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Vacation Photography Tips
Vacation Photography Tips

Tough economic times are keeping many families closer to home for their vacations. Invent your own vacation by making the outdoors your canvas. Whether you’re having a picnic at the park or visiting one of the spectacular U.S. National Parks, you can return to your home with a slew of frame-worthy photos documenting your trip. Here are 10 tips from professional photographer Jay Kinghorn—a rock climber, mountain biker and co-author of Perfect Digital Photography and an Adobe Photoshop Certified Expert—guaranteed to make your summer photos a hit.

1. Construct your landscapes Mountain and plant

Too often, landscape photos fall flat because they don’t give viewers a sense of “being there.” Including a foreground, mid-ground and background adds depth to landscape photos. Choosing a strong foreground element, like an interesting boulder or bright flowers, gives the viewer a sense of detail within the bigger picture.

Tip: Try crouching down to a low vantage point to make smaller foreground elements appear larger in the photo. This makes your photos appear more three-dimensional. Using the in-camera “Pop Art” Art Filter feature found in newer Olympus cameras will further enhance the colors of your images, making them more saturated and vivid. Your pictures will express the joyful, lighthearted feeling of the Pop Art style of the 1960s.

2. Downsize Flower

The majesty of a huge mountain practically begs for a photo. However, as mentioned above, these kind of photos lack definition and texture. Your viewers will not know what to look at first in the photo. Go ahead and take the big picture. Then, add context to your photo by capturing textures of the rock, wildflower petals or small, nestling animals. You’ll find a whole new world of photo opportunities in the macro world.

Tip: When photographing the details in a landscape, try looking at the world from a different angle. Often, I’ll place my camera low to the ground and use Live View to compose the shot. This way, I can capture a photograph from ground-level without having to lie down on my belly on top of hard rocks and thorny cacti.

3. Shoot wherever, whenever Desert Brush

You’ve probably heard the “best light” is only in early morning or early evening hours. It’s true the soft light of those hours often makes for great photos. However, there are wonderful opportunities to shoot in the middle of the day. Look to shadows for details and other macro subjects or step into shaded areas without direct sunlight for portraits of your kids. You’ll find the diffused light perfect for portrait photos.

When photographing in the shade, the light is significantly bluer than in the bright sunshine. To ensure your colors are vibrant and true, change your camera’s white balance from the Daylight setting to either Cloudy or Shade. This will add a bit of orange to the photos making them more visually appealing.

Tip: You can also use harsh mid-day light to convey a sense of the intense heat and bright sunlight you find in open areas in the summer. The creative Art Filter features found in Olympus’ newer cameras cab help you easily achieve this effect right in your camera. If you want to give the viewer a feeling of what it is like to be in the desiccated desert southwest in the middle of summer, photograph mid-day with the “Pin Hole” filter. To capture the ethereal colors in the desert at sunset or twilight, consider using the “Pale & Light” camera feature.

4. Know your camera Photographer on top of mountain

Quick quiz. Without looking at your camera. What are the steps you need to take to change your camera’s ISO sensitivity? Spend some time becoming familiar with all the controls on your camera at home before packing your suitcase. This way, you’ll be ready to shoot as soon as you arrive at your destination.

Tip: For beginning photographers, focus on learning how to use your camera’s scene modes effectively. Intermediate and Advanced photographers should learn how to use the Aperture- and Shutter-priority modes in combination with exposure compensation for fine-tuning exposures. In the field, use whatever settings are easiest for you to concentrate on capturing great photos.

5. Photograph in transitional weather Tree and mountains

Photographing in inclement weather, or just as the weather changes, adds ambiance, texture and intrigue to your photos. Often, photographing on the cusp of a rainstorm, either just as it approaches, or as the storm is breaking, yields interesting light—perfect for dramatic photos. The resulting dark wall of clouds and clear sky can add major visual contrast, making for an almost surreal story.

Tip: Study the weather patterns in your area, or study your destination’s weather online. Think of ways you can incorporate the weather, clouds or precipitation into your photos to add to the sense of place in your photos. Sometimes, broken clouds, partial sun or overcast days can give you a unique perspective on a commonly photographed area. In this photo, taken in Zion National Park, the light broke through the horizon making for an interesting contrast between the band of light on the cliffs and the cloudy sky.

6. Be careful where you step Cactus

Great photographers are creative in getting their best shot. They are often willing to hike a while to get to the right spot or lie on the ground to shoot from the perfect vantage point. They are also very careful where they tread. For instance, in Moab, I skirt the delicate biological soil crust on my way to a great shot. There’s no need to trample hundreds of years of growth to take a photo. If you are going to National Parks, take a look at their Web site and brochures to learn about any special precautions you should take to preserve these spectacular parks.

Tip: Watching your feet can be beneficial for your portfolio as well. Great pictures are everywhere you look. As mentioned earlier, pay attention to the small flowers in the grass, unique vegetation or patterns in the sand.

7. Avoid the sky unless... Clouds and mountain

A beautiful blue sky can be great for enjoying a full day outdoors, but in your photos, a wide expanse of blue is visually boring. If you have a cloudless sunny day, compose to exclude most of the sky. However, if you have interesting cloud formations, incorporate them into your photos. Sometimes, having only a sliver of land is all you need when the clouds are spectacular.

Tip: In the late afternoon, the sun is often much brighter than the shaded landscape. As a result, your foreground elements will be silhouetted against the lighter sky. Set your exposure based on the brightness of the sky and select simple, easily recognizable foreground elements.

8. Use people to help show scale Man riding bike on sand

During vacation, you’ll want to take photos of your friends and family. However, instead of taking a photo of them police line-up style in front of a national monument, consider using your loved-ones to show the scale of a large object or putting them in the middle of an interesting scene. Often times, it’s tough for people viewing photos to get a sense of scale. How big was that mountain exactly? How big were those entrances the ancient American Indians built into their rock homes? Asking your friend to stand in or beside the doorway will help viewers understand how small those openings actually are.

Tip: Think of creative ways you can incorporate your friends and family into your photos. Instead of standing next to the National Park’s entrance sign, perhaps you include a photo of them marveling at a giant waterfall. Telling a story with photos is challenging, but is an exercise that will give you more engaging vacation photos and make you a better photographer overall.

Olympus LS-10 9. Wow your audience

Boost the star-power of your photos by creating multimedia presentations with your photographs as the focal point. Whether you’re adding your photos to a Google Map or creating an audio slideshow, multimedia tools are often easy to learn and can turn your photographs into riveting visual and audio experiences. Consider adding a digital voice recorder like the Olympus LS-12 to your camera bag to record ambient sound, a voice-over narrative or the boisterous roar of the crowd at a festival.

Tip: Creating multimedia presentations requires more pre-planning than a standard vacation slideshow. You’ll want audio and photos for each of the key points in the slideshow. For example, if you capture a great photo of fireworks bursting in the sky, you’ll want an audio clip of the explosion along with the “oohs and aahs” of the crowd.

10. Don’t be a pack animal

When taking photos in the hot summer, you’ll want to be light, nimble and flexible. You don’t need a huge pack to weigh you down. Nowadays, there are a lot of camera-specific bags for you to take your camera, spare batteries, a lens, and a couple memory cards into the field. For short excursions, I’ll often throw two camera bodies over my shoulders, one with a wide-angle lens like the 12-60mm SWD and a second with a telephoto, like the 50-200mm lens. If I know I’ll be hiking for an extended period of time, or I need to travel over difficult terrain, I’ll use a camera bag with a shoulder strap and a waist belt. This frees up my hands and keeps my camera gear safe. It also allows me to concentrate on getting to the shot instead of carrying a heavy camera bag.

Note: Photography courtesy of Jay Kinghorn; shot with Olympus E-System cameras and lenses.

Jay Kinghorn
About Jay Kinghorn


Twitter: @jaykinghorn

Jay Kinghorn can often be found climbing, biking or skiing near his home in Salt Lake City, Utah, and capturing all of Mother Nature’s glory with his various Olympus E-System cameras.

More Great Tips from Jay:

Perfect Digital Photography cover art

Jay is also the co-author of “Perfect Digital Photography.” Learn more about this book at perfectdigitalphotography.com.