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Tips to take great travel photos
Story and photos by T.S. Amarasiriwardena, Boston.com Staff
A vacation may be fleeting -- but you can make the memories last on your next trip by capturing the moment with your camera. Before you pack your bags and camera for the road, take a look at these hints, and return from a great trip with photos to match.
Get ready
Just like the Boy Scout motto, “be prepared,” taking great vacation photos requires some preparation before you even head out the door. Make sure that your camera is in good and working order. Give the lens a good cleaning and wipe down the body and controls for easier use.
Digital
With digital cameras increasingly becoming the tool of choice for vacationers, remember to pack along any cords, chargers and accessories that you may need to keep your camera snapping away. Bring along a couple extra memory cards or some device to copy the images while on the road. As alluring as it may be to ratchet down the resolution to a lower setting, resist the temptation and keep it at the highest setting your camera will allow. Using the highest setting will allow you to print bigger and better photos later.
Film
If you’re shooting with a film camera, go ahead and purchase two or three more rolls than you think you’ll need. It’ll save yourself the trouble of paying exorbitant prices for a roll of film at tourist traps, or worse yet, running out at an inopportune time – and if you don’t use all of the film, it’s merely an excuse to take another trip.
Find a camera
Don’t have a camera, or looking to upgrade? These days a full featured digital camera is a relatively affordable purchase. Instant feedback and no developing costs will encourage you to shoot more often.
Check out our full featured guide, updated with the latest offerings in digital cameras.
Paparazzi style
You might not want to take it as far as the photographers that taunt Sunset Boulevard do, but one of the first steps to achieving great photos is to shoot, and shoot a lot. And with a digital camera, this is even easier (and cheaper) to do. Take a photo of anything that you find interesting, with multiple angles, horizontal, vertical, close shots, wide angle. When you get back home you’ll be able to review the images and pick the best one to keep.
Just from one location, you can pull off a variety of photos -- but first, you have to shoot, and shoot a lot.
Tell a story
It’s your vacation, so tell your story. Everyone has seen scenic photos of the St. Louis Arch, Old Faithful, and other major landmarks, so while you should feel free to go ahead and take those picturesque shots, make sure you get a couple that have your own twist to it.
Through two main focal points, you can see that the subject is on a canoe and heading to Boston, telling the story of that day's activity.
Aside from the standard group shot, take photos that prove that you were there; a photo behind the group as they climb a mountain, that moment of frustration while waiting in line, or perhaps someone merely attempting to pack an already full car.
Capture the best and worst of your journey – either way, you'll be laughing about it later. Here, you can see the distress by the subject’s gestures, while also telling the location, after she was in a car accident.
Photos that literally say where you are, through signage or landmarks immediately have impact. Ultimately you want to capture slices of life that span over the entire trip, building a visual narrative that tells a story so well that it could go with little or no explanation.
Sometimes, such as this frame, you can literally show the viewer where the subject is.
Composition
The essence of a great photo is capturing a moment within the constraints of a rectangular frame. Taking note of the elements in the picture and composing them can lead to much better photos. Try not to merely snap the shutter, but take a good look and examine what is in the frame. Is the background clean, or is it quite busy? Are there objects “growing” out of your subject’s head?
The background is clean and explains where the subject
is while not being distracting.
While centering the image on your main element may by your gut reaction, photos shot like this tend to feel artificial. Try to align your subject off to one side, by imagining the image is split into thirds and forcing the subject into one of the outer slices, achieving a more natural look.
Placing the subject to the far right third of the frame,
as in this photo, is more visually interesting than had the subject been centered.
Finally, let the main element fill the frame. Capturing your friend’s full body into the picture will leave you squinting to see their face, cut out the unnecessary elements and get in close.
The subject's face takes a sizable portion of the photo,
while still showing where he is.
Angle
Experiment a little and stray from the straight on shot. Walk around a little and consider different angles. Stoop down a little and you can make things taller and more dramatic, or perhaps get above the crowd to capture the enormity of a scene. Finding that special angle can help make the photo distinctive from the rest.
At one of the more photographed sites in America, St. Louis' Gateway Arch, getting a visually interesting is a little more difficult. Getting closer to the subject and stooping lower and angling up, made the arch much more impressive
as seen in the second shot.
Color
Just as much as composition, paying attention to the colors of objects can lead to better photos. Stark contrasts or bright colors will make objects pop, helping you draw interest onto the main subject.
The young girl's multi-colored bathing suit instantly draws
the viewer in, contrasting from the flat blue and the white and black of the birds.
Layering a variety of objects, from the foreground to the background and everything in between can help you tell a story as you draw the viewer from each level to the next. Mind what is in each layer to achieve perfect photos.
From the size of the two subjects, to the lake and crater sides to far distance, viewers get a rough approximation of the size of the location.
The way light is used in your photos can greatly affect the way it turns out. Having the sun in front of the subject could leave them squinting, while the sun behind them could leave their face hard to discern because it’s not well lit.

Shooting into the sun with your subject blocking the light
will produce silhouettes.
Sometimes you can use these issues to your advantage – taking a photo into the light, with your subject blocking the way can lead to some stunning silhouettes.

Using your flash in “fill” mode during the day can help soften the harsh shadows that may appear in directly lit images and give a more uniform exposure. Pay attention to shadows and other interesting side effects of light that may add interesting elements to your photo as well.
The zoom feature on cameras can also produce some interesting effects. Try walking back from your subject, and then zoom back into them to get closer. Objects in the background will look closer and more impressive, while producing a nice portrait effect by slightly blurring it from the subject and foreground, building a noticeable layer.
Through an effect that lenses produce by zooming in, you can make objects seem closer and more imposing.

Sometimes life can’t be bounded by the constricting frame of a standard photo. Break out. With software accompanying most digital cameras these days, you can “stitch” a range of photos, with a little digital massaging, into one complete and nearly seamless frame. When planning to produce a panoramic image, keep a couple things in mind:
Because you’ll be taking these photos over successive frames, you’ll want motion in the image to be at a minimum. Taking a panorama, in say, New York’s Time Square, would probably mean that cars seen driving by in one frame won’t exist in the next. Scenes that are fairly big like a park, rather than the confines of a building work best. When shooting, find a constant line of reference to center your camera on throughout the range of your panorama.
One of the major factors to produce a good panorama, is having enough overlap in consecutive images to ease lining the images up later on. A good rule of thumb is to have one-half to one-third of each photo exist in the frame before it.
Even though lighting will vary from shot to shot, you’ll want to ensure that the images are uniformly exposed – let the camera take care of that for you. Its best if the sun or any other major light sources are not in the image. Focus on the primary subject of the image and turn the auto focus off so all the images are focused in the same range.
More panoramas:
The photo process doesn’t end there. This is where digital photography really comes in handy, enabling you to easily edit, crop and tweak images on the computer. Many of these programs with most of the features you need come with your camera, are available on the cheap or sometimes even free. You can find some of these software packages for download here:
Google's free Picasa image editing program.
Some image editing programs:
No need to keep it all to yourself. With digital cameras, or photos on CD services, sharing photos is easy to do on the web for all to see. Most of the online photo sharing services let you easily upload digital photos, caption them up, and even order prints from the website. Be judicious with your selection for the photos you chose to share – no one wants, or will look through, all the photos you took. Keep it to a minimum of a couple really great shots that tell a story over a span of photos – the best of the best.
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