5 Tips for Taking Great Vacation Photos

Nov 27 2010

Mostly Lisa on Paradise Pier, California Adventureland

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
Taken while Pete was distracted by brightly coloured sweets. :)

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.

Pete & Mickey PretzelOh look! A Mickey pretzel!

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.

Pete in front of the Matterhorn, Disneyland
Pete waiting for the Monorail in Tomorrowland.

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, your boyfriend checking his feeds during dinner :-|, or any little candid moment you’d like to remember.
Pete Cashmore getting his RSS on :P

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.

Point and shoot shot of Pete & I after a ride on Indiana Jones.

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!!!

Tags: , , ,

67 Responses to “5 Tips for Taking Great Vacation Photos”

  1. great photos. great tips. looks like a good time. thanks! :)

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Susan Hodgson, Eric Scheel Photo and Norm Zarr, Photo Addicts. Photo Addicts said: 5 Tips for Taking Great Vacation Photos: I just finished processing my snaps from my fabulous Disneyland birthda… http://bit.ly/ewS61g […]

  3. That R2/Mickey hat makes me feel very conflicted.

  4. Great tips Lisa. Most people are so impressed with everything around them and forget about capturing the right moments on the right way.

  5. Outstanding Disney photos!

    Thank you so much for sharing.

  6. Those beautiful shots just made my day!
    Great photos and fantastic colors! :)

  7. “I brought minimal gear… …I brought my 5DMKII with the 16-35mm f/2.8, 430EX flash, Canon SD 1300 point & shoot, and my iPhone 4.”

    My concept of “minimal gear” is quite different, Lisa, BTW fantastic shots!


  8. Wow! It’s been a long friggin’ time. Epic post, Lisa!

  9. Great tips and nice shots! I love your food and toy shots especially.

  10. great post! just in time as I’m going to Europe for my honeymoon (Canada’s cancelled :P) Lookin forward to more post Lisa :D

  11. Great shots!! I’ve been at Disney many times and without your inspiring pictures, would have taken the same pictures over and over. Just goes to show you …. it’s not the camera but the person behind it. Thanks for your post!

  12. Hand holding a DSLR? Easy peasy. Just make sure you own a Pentax. They are small, light, yet very capable. (I’d get sore muscles just by holding a 5D.)

    I love that suggestion with burst mode. My camera is always set to that, in low light situations I just keep the shutter pressed and take 2, 3 photos. Increases the chances of a sharp(ish) photo. It confuses others though when I hand them my camera, since they are used to press the shutter for a longer time.

    Any idea on how to explain others the concept of pressing the OK button to focus? I always focus that way (the shutter button does not focus for me, it’s a bit like having set the camera to MF, but being able to use AF when you want. Great when the AF isn’t that good/reliable), but others, well, don’t. I usually say… “press OK to focus”, but not everyone gets that.

    What usually works for me with candids is taking so many photos that the subjects start to ignore the camera/get used to it. Then they start to be natural, and that’s when I take the best photos. Either that or they complain.

  13. What filters (in Photoshop, I presume) are you using in post?

    Great tip on advising to search out for a few landmark pictures and then just relax on the trip. I have a difficult time doing this anytime I go on vacation. It’s either all (I snap all day) or nothing (I never even take out the camera.)

  14. Great tips and photography lisa :-) Thanks…

  15. i love what you post here,it is helpful.Thanks

  16. Lisa,

    I especially like your shot of Pete looking at the phone with his ears on.

    Thank you for your article! I’m off to visit a number of Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmärkte/Christkindlmärkte) in Germany over the next few weeks, and I’ll have your tips in mind. Cheers!

  17. Thanks for the tips lisa! Certainly could relate and will most definately come in handy next time on holiday. That’s an excellent idea bringing a compact camera as well. Because when I was on holiday with a group, we wanted a group shot of all of us and there was no time to set up a tripod. Then, others were pressurising me to give the dslr to a stranger to take a photo of us (which I wasn’t comfortable with!) Anyway, now I know in future what to do…

  18. ugh iphone 4…

    still good tips. subscribing to rss feed now

  19. Have to laugh that Edu (not me) thought the same thing, if that is packing light, I hate to see what you think normal is. Also had visions of huge suitcases for 2 day trip.

    The article is great. I love some of your images and ideas but I too wonder what work you did in PS.

  20. […] For more great tips on getting great vacation photos, be sure to check out Lisa’s full post. http://mostlylisa.com/blog/vacation-photos/ […]

  21. Is it me, or is your diopter set incorrectly?

    good article

  22. […] [Mostly Lisa] via [Lifehacker] This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL. « Flickr Photostream Friday: Nerboo blog comments powered by Disqus /* […]

  23. OH MY DAYS!
    Your hat, its perfect, I need one in my life!!

    Great blog, I love the images you used and the way they were coloured. It looks like a great day!

  24. Hey Lisa :) I’ve just explored your website here, your tumblr, twitter, facebook and… I’m fan!! A big one. Thanks for your cheerful style, beautiful photos and the way you share content. Can’t wait to hear more from you :)
    God bless!

  25. How many of these ‘minimal gear’ photos did you use a tripod for? Maybe they’re just HDR photoshop filters but I really hate that look and the effort it takes to get there.

  26. :) Thanks for the tips! I love your Disneyland photos :D Those R2D2 Mickey ears are AMAZING. (My head’s too big for them…)

  27. Yes, on gear I also recommend a bit lighter such as Canon G12 (I have a G10) and a gorilla pod. Also dont knock the iphone 4, some really great shots in sunlight!

    Thanks for a greta post!


  28. great article Lisa! Really interesting and some great tips!

  29. you mention to only photograph the important stuff and focus on the trip itself.

    yet you tore through how many sd cards?

    does not compute…

  30. Thank you for your wonderful article! It has been extremely helpful. I wish that you will continue posting your wisdom with us.

  31. Nice tips, will try to remember all those next time :).
    I usually end up either taking too much photos (forgetting to enjoy) or not taking at all, but you proved that balancing is possible and fun.

  32. Great tips. I’ve been trying to internalize these for a while now. It started with my wife complaining that all our trip photos were of the locations without many photos of us. Then I went to some photo seminars on trip photography. I think my grand canyon trip was the culmination of all these tips. I took photos of the neat restaurants we went to with interesting decor, of each other, of other tourists, and, of course of the Grand Canyon.

  33. Hey Lisa, thanks for sharing the lovely photos and vacation tips. I especially like the night Disney photo with fireworks – that is amazingly taken!

  34. Great tips, but I would add another one to your list: ALWAYS BACKUP! I’ve been to Toronto recently, and I lost my compact camera (a Sony HX5V) in the taxi while in a hurry, with all my pictures (more than a thousand) inside from Canada and New York. Worst experience eveeer!

    I think I didn’t backup the pictures because I never thought this would happen to me, but trust me, it DOES happen to anyone! So perhaps having more memory cards, but smaller capacity ones, instead of just a single, huge-capacity one, will “force” you into backing up those pics.

    And BTW, I’ve been to Disneyland two years ago, wonderful place! I just regret worrying too much about taking pictures of the landmarks and recording the shows, and not getting in the picture most of the time.

  35. @Edu: ha if i can fit it all in one purse, it’s minimal gear ;P

  36. @Nate: ha over 3 months. insane how time flies.

    @kadajawi: it is a superior way to focus, but many people find it really tricky to use at first.

    @Sven LL Rafferty: hmm that’s a tricky one to answer. every photo is shopped differently, but in general i up contrast with curves and levels, increase vibrance, & clone out things that mess up my frame.. like people, benches etc. i used a radial blur on the esmerelda pict. i also make my picts look slightly retro using curves. maybe i’ll do a tutorial =)

    @Henry Lee: ha! always checking his feeds.. lol

    @Ed: usually i have my 50mm 1.4, 85mm 1.8 on me. i don’t actually own a lot of lenses, so i’m never hauling around a 70-200, but enough to give me neck pain :P

    @Chad: No photos were taken with a tripod because i didn’t have one on me. The night shots were taken at ISO 5000-6400.

    @Marco Markovich: i used to carry the largest gorilla pod with me everywhere, but it really weighed me down and i found that i didn’t use it that much. the little mobile one is really light and great for point&shoot shots.

    @pinaceae: i shoot in RAW (21MB each) and shoot video in 1080p… so cards fill up super quick.

  37. @Pedro H. Moschetta: so true. i always travel with my laptop and a small HD to backup on. losing photos is really horrible.

  38. That’s fine. :)

  39. Entertaining reading and great pictures. I wish that all of us could capture our precious moments like you do. It takes practice, I know, but talent is obviously there too.
    Oh!, if you hadn’t noticed it, the penultimate step should read “Step 4″ instead of “Step 3″, which is doubled.

  40. Nice shots. Next time, go to Disney world, with a kid, it gets even better.

  41. […] 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 […]

  42. Lisa, I would love to see something from you on Photoshop post-edits. I use onOne PhotoTools as I have never mastered Photoshop in itself. Silly me has been using it since 2.0 (yup, five floppies for install!) for merely web site development. Who would have thought you could use it for pictures? :)

  43. Fantastic photos! Hits home for me as I head off on vacation next weekend.

  44. […] Taking better vacation photographs. […]

  45. Thanks for sharing.Keep posting.

  46. I am really enjoying your adventures!! So glad you are back blogging. We’ve missed you!!!!! :-DD

    PS That boyfriend of yours…Pete Cashmore is one hotty ;) Lucky girl!!!

  47. […] and she learned a few things. No, not about Mickey and Donald. Instead, she shares five tips for taking better vacation photos. She did have her DSLR in tow, but she was packing relatively light, remembering to experience the […]

  48. Good tips, although when I go next month I’m taking my 24-105mm lens — I don’t know how you manage with just that wide-angle!

  49. […] 5 Tips for Taking 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.” […]

  50. […] Además de leer el post pasen y vean el portafolio de la fotógrafa y sigan las publicaciones del bog: mostlylisa.com […]

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

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

  53. @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.

  54. 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. :)

  55. OK, be careful! :)

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

  57. 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.

  58. 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.

  59. […] 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 […]

  60. […] 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 […]

  61. 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

  62. 5 Tips for Taking Great Vacation Photos | MostlyLisa.com | Photography tips & inspiration Good ideas here, i will link back to your post.

  63. 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.

  64. 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.

  65. 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!! :)

  66. 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 :(.

Leave a Reply