6 Tips for Instagram-worthy Vacation Photos

The time has come. All the overtime hours and penny-scrimping has finally paid off – it’s time to go on your dream vacation! Whether you’re traveling to the Caribbean, hiking through the Alps, or simply hitting the beach, you’ll want to remember your experiences. And there’s no better way than by taking awesome/amazing vacation photos.

The high quality of cellphone cameras makes it easier than ever to take great pictures. To take your vacation photos to the next level, consider these six composition tips:

Composition Tips for Excellent Vacation Photos

Tip 1: Understand Lighting

When it comes to vacation photos, the sun can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Understanding where your light source is and how lighting will impact your photo is key to producing high quality images.

In general, shooting in the direction of the sun can be troublesome, often resulting in back-lighting problems and lens flare. Back-lighting, or having the light directly behind your subject, often results in your subject appearing too dark and with little detail. Instead of a clear image, you’re left with a silhouette within an overly bright sky. With lens flares, light spills into your photo in places it should not. This can mean light spots or streaks across the image, which can wash out certain areas of your photo.

To counter these problems, try taking your vacation photos in indirect light. Aim for the light to be coming from the corner of your frame: either behind or in front of your subject, but at an angle. This gives your photo proper lighting without the risk of it overpowering your shot. Angled lighting also helps when you’re taking photos of your loved ones: direct light in front of your subject may provide great detail, but your poor loved ones are stuck squinting into sun!

Tip 2: Follow the Rule of Thirds

While there are many strategies for taking quality photos, the rule of thirds is in every professional photographer’s arsenal. Originally an art guideline, the concept is a great way to ensure consistent composition quality.

Before taking a photo, imagine that the scene is divided into nine equal parts by two horizontal and two vertical lines. To create more visual interest, place the focus of your photo at the intersection of a vertical and horizontal line. This allows your subject to remain as the main focus, but the negative space around the subject is more interesting. If you’re taking a landscape photo, the horizon should rest on either the top or bottom horizontal line, creating a 2:1 ratio between land and sky.

For example: you’re on the beach and want to get shot of a picturesque lighthouse off in the distance. Rule of thirds would have you place the horizon line right on the bottom horizontal line, and then the lighthouse at the intersection of that line and either the left or right vertical lines. In this example, we chose the right-hand side.

You don’t have to use the rule of thirds for all your vacation photos, but it’s a great technique to tap into!

Tip 3: Proper Centering

Sometimes you can’t beat the classic, well-centered photo. It’s a classic because it’s simple and effective way of creating a great image. However, it’s important to be purposeful in centering your subject. Because it seems simple, it’s easy to misjudge the true center of the frame. The result: an off-centered and rushed-looking image.

Remember: a simple concept still takes time to execute properly. The more centered your subject is, the more professional the photo will read. You’ll be glad to have taken the extra time when looking at the final results.

Tip 4: Mind the Edges

It’s natural for your main focus while shooting to be the subject of your photo. Being mindful of the objects around your subject, however, will take your images to a new level.

When lining up your photo, take a look at the edges of your shot. Are there objects that seem out of place? For example, as you’re taking a family vacation photo: are there signs in the background with words cut off by the border? Has some pesky person stuck their leg in the frame? Is there an arm of a bench that seems to pop out of nowhere?

To avoid these unwanted extras, try shifting your position and playing with the zoom as you’re taking photos. Worst-case scenario, being patient and waiting for the right opportunity (or for people to walk out of the frame) will greatly improve your shot. Objects along the border tend to distract the eye away from the main subject. You may not have noticed these details while taking vacation photos, but you definitely will once you’ve printed them out!


Tip 5: Know Your Phone Features

Not every vacationer has a DSLR camera, and with today’s high-quality phone cameras, you don’t really need one! However, understanding the basics of your particular phone’s camera feature can really enhance your photos.

Most phones today are capable of taking both portrait and landscape shots. This feature is easily controlled by how you hold your phone. When holding your phone vertically, you are shooting in portrait format. Conversely, holding your phone horizontally allows you to shoot in landscape format. If you have an iPhone, you’ll see a small camera icon in the corner of your screen that will show you when the camera registers being in portrait or landscape mode.

Certain photo subjects will benefit from how you photograph them. For example, say you are vacationing in Italy and visiting all the iconic sites. When photographing the Leaning Tower of Pisa, it may be best to use portrait format. But, if you’re taking a photo of the Trevi Fountain in Rome, landscape may be better.

Another common phone camera feature is the panoramic setting. This allows you to move your phone while shooting to capture scenery that wouldn’t fit fully in landscape format. When using the panoramic setting, make sure you are moving your phone slowly and steadily across the landscape. If you move your phone too quickly, certain areas of the image may appear blurred and distorted.

Your phone’s camera also has the ability to zoom in and out with just the touch of your fingers! By placing two fingers on the screen and moving them together or apart, you can control how much you zoom in or out. Moving them together zooms the camera out, while moving them apart zooms in. Be careful of zooming too far in: your photo might appear grainy and lower quality. Instead, get as close as you can to your subject first and then zoom in with your phone.

Many phones also come with a tap to focus feature that makes getting the correct lighting and sharp detail easy. Tapping on the screen before the photo is taken tells the camera where you want it to focus. This will affect how intense the lighting, highlights, and shadows are in your picture. Before taking the shot, tap all around the image to find the best lighting and sharpest details for your image. Most times this will be tapping on your subject. However, focusing around your subject can bring out highlights and shadows that you didn’t see before!

Tip 6: Shoot, Shoot, and Shoot Some More!

Now that you’ve considered the previous tips on image composition, the best strategy now is to take as many photos as possible! Specifically, take more than one photo of the same subject. It may take time to adopt this habit, but it truly produces the best results.

Many great photographers preach that the world doesn’t exist simply as we see it standing up, and they’re right. Get creative and take photos from as many different perspectives as possible! Shooting from eye-level is a great starting point, but have fun with many different angles and distances! Stand on tips of your toes and shoot from above, or crouch down and shoot a scene from below. You might be (pleasantly) surprised by how the perspective completely changes how you look at a scene.

With this tips in mind and your phone in hand, you’re guaranteed to take some spectacular vacation photos. Enjoy making new memories (and then showing off the proof to friends and family later)!


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