What is a better way to remember all the good times and fantastic places you visit on vacation? Photographs evoke all the memories and atmosphere from different points on your travels, so you want them to be the best they can be.
This article will give you some tips and practical advice on getting amazing photos that you can look back on with pride for years to come!
Camera Settings and the Practical Stuff
It doesn’t matter if you have a top-of-the-range DSLR, a compact camera or just a smartphone – it’s how you use the equipment you have that matters.
If you want to get off full Auto mode, try one of the dedicated modes such as Landscape or Portrait, or go further and try Shutter Priority or Aperture Priority mode. If you already use manual mode on your camera, you will probably know about how to set correct exposure already, but if you don’t, there are good tutorials available on the Internet.
One word of advice here – stick to the modes that you are happiest using when on vacation. It’s not the time to learn how to shoot in another mode, as you will be too busy trying to get the settings right and may miss great shots. If you want to learn these other modes, do it before you leave so that all you have to do is set your camera up and shoot confidently.
A small but sturdy tripod is a great investment, as it will allow you to take photos in low light conditions and at night. Smartphone users can buy very inexpensive, flexible holders for their phones that wrap around a fence or a tree branch.
As light and lighting conditions change according to place and season, it’s impossible to give you exact camera settings, so treat the following as starting points, not absolute rules.
For fast-moving action shots of festivals, sports and performers, set your camera to Shutter Priority (Tv mode on Canon) for DSLR, or the Sports/Action mode. Set your shutter speed to above 1/250th second to freeze movement. The camera will choose the aperture and ISO settings automatically.
For portraits and close-ups of people, choose Aperture Priority mode (Av on Canon), or the Portrait mode on your camera. For AP mode, choose an aperture of between f/2.8-f/5.6 for good separation of your subject from the background. You may need to use a tripod if the light is low to avoid blurry images.
For long-exposure street images after dark with ‘ghostly’ figures of people walking on the streets and light trails from vehicles, you will need a tripod and should set your camera to use Shutter Priority (Tv for Canon). Set your shutter speed to 4 seconds as a starting point, and reduce it until you get a pleasing result. Keep your ISO fairly low for this, around 100-400. If you find you need to go over 30 seconds of exposure, you’ll have to switch your camera to ‘bulb’ mode and change the settings manually.
For wide-angle street scenes, set your camera to Aperture Priority mode and set your aperture to between f/8-f/16 to get the entire image in clear focus.
Make sure you have plenty of memory cards, batteries, and battery chargers before you go on your trip, as you can fill them up very quickly once you start shooting!
A Word About Lighting Conditions
The best natural light you can take your images in is what photographers call ‘the golden hour’. This is the hour before sunset, and the hour after sunrise, when the sun is low and the light is soft and beautiful. Portraits, street shots and landscapes taken at these times will look magical.
The midday sun is one of the challenges that photographers face, as the shadows are harsh and the highlights burn out too easily. You may find parts of your images are overexposed when you shoot at this time, no matter what you do. The solution is to try shooting in the shade, or having your subject stand with their back to the sun (or their face in shadow) and using a flashgun to add a softer light to the shadow and balance the sunlight.
Ask Permission For Close-Up Shots
It’s always better to ask someone for permission to take their photo close up if you can. You don’t have to stop and explain why you want to take their photo, which would be difficult if there’s a language barrier – just smile and gesture towards the person and then your camera. They’ll either smile and gesture ‘yes’ or ‘no’ accordingly.
If someone does say no, respect their decision and move on, but don’t let it get you down, or stop you from asking someone else. You have nothing to lose by asking, and a warm smile will go a long way to getting someone to say “yes”!
As a courtesy, you should offer to send them a copy of the edited images if they have internet access, and are willing to give you their email address.
Don’t Try for Technical Perfection
With street photography, it doesn’t really matter if parts of your image are blurry, or there are some overexposed highlights. It’s all about the people and places, not perfect photos.
You will also need to be quick and when you shoot street images because it’s too easy to miss those little moments that speak volumes in a photo, such as a fleeting expression or interaction. This is one of the reasons why you should get out and practice your street photography at home, so you know your camera controls instinctively and can shoot quickly.
You’ll come across many different people and cultures on your journeys, and it pays to keep an open mind and relaxed attitude towards the people and local customs. If you don’t have a judgmental attitude, you’ll get some great images because people will be more relaxed and open around you if they know you’re not condemning the way they live.
Be respectful around religious ceremonies or places of worship – you could accidentally cause offense by touching something you’re not meant to, or going where you’re not meant to be.
Photograph Festivals and Markets
If you don’t feel comfortable with asking people for permission, try going to places where people are used to being photographed, such as festivals, street performances, and tourist markets.
Don’t be afraid to take images of interesting scenes in these places. You’ll find your confidence grows the more you do it, and you’ll find yourself caught up in the moment. If you do take photos of street performers, it’s only fair to put some money in their hat or box after you’ve finished shooting.
Using an image editor to process your images once you get home will really give them some professional polish. Often all they need is some simple adjustments such as exposure, color, contrast, and sharpening. You can get free image editors such as GIMP, or choose some reasonably priced photo editing software if you don’t already have subscriptions for Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom.
Hopefully, I’ve given you some ideas and inspiration for your next set of vacation photos, and the more you do it, the better you will become. Happy travels!