, zoom in and capture the details, too.


Take pictures to document: I’m not great about writing down all the details I want to remember about my trip, but that’s why we take pictures! It’s all about the memories; getting something to frame for your wall is a bonus. Don’t forget that pictures are an easy way to document everything: The name of the restaurants where you ate, the hotels where you stayed, the plaques that explain the history of the places you visited, the view out your window, the crazy scooter that tried to run you over. These are probably the pictures you won’t share, but you’ll keep them because it will remind you of the little things you loved on your trip. This picture doesn’t look like anything special; there’s some feet and pavement. But this picture means a lot to me: It’s the very center of Paris (located right in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral), and tradition has it that if you step on it, you will someday return. We stepped on it like 10 times each, just to make sure.

A little editing goes a long way: You’re back home, looking through your pictures, and you find your favorites would be perfect if only… Maybe you missed the crop you wanted, maybe it’s too light or too dark, or maybe you want to frame it and it needs a little something extra. Use photo editing software to finish it up (if you don’t have one, try Google’s Picasa; it’s free and available at I always start with the crop and get it framed the way I want it, then lighten/darken, adjust colors and add a bit more contrast. Make sure to save it that way, then add any fun edits, like black and white or vintage applications. And don’t feel like you have to edit all of them! I only edit the ones I plan to frame or share.

A final little mini tip: Get your pictures printed now. Back when I used film, I had to get my pictures developed before I could see them, so of course I was anxious to do that right away. Now I download them on my computer, flip through them and maybe edit a few. But life gets so hectic after you get back from a trip; suddenly it’s three months since you got home! It seems harder to do the longer you put it off. Print them off now so you can enjoy them and share them with those who ask about your trip.

Hope you have a wonderful trip and awesome pictures! Now, anyone have any good trip advice? Especially with little kiddos?

megA Mom Knows Contributor

About Meg

I'm the mom of two crazy, wonderful munchkins, and when I'm not trying to keep up with them, I enjoy a little bit of everything from photography and writing to crafts of any kind. I am a little nuts about being organized and checking off to-do lists (although I'm surprisingly bad at keeping my house in order). I have a severe sugar addiction, and when it comes to cooking, I could burn anything, including water. I'm a dental wife, and before I took on my role as mom, I was a journalist and a dancer.

Comments are closed.