Even seasoned travel photographers used to gallivanting from Fiji to the fjords want eye-popping pictures from their vacation getaways. The difference between us and them? They've learned the secrets to shooting pictures that they'll actually want to look at when the trip is over. Here are their tips for avoiding routine snapshots.
1. Downtime can be special time
"Shoot moments in between, like when you're relaxing in the afternoon over coffee after walking all day," says Tara Donne, whose photos have appeared in Condé Nast Traveler, Budget Travel and Coastal Living. "That, for me, gets to the real sense of vacation."
2. Noon light is too bright
Sun creates harsh shadows on faces and buildings, says Donne, so photograph people in the shade for more flattering pics. And since you can't move monuments and museums to a shady spot, shoot those special places in early-morning or late-afternoon light.
3. Be smart with your phone
That camera on your smartphone can be more sophisticated with the right apps. "I use my smartphone anytime I'm not on assignment," says Jen Judge, who shoots for magazines such as Islands and Outside. One of her favorite apps is Camera Plus; it allows her to adjust light exposure. Others include ProCapture, for taking panoramas with an Android phone, and ShakeIt and Hipstamatic for iPhone, which let you use different filters for a totally cool look.
4. Edit on the spot
You're not going to want to come back home and spend a long time at your computer going over eight images of the same thing, Judge notes. Delete the stinkers while you're still in front of the subject (if there's time). And, she adds, be selective even before taking your picture: "Spend a little more time making one photograph rather than randomly pointing your camera in every direction and taking 50 of them."
5. Move in
Zooming can degrade photo quality. Let your feet do the work when you want to get closer.
6. Be sure to back up your photos
The pros do, even while traveling. Download photos onto a laptop, to a cloud system (like Dropbox or iCloud) or to a flash drive.
7. Avoid boring shots of buildings
You want some action, says Jason Varney, who shoots for National Geographic Traveler and Travel + Leisure, among others. Be patient. "Wait for someone to walk through or ride by on a bike — something that gives it a little more excitement or movement or local flair."
8. Include a range of scale
"Shoot things that are vast and wide as well as tight details," says Varney. "It could be food shot or just a detail of a cool window — find what's most interesting about that specific scene."
9. Look for the locals
People help your photos capture the life of places you visit. But before taking someone's picture, ask permission, Varney suggests. "Use your charm, be personable and you might even make a friend out of just asking to take a photo. It leads to a conversation and you get some great local advice." He adds, "If it's a vendor at a market, it's polite to first make a small purchase. It's kind of part of the bargain."
10. Don't photograph everything
Even accomplished professionals say a photograph never trumps the experience of real life. If it's a gorgeous vista or beautiful moment that you know would be impossible to capture on film, just stop and enjoy it. As Varney says, "Put the camera down. Sometimes that's the best advice."
Christina Ianzito writes about travel, food and other lifestyle topics for AARP Media.