Top 10 Tips for Photographing Vacations

Family on beach

Here are ten simple tips to get you on your way to taking better pictures. Each tip has pictures illustrating the tip in action and instructions detailing the tip.

Do your homework

Look at travel guides, postcards and picture books of the area. Learn where the best photo opportunities are. Remember key events, festivities, and landmarks. You'll be inspired to take better pictures.

Learn the features and operation of your camera. If you're still learning how to use your camera, take the camera manual along — it's good reading on the plane.

Public Market Sign

Tell a Story

Use pictures to tell the story of your trip, from the time of your departure to your return.

Capture the details. Take pictures of signs, ticket stubs, menus, local maps and more.

Capture the emotions. Take individual pictures of each member of your travel party with their favorite landmarks, rides, eatery or animal.

Carry a small note book to jot down quick details to use later.

Old restaurant-store with chalk board menu

Capture the local flavor

Unique subjects make great pictures. Keep an eye out for the unusual and snap a picture when you come upon it.

Interact with the locals. You’ll learn more about their culture and take better pictures while capturing details you may have missed. (Always ask permission).

Street Shop

Create a photo menu

Take pictures of everything you eat, especially the unique and different items. Your memory of how good it tasted may fade, but you'll have pictures. After all, eating new foods is as important a part of travel as seeing new sights.

To create a more dramatic picture, move in close and fill the frame.

Picture of Dessert

Look for themes

Look for common themes in your travels and take lots of pictures. This will help you tell a unique story that is just yours.

Dress in Window

Always carry your camera

Your camera won't do you any good sitting in the hotel room. You never know when an opportunity will arise, and for many photos you may not get a second chance.

A point and shoot camera is compact and easy to carry with you, be it a hike through the woods or an evening at the opera.

sunset over water

Have fun

Take candid pictures. Ignore the impulse to force your subjects to pose.

When taking pictures of a group, don’t work too hard to position them. Let them relax and fall into a natural pose.

Blend into the environment while taking pictures to avoid making your subject self-conscious.

Kids jumping in air on beach

Take lots of pictures

Not every picture will be perfect. Taking multiple pictures will give you more to choose from.

When taking pictures of children, wait for the right moment, then shoot lots of pictures quickly.

Look for themes in your travels and capture them often to highlight your story.

Young girl in tree


Expand your picture-taking capability. Check into an accessory wide-angle or telephoto lens for your camera. It might be just what you need to capture architectural details or the local culture.

Stature seen through pillars

Protect your gear

Sand, water, snow, and heat are your camera's worst enemies. When you're not taking pictures, keep your camera and supplies safe in a camera bag or zippered plastic bag.

camera bags

Jeff HutchensJeff Hutchens was born in Lansing, Michigan in 1978. The son of an American diplomat, he spent his childhood throughout the U.S. and across China, South Africa, and the Philippines. Jeff has shot professionally on six continents, where he’s faced grizzly bears, lava floes, Komodo dragons, and all manner of corrupt officials. From work on the surreality of life in China, to documenting underground epidemics in the jungles of central Africa, to photographing polar bears in the Arctic Circle, he captures images that convey transcendent moods and subtle beauty. Jeff was recognized as one of “PDN’s 30” (2009) and has won multiple awards in the World Press Photo competition, National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) Best Of Photojournalism competition, Pictures Of The Year (POYi) and Communication Arts (CA). Additionally, Jeff and his filmmaker brother Peter are the subject of a six-part travel/adventure series airing on the National Geographic Channel. The show follows them as they document far-flung regions of China through their respective lenses.

Jeff is represented by Reportage by Getty Images and Orchard Represents and lives in Washington, D.C. when not on assignment.

Photo Tips & Tricks:

Ordinary = Extraordinary

"Under construction" is usually code for "will not photograph well because of all the heavy machinery and equipment clutter". But even when you think extra clutter will make a place less photogenic, it's usually a matter of reorienting your vision to figure out how to use what's actually there in front of you. The mesh behind the two figures was put up specifically to keep dust and debris away from visitors, but at the same it catches late afternoon light coming in through the windows perfectly. Even when things look unappealing to the naked eye, a slight change in composition and exposure can take something ordinary and turn it in to something extraordinary. Similarly, a discarded orange peel on a bus seat – how dull?
© Jeff Hutchens
© Jeff Hutchens

Reflect on reflections

I'm always thankful for any architect anywhere in the world that's incorporated glass into a building. It immediately gives you twice the visuals to play with - 1) the real, and 2) the reflections. Look for how you can play tricks on the viewers' eyes with those reflections. Look for patterns that blend reality and the artificial across the surface of the building. I'd say 90% of the time you can confuse the viewer – give them a moment where they're not exactly sure what they're looking at – your image is successful.
© Jeff Hutchens
© Jeff Hutchens

Context can be overrated

A little decontextualization never hurt anyone. I think there's often a tendency to want to put too much information into a photograph, to give it too much context. You have a chance to create an image that is more captivating, that viewers often have to sit with a little longer when you leave contextual elements out. It distills your images into more of a mood than a literal translation of a time and place – and that's a good thing.
© Jeff Hutchens
© Jeff Hutchens

Anywhere but eye level

It usually never hurts to change your point of view. Look all the way up. Look all the way down. Crouch. Stand on something. Shoot from anywhere but your natural eye level, and more times than not you'll create something more dynamic than pedestrian.
© Jeff Hutchens
© Jeff Hutchens

Abstract reality

Don’t worry about capturing a literal time and place – creating imagery can be like any other form of self-expression, as abstract as you want it to be.
© Jeff Hutchens
© Jeff Hutchens

How light falls

The more you notice how, when, where, and why it falls in the places it does, the stronger your imagery will be.
© Jeff Hutchens
© Jeff Hutchens

Clean the lines

Fluid shapes and sharp lines make for interesting compositions. Adjust your position to let the beauty in the world around you be uninterrupted by clutter.
© Jeff Hutchens
© Jeff Hutchens

Risk exposure

It usually gives your images a sense of mystery if you expose highlights as mid-tones and mid-tones as shadows. Or vice versa, shadows as mid-tones, and mid-tones as highlights.
© Jeff Hutchens
© Jeff Hutchens

Patience and composition

If you see the outline of a photograph you want – sit and wait until all the compositional elements fall into place. Even if that takes an hour.
© Jeff Hutchens
© Jeff Hutchens


And then wander some more.
© Jeff Hutchens
© Jeff Hutchens