Making Photographs On Vacation

by William Lulow

Since we’re approaching vacation time, and, if you are anything like me, you enjoy making photographs no matter where or when! So, when I’m on vacation or traveling, I’m always looking for elements that would make great pictures. Usually, for me, it’s a combination of a good composition and interesting light!

When you are visiting a place, you don’t always know where to find great compositions. So you need to be aware of what makes them. It can be an interesting angle, shape or contain visual clues such as depth and vanishing points. Horizontal lines within the camera’s aspect ratio are usually not interesting unless they are placed very high or low in the frame. So, I’m on the lookout for lower or higher camera positions. 

Here, I’ve used the vanishing point technique with this iPhone snap. 

If you are using a wide angle lens (which, by the way, are just about standard on most camera phones these days), you probably should concentrate on focusing on the foreground because that’s the part of the scene that will be closest to the lens and therefore rendered larger in the finished image. Distant shots are not easy for the camera phone to capture because it uses a shorter focal length lens. Additionally, about using flash, I’m always amazed by people who take their phones to places like large arenas or stadiums and then try to use the camera’s flash. They probably don’t realize that the flash’s effective distance is only a few feet or so, rendering it completely useless in a large space. So, if you must use your camera phone you certainly do not need to use the flash. 

Here is an example of when you should use your camera’s flash. This image was made in the shade of a swimming pool canopy. I used the camera’s built-in flash to fill in the shadows created by the shade. You can see where the sun lit portion of the shot is washed out, creating a nice, white background. So another, simple technique to employ on vacation is to use the camera’s built-in flash to fill in shadows even when you are shooting in direct sunlight. As long as the lens is shaded, you will get some interesting shots.

And, another technique I like to use on vacation and doing professional jobs is to ask subjects to stand in the sun while I keep the lens in the shade and use a flash to fill in shadows. Here’s an example:

Faces are nicely lit while the sunlight creates highlights on the hair and sides.

Another element of composition are vertical lines. These help frame a subject and tend to direct the viewer’s eye to where you want it to go:

 And, when I am shooting horizontal images, as I said, I usually like to place the horizon either very low in the frame or very high. I try to avoid placing it in the middle:

This one is a bit above the middle, but still works to direct one’s eye to the center because of the highlight from the sun.

Here’s one where the horizon is at the very top. 

I almost never take a picture of myself or my traveling companions standing in front of a scenic spot or famous landmark unless I make the people secondary in importance to the scene or, if I just want to prove we were there. (Which I’m not too sure merits that much attention due to the abilities of Photoshop). 

Here is a couple standing in front of the New York City skyline, but notice how I placed them off to one side. Plus they are not looking at the camera! So, if you have to place your subject in front of a famous landmark, make the people incidental to the scene. That way, they are there, but not just standing there!

Another interesting element while traveling is capturing sunsets. Since you are aiming your camera at the light source when capturing sunsets, every object in the scene will be a silhouette, by definition.

Here, I have included people walking and a boat in silhouette to give the composition a more human touch. Also note that they are off-center which actually serves to draw the eye into the frame more! Also, when doing sunsets, you might try under exposing a bit to render the sky colors deeper! This was about two stops underexposed. 

When traveling, try to utilize different compositional elements and inventive lighting techniques to make your images more interesting.