Photos are the perfect way to capture your holiday memories, and travel writer Steve Adams has some tips to help you get the best results.
Ready for your holiday? Need I even ask? Holidays are the highlight of any year, and as well as being a much-needed way to escape the real world and recharge the batteries, they’re a chance to spend time with our loved ones. They’re also a time to enjoy new experiences, see and do new things - and likely to offer some of the best photo opportunities of the year. Here are a few tips to help you capture those once-in-a-lifetime moments that will stay with you forever.
You might note that I’m writing this for digital and camera phone users, but most of the tips apply, or can be adapted for those using film.
Do your homework
Forward planning for your holiday will not only get you excited about going, but will help make the most of your trip when you get there. Research the destination so you have an idea what you want to see and where you’re likely to get the best pictures - it’s also a good idea to ask a local for advice on the best viewing points once you arrive. Also take some time to learn the basic functions of your camera, or camera phone, before you go. Have a practice so you’re familiar with how to focus, turn on the flash, use the self-timer and so on.
Keep your composure
Composition is pretty much the key to getting great photos, and even though what makes a great image is a matter of opinion, adhering to a few basic rules will help you get the best results.
1. Follow the ‘rule of thirds’. When you look through the viewfinder or LCD screen, imagine a noughts and crosses grid over the scene you are about to shoot - some cameras have a mode that displays the grid. Position your subject where the lines intersect to create a nice, balanced composition.
2. Put your subject to the left or right of the frame rather than in the middle, and try to balance the image by having something significant in the background or on the opposite side to your subject.
3. In much the same way, positioning the horizon above or below the middle of the frame, rather than in the middle, will create a more dramatic image. Unless you’re shooting a reflection - then you’ll want it in the centre.
Get up early
OK, I know you’re on holiday, but if you want to get great scenery shots then set your alarm clock for an early start. Not only is the light better first thing in the morning when the sun is low in the sky, but there’ll be less people to get in the way.
Another benefit of taking pictures before everyone else is up is that you’ll get some of your photography out of the way without the accompanying sighs of family members urging you to hurry up!
Get up close
There are lots of reasons why you should get up close and personal when taking photographs:
1. Moving in close to your subject, so that it fills the frame, will give your pictures more impact.
2. Picking out a tiny detail from a scene, such as a doorway in a huge building, a section of mosaic floor, or one peak in a mountain range, will make your picture more original and personal to your experience. If you’re taking a picture of a well-known landmark or building you can always buy a postcard of the overall scene - which will no doubt have been taken at a quieter time, with perfect light - while you look for elements that others might have missed.
3. On a more practical note, try to get closer to your subject using your feet rather than a zoom lens if you can. Optical zoom lenses are fine, but digital zooms - which simply magnify the image on your screen/viewfinder - should be avoided as they remove detail and will lessen the resolution and quality of the image.
Take a step back
One of your main goals when taking holiday photos is to really capture the wonderful landscapes you see along the way, giving others the chance to see what you saw. To do so you’ll need a wide-angle lens, as a zoom lens won’t cover your field of view. If this isn’t possible, or you’re using a camera phone, there are other options:
• Take a series of panoramic images by slightly changing your position each time, then place the finished photos side by side (a collage-style pattern often looks better than any attempt at a seamless image) or piece them together in a programme such as Photoshop.
• Many camera phones have a panorama function that enables you to turn or pan the phone as it records the image, usually with a guiding arrow to help keep the picture straight. It can be a bit tricky at first but the results are often astounding.
Make a drama out of what your eye sees
Staying on the landscape theme, having a small focal point in a big scene - such as a tiny boat on a huge lake or a lone walker on a giant mountain - gives a sense of perspective and adds to the drama of the image.
It’s also a good idea to change your point of view and shoot the same scene from a number of different angles, producing a series of images that create an overall picture. Experiment with new angles by crouching down, climbing up, shooting the subject from behind or from the side - being creative will help you get something unique.
Mix things up
Make sure you take a wide variety of photos - from landscape panoramas to close-ups of individual subjects, smiling family members to frowning shopkeepers, flora, fauna and more. Nothing is really off-limits - though you should be discrete or get permission when taking photos of locals going about their business - and all will help show the flavour of your holiday. And speaking of flavour, take some pictures of your food so you remember the mouth-watering delicacies enjoyed on your trip!
Snap to it
Holidays are full of motion, whether it’s kids playing on the beach, a train ride through the countryside or a thrilling air display, so make sure you choose a high shutter speed to catch the action. Many digital cameras, including SLRs, have a sports mode that automatically sets a faster shutter speed, so if in doubt use that. It’s also useful when photographing wildlife, as you can guarantee animals will move or disappear just as the shutter is pressed.
Steady as she goes
Make sure you get a good firm grip on your camera, and hold it close to your (stationary) body when taking pictures to avoid camera shake. This is especially important in low-light conditions or when using long lenses.
Take too many photos - you’ll regret taking too few. It’s not like the old days when you’d typically reach the end of your roll of 24 or 36 exposures just as the Red Arrows turn up, so just keep snapping away and then delete the pictures you don’t want. This is especially important when photographing families and groups, as there will always be someone blinking or looking away. The more pictures you have, the more chance of getting one that captures everyone at their best.
Power to the people
When you’re travelling to exciting or exotic new places it’s easy to be captivated by the fabulous buildings and stunning landscapes, but don’t forget the most important element - the people that came with you.
One of the best ways to really capture the holiday experience is through the faces of the family and friends you shared it with, so make this your priority. Scenic shots are all very well, but capturing the expression on your child’s face as Mickey Mouse walks past is the sort of photo you’ll return to again and again.
Candid photos are often much more fun than a staged line-up, so keep your eyes out and snap away while people are having fun, as you’ll get much more natural expressions when they don’t know the lens is pointing at them.
Oh, and don’t forget to pass the camera around so that you’re in some of the photos. Which conveniently brings us on to…
I’m really not a fan of this incredibly popular phenomenon, but can see why people love taking them.
The results are rarely great however, and even though selfie sticks will help you get a picture that contains more just than a badly-cropped face, having to lug them around tends to defeat the object of travelling with just a phone for a camera. Where possible I’d always ask someone else - even a friendly stranger - to take the picture for you.
A blast of artificial light can be crucial to getting decent pictures in dark conditions, but there are times you should ditch flash indoors… and use it when outside.
The reason is that flash units tend to produce harsh, flat light that rarely complements the subject. If you’re taking pictures indoors during the day, turn off the flash and get your subject to stand near a window or door to make use of the natural light.
If you’re shooting indoors at night, try to flood the area with as much artificial light as you can, which will reduce the harsh effects of flash as well as reduce the chances of red-eye.
Meanwhile, forcing the flash to fire outdoors on sunny days is a great way to fill in dark shadows and even-out harsh contrasts, and is definitely worth experimenting with.
And don’t forget…
• To ensure your battery is fully charged before setting off - and take a spare if you can. You’ll be devastated if you miss that once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity because the battery has died.
• Clear the memory card, and carry a spare if you have one, as you don’t want to have to delete images on the hoof in order to make room for more. That said, if you get a moment to relax during a day out, take a look through the pictures you’ve taken and delete any that obviously aren’t up to scratch.
• Take photos of nearby signs to help you remember where specific pictures were taken.
• Keep your lens clean. This is especially important for camera phones, as they tend to pick up dust and dirt that will affect the light going into the lens and thus the quality of your photos.
So what’s next?
What are you going to do with all those pictures now you’ve taken them? Aside from sharing a few on social media - probably while still on holiday - for many people the answer is ‘nothing’, but this is such a waste. I always used to print the best ones out to put in a photo album with a few more to display in frames, but I’ve expanded my horizons courtesy of the great online options now available.
For starters I always use my photos to create postcards to send to friends. The cards are printed and posted in the UK, so are quicker than sending traditional postcards and typically no more expensive.
Online services also enable to you to create a coffee table-style books - a stunning way to display your photos, as well as calendars, mugs and even t-shirts, which all are good fun and make unique gifts too.
As with the tips for taking pictures, thinking a little outside the box reaps dividends and lets you make the most of your holiday memories.
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