Featured Life Photography Travel

5 Tips for Taking Great Vacation Photos

I just finished processing my snaps from my fabulous Disneyland birthday weekend and I thought I’d share some tips and tricks for getting great vacation photos.

As a die-hard photographer, I understand the tendency to want to capture every single moment of life, rather than experience it. While this will result in more photos of your trip, it may not result in the best photos. After a day of continuous snapping and being asked to smile and pose, even the most enthusiastic subjects will look like annoyed-looking grumps in your photos.

Fireworks above Sleeping Beauty's Castle, Disneyland

Instead of continuously shooting throughout the day, pick three or four times for posed family photos in front of main landmarks, and casually snap candids the rest of the time. Know when to put away your dSLR and just enjoy the day.

Disneyland Lollipop Bokeh
Brightly coloured sweets. :)

Mostly Lisa on Paradise Pier, California Adventureland


All this goes out the window if there is amazing light. In that case, give your kids $10, point to the nearest ice cream store, and say, “Yay!! Ice cream!!” I find I can capture a lot of great shots when people are distracted with food or shiny things. I call it the “distract and snap” method.

2. Pack the right gear

Oh Hai Disneyland!
5DMKII + 16-35mm + 430EX with an Omnibounce

On this trip to Disneyland, I brought minimal gear with me to the park because I knew that I would be trekking around a lot and going on bumpy, wet and generally gear-unfriendly rides. I brought my 5DMKII with the 16-35mm f/2.8, 430EX flash, Canon SD 1300 point & shoot, and my iPhone 4.

I only brought one lens because I find that I can capture great scene shots at 16mm and great people pictures at 35mm. Plus, it’s relatively small and unobtrusive. A 35mm, 24-70mm or a 18-55mm kit lens would work as well.

View from the Grand Californian
View from my hotel room at the Grand Californian.

If you are missing a zoom lens or wide angle, use a point and shoot or phone to grab these shots. Remember it’s all about about capturing moments, not perfect photographs.

2. Bring extra memory cards & batteries

Esmerelda, Main Street, Disneyland
Esmerelda, Main Street, Disneyland

I usually have 4 X 8GB cards and an extra battery for my dSLR on me at all times. I tore through all of these on this trip, especially when I was taking video. So depending on what you are shooting, I would recommend having at least 4 cards with you, if not more. Always pack an extra battery and make sure you charge your phone the night before.

Woody Vinylmation
Toy Story’s “Woody” in Vinylmation store.

3. Capture the story

While it’s great to capture the big breathtaking scenic moments of your vacation, try to capture all the seemingly mundane moments in between to connect all your images into a story of your trip.

Mickey Mouse Waffle

Snap a picture of your breakfast, the view from your hotel window, your family getting ready to go out, or any little candid moment you’d like to remember.

I find that these shots are the ones I really cherish, because they remind me of my experience, rather than the place itself. I love this shot of my epic R2D2 “Mostly Lisa” Mouse Ears getting made.

My R2D2 Mickey Ears getting made

MostlyLisa's R2D2 Mickey Ears

4. Capture the entire scene

Paradise Pier, California Adventureland
Paradise Pier, California Adventureland

Always take a step back and capture the full scene. It’s a good opportunity to actually focus on your photography for a moment. I usually try to grab a few good shots when I’m waiting in lines for food, transport or Space Mountain :)

Space Mountain, Disneyland
Space Mountain!

To maximize your photo taking, set your camera to burst mode, so you can fire off a bunch of shots really quickly. Another way you can increase your chances of getting a great shot is by bracketing the exposure to +2 and -2 EV. This way when you fire off three shots in burst mode, you get three shots of varied exposure: 1. Over-exposed; 2. Normally exposed; & 3. Under-exposed.

Mark Twain Riverboat, Disneyland
Mark Twain Riverboat, Disneyland

5. Don’t forget to get in the picture too!

Cotton candy & magic hour in California Adventureland.

There are so many times when I come back from a trip and realize there are no pictures of me, almost as if I wasn’t there. I know most photographers hate being photographed, but your loved ones and demanding Facebook friends will appreciate a few pictures with you in them :P Before you pass of your camera, make sure it’s set up correctly so that anyone can just click the shutter. I usually set up the frame and settings on someone and then swap with that person, so all my settings are correct.

I’m not keen on strangers handling my dSLR, so if I want a shot with me and someone, I’ll either set up my point and shoot on a little gorilla pod and use a timer or just hand hold it. NB. Hand holding a dSLR is not recommended unless you’ve got the guns to support it :P

Mickey Mouse Toys at Disneyland

I look forward to seeing all of your shots of the upcoming holiday season!!!

You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    December 6, 2010 at 12:46 PM

    @Lisa: No protective UV filter in pic number 5?? :O

  • Reply
    Kansas Bob
    December 8, 2010 at 5:51 AM

    What a great post! I excerpted your suggestions and pointed folks back here on my blog.

  • Reply
    Mostly Lisa
    December 8, 2010 at 3:17 PM

    @Edu: Nope. I don’t use UV filters anymore because I felt they were compromising the quality/sharpness of my shots. I am really careful with my gear so I’m not too worried about scratching my lenses. I do have a Polarizer on my 50mm tho.

  • Reply
    Sven LL Rafferty
    December 8, 2010 at 3:28 PM

    No filter? Wow, you are the first photographer that I have heard not even pay the big bucks for likes of a B+W filter. Sadly, I can not take the chance on glass replacement in the hundreds – or gasp thousands – of dollars so I’ll take a hit in sharpness with my Hoya. PS, when you have kids, you may start using filters. :)

  • Reply
    December 8, 2010 at 5:55 PM

    OK, be careful! :)

  • Reply
    December 13, 2010 at 7:25 PM

    Your photos are amazing Lisa! I just found this site today. I’m going on holidays soon so this will help. Thanks!

  • Reply
    5 Tips for Taking Great Vacation Photos « MostlyLisa.com « twitter-1k.com
    December 22, 2010 at 11:10 AM

    […] Delicious hotlist […]

  • Reply
    Scott Hess
    December 26, 2010 at 2:14 PM

    Great work with your photography and overall media effusions.
    I was introduced to your work when a friend sent me a link to your beautiful rainbow photo. I’m a pro photographer and he wanted my opinion as to it’s “realness”. I told him it looked very real to me. Then I checked out your blog about the processing of the image. Your blog is a beautiful, generous act of sharing. You have a lovely collection of personal gifts and I wish you the best in sharing them.

  • Reply
    Scott Hess
    December 26, 2010 at 2:20 PM

    Oh, LIsa, I forgot one thing- the initial reason for coming to your comment section – via the Disneyland post – you might want to check out this amazing film from 1956, made by a CT family on their
    prize trip to Disneyland, one year after it opened. It was just admitted to the National Film Archive- a very special honor.

  • Reply
    January 17, 2011 at 5:36 AM

    […] One post that I read not to long ago, that I thought everyone here would appreciate, is “5 Tips for Taking Great Vacation Photos” and it is all about taking great photos at Disneyland (or any other theme park for that […]

  • Reply
    How to Take Better Vacation Photos
    February 24, 2011 at 9:42 PM

    […] more great tips on getting great vacation photos, be sure to check out Lisa’s full post. 5 Tips for Taking Great Vacation Photos [Mostly […]

  • Reply
    Nellene Wiley
    June 14, 2011 at 3:37 PM

    Great photography talent! My dad is a photo teacher at SF City College and he gave some quotes to remember that will help anyone to take better photos…it’s great, simple advice to add to yours. http://www.stylebaggage.com/?p=829

  • Reply
    June 19, 2011 at 8:29 AM

    5 Tips for Taking Great Vacation Photos | MostlyLisa.com | Photography tips & inspiration Good ideas here, i will link back to your post.

  • Reply
    July 8, 2011 at 3:39 AM

    LISA i had been known of your art from last few months and now i found your blog.And i want to say you really a very fabulous photographer.The way you take a shot,and the use of styling is very appreciable. I love your art.And these picture are true example of that.your photography tips useful every one.

  • Reply
    July 15, 2011 at 1:17 PM

    Amazing pictures! But one thing what do you do with your gear when you go on rides? When I went to Disney I brought my camera with me when I finished going on the rides as I was to scared to leave it unattended.

  • Reply
    July 26, 2011 at 11:08 AM

    Hi Lisa!! I found your website, and this blog specifically from the Photography-on-the.net website… I found your article very useful as I’m planning a trip to Disneyland and trying to plan out the gear I’m going to take…

    Did you really find a need to use the flash while at DL? Any suggestions you might have would be greatly appreciated!! :)

  • Reply
    October 24, 2011 at 6:24 AM

    Hey Lisa!
    fantastic entry, im so curious as to how you’re editing these photos. i noticed your mentioning of creating a tutorial about it somewhere in the reply and comments.
    but i can’t seem to find it :(.

  • Reply
    jam tangan couple
    July 26, 2015 at 10:40 PM

    Pretty! This has been a really wonderful article.

    Many thanks for supplying this information.

  • Reply
    November 21, 2015 at 4:06 AM

    Thanks for sharing this nice article.and I wish to visit again on your blog. keep sharing with your work.

  • Reply
    November 24, 2015 at 8:44 AM

    You are the master of photography. Since I have a trip to Europe, that I have built through service http://well-way.com/ , thanks to your advice now know how to pose for photos.

  • Reply
    camera filter GERMANY
    June 1, 2016 at 3:09 AM

    Thanks for sharing this nice article. and i wish to again on your new blog keep sharing the article.
    Thanks For Share.

  • Reply
    Biographie Bill Gates
    August 3, 2016 at 10:51 AM

    Great blog yoou have got here.. It’s difficult to find good quality writing like
    yours nowadays. I seriously appreciate individuals like you!

    Take care!!

  • 1 2

    Leave a Reply