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Tell Your Vacation Story Through Photographs

From an early age I have always kept a place for summer in my heart. Spring and fall may be known as the most colorful seasons, with flowers blooming and leaves turning vibrant hues of orange and gold, but summer is the time for dreams, discovery, and exploration. As a child it meant camping in the woods, walking along the rocky New England coastline, and family road trips to all the different national parks. Each year held a fun new adventure that we embarked on, and that anxious excitement stirs inside me even today whenever I imagine what journey I might endeavor upon next.

As the weather warms up and we welcome the reprieve from blustery rainy days, my family looks forward to hiking in the mountains, discovering new cities, and spending lazy days on a sandy beach in the sunshine. We pack our bags and set off towards a new destination, ready to soak it all in. But how will we tell the tale of our holiday when summer has passed? Through photos, of course! While seeking out gluten-free food to eat in a new place may sometimes turn into more of an “adventure” than we originally planned, one adventure I can always count on when going on vacation is photographing all the new experiences and the sights along the way.

One of my favorite approaches to capturing a family trip on camera is to tell a story. Photographing the family vacation is as much (if not more) about saving the memories of your time with loved ones as it is about getting that iconic image of where you were. Capturing all the different parts of the trip— the journey on the way to the destination, the little details, the events, the smiles and laughter—can all preserve the essence of the trip and let those you share your images with afterwards better experience your vacation with you.

Here are a few tips and tricks to help you capture the essence of your summer holiday.

Capture the journey, not just the destination.

summerholiday2You don’t have to wait for that perfect family photo on top of a scenic vista get out your camera. Photographing the steps of your journey along the way can be a great way to convey a sense of place and setting. Whether you went for a long drive or took a plane, cruise boat, or ski-lift, the transportation is an important aspect of going somewhere new. It’s also fun to remember some of the foods you ate (especially if trying something new or characteristic of the location), or to capture a more literal memory of where you traveled by photographing signs of the places you visited. These are perfect ways to convey the actual experience of your trip. After all, half the fun of going somewhere is getting there!


Create memorable landscapes to show a sense of place.

A scene can change dramatically depending on the time of day. If you find yourself visiting a location more than once, take your camera out each time and you may see an entirely different environment in front of you. For example, these photos of the Matterhorn next to a small little pond were taken in the morning just after the sunrise (top), and in the late afternoon (bottom). While they are practically the same scene, they look extremely different from each other because of the sun’s position. In the early morning shot, the sun was behind me shining directly onto the face of the mountain. In the afternoon photo, the sun was on the opposite side so the face of the mountain was in shadow. Each gives a very different feel and mood to the scene.


You can give landscape images more depth by having elements in the foreground (close to you) as well as in the background. Some details help us frame our perspective in an image and a perception of depth gives a quality of wanting to reach in and enter the scene. I chose to use the flowers in the Matterhorn images as something close and posts in the water of Lake Geneva to ground the rest of the image.

For pretty and dynamic colors, go out during sunrise or sunset. You will see lovely orange, pink, and purple hues in the sky that reflect on the clouds and water, giving vibrancy to a scene that just doesn’t happen with blue skies at midday.


Positioning subjects off-center helps to make an image more interesting and appealing.

Try to keep the horizon in either the top or bottom third of the photograph, placing the main subject of what you are photographing off to one side.


Arrive early and have the place to yourself.

If you want to avoid all the crowds, arrive early. At 6 am there is almost no one on the Parc du Champ de Mars in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but just a few hours later it will be flooded with tourists. Sometimes, though, you may want to embrace the crowd and accept the tourists as just part of the surroundings.



Capture the human element.

A vacation is not just about the sights you saw, but also the time you cherished with your friends and family. Remember to photograph the people you had so much fun with!

Be sure to document those candid moments along with the posed ones. Sometimes the most precious photos are unplanned, such as capturing the wonder in your child’s eyes as they discover a grand new world in front of them. If you wait for only those planned shots, then you may miss capturing some of the key moments that will make your vacation so memorable for years to come.


When you do the posed shots, just like with photographing travel subjects, try to keep everyone off-center.

Having people off-center in the frame helps make the image look more interesting while also creating room in the photo to include a bit of background that speaks about where you were, like fitting a large iconic mountain next to my husband and myself. If everyone is standing right in front of the landmark they are posing with, you may find the landmark competing for attention and the image looking too crowded.

When people are standing up in a photo, try to have them resist the urge to hunch over as if trying to “squeeze” into the frame unless you are really struggling to fit everyone in. If you stand back far enough so that you can easily fit everyone in the image, photos will often look more flattering for people if they are standing straight and tall.

If it’s very sunny out, you can quickly run into the issue of harsh lighting that causes strong dark shadows on people’s faces and lots of squinting! Instead, look for places of open shade for those portrait shots.

Open shade can be the shadow of a large building, under a tree, or basically any shadowed area that still allows light in but just blocks direct sun. This will help keep people from squinting and allow for more relaxed and natural facial expressions. The lighting will also allow for overall better exposure and coloring. Cloudy days are ideal because then the entire outdoors becomes nicely shaded.

The best camera is the one you have with you.

summerholiday9Being able to photograph candid moments that occur throughout a trip means it’s a good idea to always have some sort of camera with you. Don’t fret about not having a “good enough” camera. Not every situation or location is conducive to lugging around a big DSLR and multiple lenses, and frankly, these days most point-and-shoots (and even phones) have fairly robust capabilities. If your pocket-sized camera is the one you find yourself reaching for when you want to snap a photo, then go for it! Understanding a few simple guidelines about lighting and composing an image will help any camera capture your memories beautifully.

Most importantly, have fun!

Know when to put the camera away and just enjoy time with your loved ones. Don’t stress over getting the “perfect” shots. Vacation is supposed to be a time to enjoy yourself, so carry your camera around and take lots of photos, but also know that it’s okay to sit back, relax, and set the camera aside to savor the moment.

Written By: Jennifer Oliver
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Tags: Jennifer Oliver Magazine

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