Top 20 Tips for Your Holiday Photography

Marianne Stenger
21st May 2019

Summer is fast approaching and if you have a getaway planned, there’s a good chance you’re planning to document the highlights of your trip.

Of course, holiday photography is more about capturing moments than crafting perfect images, and most of us aren’t trying to win awards with our holiday snaps.

Even so, being prepared and having an understanding of basic photography concepts will ensure that you can come home with gorgeous images to share with friends and family, display in a photo book, or even hang on your wall. So here are our top 20 tips for your holiday photography.

1. Research your destination

Doing a little bit of research in advance can go a long way once you’ve arrived at your destination. In addition to your usual research into the best hotels, restaurants, and activities, try to find out where the best photography locations are.

Of course, this will depend on what type of photography you enjoy. For example, if you love architectural photography, you’ll probably want to know about any impressive buildings or historical structures in the area. If you enjoy street and cultural photography, you’ll want to know about any local markets or seasonal events so you can photograph people as they go about their daily routine.

2. Pack light

The last thing you want when you’re trying to enjoy a leisurely holiday stroll is to be carrying a camera bag loaded with multiple lenses, attachments and accessories. So before you leave, think about the type of photography you plan to do and then pack the bare minimum.

For example, for holiday and travel photography, it’s often better to travel with just one zoom lens that can be used for everything from portraits to actions shots and landscape images. This will also save you from having to switch lenses for different activities and risk getting dust on your sensor.

3. Get up before the sun

The best time of day for most types of photography is early in the morning when the sun is just coming up and the light is soft and golden. This is also why the time just after the sun rises or before it sets is known as the golden hour.

Aside from these ideal lighting conditions, there will generally be fewer tourists out early in the day and more locals going about their morning routine. So if you want to capture a city more authentically, get up before the sun so you can be ready with your camera when it starts to rise.

4. Keep your plans flexible

Although it’s a good idea to have a plan of what you want to see and photograph, it’s also important to keep your plans flexible. This is because trying to pack too many activities or sights into one day can prevent you from enjoying any of them.

Sometimes it’s better to spend more time photographing and getting to know just a few places than to cross off all the ‘must-see’ places on your list without really seeing them. Equally, if you arrive somewhere and just aren’t feeling it, don’t force yourself to stay there all morning just because it was on your list.

5. Interact with local people

Getting comfortable interacting with local people is important if you want to do any cultural or street photography. Think about it; you can’t just walk up to someone’s market stall and start snapping pictures without even exchanging a greeting or asking if it’s okay to take their picture.

The more you make an effort to interact with strangers the easier it will become, but start by learning a few simple phrases in the local language to break the ice. For more advice on this, check out our six tips for improving your travel and street photography.  

6. Take notes

Taking notes during your holiday is a great way to remember important details about the photos you’re taking. Keep it simple with a little pocket sized notebook where you can jot down any important information from the day.

For instance, you can keep track of the names of the places you visited, the dates you visited, and any other memorable pieces of information about people you may have photographed. This will all come in handy later on when you’re sharing your photos or creating a photo book or travel journal.

7. Include people for scale

Including people in your photo is a good way to bring scale to the image. For example, when you’re photographing a gorgeous landscape or impressive architectural structure, it can be difficult for viewers who weren’t there to see it in person to fully grasp the magnitude of what they are seeing.  

The simplest way to solve this is to include a familiar object such as a person in your image. We all know how big the average adult or child is, so seeing someone standing under that tall tree or high building can give us a point of reference and help us understand how big it really is.

8. Find a strong vantage point for landscapes and cityscapes

Whether you’re shooting a landscape or a cityscape, it can be nice to get up somewhere high where you have a better view of the whole valley or city below. Depending on where you are, this might be a tall building or tower, or a large hill, high rock, or even tall tree.

9. Shoot silhouettes

If you’re dealing with light that’s too harsh or coming from the wrong direction, shooting silhouettes is a good way to capture the scene and provide a sense of atmosphere even if you can’t shoot detailed portraits. Remember that because only the outline of your subject will be visible, you’ll need to make sure it is easily recognisable at a glance. For more advice on capturing stunning silhouettes, check out these essential tips we compiled on how to photograph silhouettes.

10. Bring a portable tripod

Although travelling light should be your main priority, one accessory that will come in handy for holiday photography is a tripod. Whether you’re shooting with a DLSLR, mirrorless camera, or your phone, a tripod can help you avoid camera shake while shooting in low light situations where you have to lower your shutter speed.

Aside from this, a tripod can also come in handy when you want to set a timer and take family photos that you’re actually in for a change. Fortunately, there are plenty of tripods made specifically for travel, which are lightweight and extremely portable.

11. Try burst mode when capturing fast action

We’ve often talked about the importance of using a fast shutter speed to freeze fast action, but another feature that can come in handy for fast action is burst mode or continuous shooting mode.

When you want to photograph something that’s moving very quickly, such as a child running or jumping, it can be difficult to press the shutter button exactly at the right moment. But with burst mode, you can capture several shots in quick succession by keeping the button pressed down for a couple of seconds as you follow your moving subject. This ensures that you won’t end up missing any of the important moments.  

12. Keep your horizon line straight

You may have already heard of the rule of thirds, and following this rule can help your photos feel more balanced. One other very simple thing that can throw off the balance in landscape photos is when the horizon line isn’t completely straight.

Fortunately, it is possible to straighten the horizon line with the crop tool in Lightroom or PhotoShop, but it’s always better to save yourself the extra work by making sure you’re keeping your camera completely straight when taking the photo.

13. Pay attention to the background and foreground

Although your subject is obviously the most important part of the photo, it’s still important to pay attention to the background and foreground when taking a photo.

For example, if the background is cluttered or busy, you might be able to use a wider aperture to blur it and therefore make your subject stand out better. Similarly, if there are interesting elements in the foreground, such as a fence, river or patch of flowers, you might be able to use them make the photo more interesting and frame your subject.

14. Turn off your flash

If you’re still using your camera’s automatic settings, your flash might pop up automatically in certain situations where the camera perceives that there isn’t enough light. Although it can come in handy at times, the pop up flash can also create harsh unflattering light and shadows.

Instead, try to get accustomed to using a higher ISO and slower shutter speed in lower light settings. If you’re new to lowlight photography, you can find more advice on how to get started here.

15. Get on eye level with your subjects

When photographing people, kids and even animals, it’s a good idea to get down to their eye level rather than shooting from above. Why? Getting on eye level gives the photo a more personal feel, allows more of your subject’s personality to shine through, and can also help viewers to better connect with your subject.

16. Think outside the box

Most countries and cities these days have become known for specific things, whether it’s the Eiffel Tower in Paris, vineyards in Tuscany, or red buses in London. Although it can be nice to include some of these familiar sights in your images, you should also keep an eye out for the unexpected.

For instance, is there anything that surprised you about the place you’re visiting? Did you see anything you didn’t expect? Maybe it’s the fact that a Maasai tribesman in Kenya is living in a mud hut but owns a smartphone. Or perhaps you discovered that there’s so much more to Italian cuisine than pizza and pasta and want to capture of these delicacies on camera.

17. Shoot moments not poses

Although you’re bound to end up with a few of those typical holiday shots in front of well-known landmarks and places of interest, try to avoid having your friends or family members pose for every shot. Holiday photos that show spontaneous moments such as your subjects happily chatting or taking part in some activity tend to be a lot more enjoyable than those where the subjects are staring into the camera with forced smiles.

18. Make periodic backups

Don’t leave all your photos on just one or two memory cards. If the card gets lost or damaged, you will lose all your holiday photos in one go. Try to back them up at the end of each day using an online photo storage site. If you know you won’t have good internet access, you could also transfer the images to a portable external hard drive so they exist in more than one place.

19. Don’t worry about perfection

Finally, don’t worry too much about making every shot look perfect or following every single photography rule. Holiday photography is, more than anything, about documenting the special moments you’re enjoying together with your loved ones.

These tips are just guidelines to help you achieve the best results possible, but realise that sometimes the lighting won’t be perfect and the background won’t always be ideal. Just have fun with it and by all means, break a few photography rules if it means you’re able to capture the silly faces and spontaneous moments that made you laugh along the way.

20. Put your holiday photos to good use

Once we return home from our holidays, most of us will edit our favourite photos, share a few of them on social media, and then mostly forget about them until we decide to sort through our archives a year later. But there are so many ways to enjoy your holiday photos once you return home, from photo calendars and wall art to gorgeous layflat coffee table books.

Not sure how to tackle your first photobook project? We’ve compiled some useful tips for putting together your own holiday photo book.

Looking to brush up on your basic photography skills before you go on holiday? Be sure to check out our essential photography tips for beginners.