Like most things in life, the best way to learn is by observation and practice. I know absolutely nothing about textbook photography, but I look at photos or take photos almost daily.
After viewing thousands of vacation photos on sites like flickr, I know what I like and have learned a lot from the talented photographers whose work I admire and derive inspiration from. I’m grateful to them for making me see the world in a different light, and for sharing their tips whether directly or indirectly through their art.
What follows are some things I do to get a better shots on vacation and just in day-to-day life. In addition to these tips, I almost always take ten or twenty photos to get the one I love. Gotta love digital photography.
1. Get Close
This is probably the best tip I ever implemented. We've all seen the boring shot of a backyard bbq: Ten people scattered across the yard on various lawn chairs. You can't see expressions, there is no focal point, and the photo is more a straightforward record of what happened than an emotion-filled memory (oh yes, Aunt Jean was there!). A better shot of a bbq would be a child taking a bite of a cupcake or your dad in a chef's apron. I always get really close to my subject, and simply by doing so the shot is better. This tip can yield some really unique vacation photos. Face it, everyone knows what the Eiffel Tower looks like. But a close-up of part of the ironwork could make for an artsy memento.
2. Get Down
If I am shooting food, I often set the camera on the table. I then zoom in so the object fills a majority of the frame. I don't like far away shots of the whole table. I like to focus right on what I'm shooting, and I find that the best way to do this is to get down on its level.
3. Shoot Off Center
Another great tip I remembered from high school photography class. If I am shooting a single item (a person, a sign, a vase of flowers), I always position it to the left or right — it makes for a much more interesting/artistic shot.
4. Notice Color
If I am out for the day and have my camera on hand, I think of a color theme and find as many things to shoot in that palette as I can. This leads to an interesting series, and results in me noticing things I would otherwise have overlooked. Ordinarily, I wouldn't givea yellow trashcan or an blue, elephant-shaped sign a second glance, but when shot as part of a color series, I love the off-the-beaten path results. Try this when you're sightseeing on vacation, and you'll likely wind up with fun, detailed shots (think shutters on windows, a display of pastries in a bakery window) that capture the flavor or your trip.
I have a Mac, and I almost always adjust the exposure, brightness and saturation of my photos. The tools in iPhoto are easy to use and pretty straightforward, and I assume those for PCs are as well. If I don't have perfect lighting, I can play with the settings to achieve a look I want. I'm also, for better or for worse, a fan of the "fade color" and "vintage" tools in iPhoto. I love the soft feel.
As far as cameras go, I keep a Canon PowerShot in my purse so I never miss a photo opportunity, but I prefer myNikon D40. It's a lower-end SLR camera and I am absolutely happy with it — especially the continuous shoot mode. The ability to take photos in quick succession definitely makes it easier to get that one great shot.
But cameras and tips aside, if you truly enjoy taking photos and take a lot of them, you're bound to get that great vacation shot anyway.
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