Sunday, June 21, 2009

Take Better Vacation Photos!

NOTE: This article is currently being seen on a friend's blog at:
If you need a gift, check out her site! Thanks Tina!

Last week I was perusing the photos taken by a friend on a recent vacation to Washington D.C. The first one that really caught my attention was a shot of Don with the Washington Monument growing out of his head! It reminded me of one of my own shots from last summer; I was standing on a corner in New York City with the Empire State Building in the background. I had composed the shot before handing the camera to my daughter and it came out pretty good with one exception. A total stranger was walking through the frame and was right in front of me! Fortunately we had several shots and found a good one without the pedestrian.

Unless you are a professional photographer juggling your expensive gear, a hamburger, and a shake, you most likely are taking your vacation pictures with either a disposable camera, your cell phone, or a point-and-shoot digital camera. Don’t worry, you can get great vacation shots with any camera. Remember, it’s not the pencil, it’s how you sign your name. Using the guidelines and suggestions presented here, your shots will be better, no matter what camera you use!


Including yourself, family, or friends in the shot will provide great memories for years to come. Is there a better way to document that you really were at the Taj Mahal than to be in the photo yourself?
• Get close enough to the people so that they will be recognizable and still include part of the famous landmark in the frame.
• Get the faces close together and fill the frame. A few inches apart is fine, a hug is even better!
• Don’t worry about getting the entire Eiffel Tower in the shot, just enough to know what it is. Buy a postcard if you want the entire landmark.
• No one wants to see a photo of themselves with the Washington Monument growing out of their head, and no photographer wants to be responsible for a shot like that, so…..LOOK WHAT’S BEHIND YOUR SUBJECT! Take the extra second or two and arrange the people for a nice shot, maybe while they are re-arranging, they’ll relax a bit and the shot won’t look so posed.
• Candid shots are often the best. A couple walking hand in hand into the sunset along the top of the Hoover Dam with beautiful Lake Mead as a backdrop cannot be posed.

Speaking of Lake Mead, let’s consider:


A shot from the observation deck of the Space Needle in Seattle or the World Trade Center in New Orleans is almost irresistible. Great shots are available on the hiking trails in the mountains, too.
Here are some suggestions:

• Watch for the horizon when you frame the shot. One-third of the way down from the top, or up from the bottom is fine, but never in the middle. Horizons that divide the photo in half just scream “amateur” !!!!!
• Here’s how to decide in which third to place the horizon. If the sky is boring, no clouds, clear, look for something in the foreground and frame most of the sky out. Cut out the dull sky behind the Cinderella Castle and go for the children walking up the street to the entrance.
• Sunrise and sunset are absolutely the best times for outdoor shots. This is the time when you get golden light and no harsh overhead shadows.
• Look for a sign, placard, historical marker, or maybe local character in costume to document the locale. Instead of a pub that could be anywhere, get a shot of that leprechaun out front waving you to the door.
• Whether you are in Dollywood or the San Diego International Zoo animals are always available to make vacation photos memorable. Just like humans, focus on the eyes. Get the eyes in focus and it’s hard to get a bad shot.
• If your trip involves an activity, like swimming, a day at the beach, a picnic, antique shopping, golf, or a quiet al fresco dinner, get a few shots as reminders. Some of my favorites are a sandal half buried in the sand at Fort Walton Beach, a golf ball on the cart path at St. Andrews, and a table full of empty beer glasses in an El Paso Cantina. One of our all time favorites is a silhouette of my wife and me having dinner at a sidewalk cafĂ©. The waiter took it from inside the restaurant with an arched window framing us at the table.


Images captured with a digital camera can be enjoyed easily and frequently without ever having to print out a hard copy. Therefore, you can and should take lots and lots of pictures on your vacation. Buy an extra flash card and fire away! One recent summer my wife and I took our granddaughter to Walt Disney World in Florida. After five days I was surprised to discover that I had almost two thousand images. I was surprised and disappointed. Before we left, my goal was a thousand shots per day! In the end, we arrived back home with some great photos. Our granddaughter still enjoys seeing the photos in slide shows I made, in e-mails we send her, and online at the social network we enjoy. There are numerous online services where you can share your photos, FlickR and SnapFish are two that come to mind. Retailers like Walmart*, CVS, and Walgreens offer printing services for digital images, too. Set up your account with them online, e-mail them the image, and go pick up your print!

Remember, rules were made to be broken. Start with these suggestions and
think big. Shoot all day and have fun doing it! Plan to make photography an important part of your vacation and you’ll come home with great photos to match the memories!

FCEtier is a professional photographer who lives with his wife, a dog, and four cats in one of the nation’s favorite vacation locales: The Great Smoky Mountains.
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Sunday, June 14, 2009


A person stops by my booth and slowly flips through the prints on display. The potential buyer looks at each one and sometimes holds one up at arm’s length for a different view. They turn the print over, studying the packaging, mat, and mounting board then read the artist’s statement or bio on the back. Finally there’s a closer inspection of the framed prints hanging on the wall.
My first impression (and heartfelt desire) that this MIGHT be someone seriously considering a purchase evolves into the understanding that a novice photographer is about to start asking me questions about how I got started, who does my printing, and telling me why he or she is considering professional photography (“My friends think my stuff is great!” or “My relatives tell me I should be selling my pictures.”) Watch your friends and relatives queue up to buy some!
Excepting a couple of weekend seminars and some electives in college (years ago), my education in photography falls into the category of “self-taught”. Most of the rookies who want to talk to me profess a similar alma mater. It’s fun to share my knowledge and stories of my experience, so I usually recommend the weekend seminars I’ve attended and about a half dozen books and magazines. See the links on my home page – “Links we like.”
Perhaps the most encouraging compliment sent my way came from David Cirka who said, “Chip, everyone has a camera. Not everyone has the talent. Keep up the good work!”
My advice to the want-to-be professional photographer is this:
• Invest in some good equipment. (A ninety dollar point-and-shoot camera with a cheap desk top printer doesn’t typically qualify.)
• Read, study, and devour several great instructional books.
• Take ten thousand shots and study each one to learn from your own mistakes.
• After you’ve done the three above, call me. You probably won’t need to call me or anyone else after that!
Good luck and happy shooting!