How to Take Vacation Photos That Don’t Suck

Going on vacation? A new location can offer inspiration, room to spread your wings, even heretofore impossible opportunities. And you always bring your camera, right? So why not take the extra step and create memorable art instead of just memories.

Image © by Zeke K

I love a postcard from me Mum, but I don’t want every image I bring home from far off lands to look like I bought it at a five and dime for a quarter. So what’s a boy (or girl) to do? Whether your technical skills are overflowing or lacking, these tips could help you take more interesting photographs while on holiday.

  • Research: Google your destination. Pour over your Internets until your fingers are sore and your eyeballs can take no more – or at least until you find some locations you want to use. Consider locations that aren’t the normal tourist faire unless you’re idea brings something new to a well worn pair of pants. Look past locations. Dig deep. You may find a civil war reenactment club where you’re headed that would like to pose or a fire juggler that will play along with your idea. Speaking of ideas…
  • Ideas: Come up with a few ideas that take advantage of the opportunities you’ve found. Make a statement. Tell a story. An idea is an idea whether it’s made in New Mexico or New York. If all else fails fake it. It’s so much better to take a stupid picture on purpose than to take one by accident. See my Keep It Stupid post for examples.
  • Plan Ahead: Check out the satellite view on Google maps. Figure out what the least amount of photo gear you’ll need will be. Do you need a permit? Print directions from your hotel to that fabulous local you discovered on line. Put the local library’s phone number in your cell phone. Ask for the reference desk. They’re usually very happy to answer questions about anything you can cook up, especially local history. Have back up ideas and locations. Maybe that old mill you wanted to shoot in burned down since the last time the Google satellite whipped by overhead.
  • Props: Sometimes a simple prop can transform a boring vacation shot into an intriguing, moving, or hilarious work of art. Going to the desert? Write a love letter and make it look 100 years old. Stick it in the sand and get in tight for a shot. The girl never got the letter. So sad. Headed to Washington DC? Bring a noose and have your little nephew hold it next to the Lincoln Monument. What does it mean? I don’t know. But at least it doesn’t look like a postcard. You could take a macro shot of a taxidermy butterfly on the edge of a rocky crag at the Grand Canyon “sipping” from a puddle on a crumpled beer can. Anything. Just remember you are going to have to pack it and carry it, so you may want to keep it small unless it’s something you can get once you’re there.
  • Keep Your Eyes Open: I once made the mistake of having an idea so planned out that I didn’t even notice when a UFO landed to ask for directions. I just asked the little guy with the big eyes if his Google finger was broken, then I gave him the phone number to the local library, and told him to hit the bricks. His blinking lights were messing up my artsy macro butterfly puddle shot. Don’t let this happen to you. There is only so much you can find out about a place without actually being there. So if you are driving along and something you see starts singing to you, listen.
  • Maybe the most important part: Save room for the vacation. You’re significant other may not be too jazzed about the entire trip transforming into an expression of your soul sucking desire to create art. And personally, the few days a year I take off I actually need to use to recharge my brain batteries. So put aside some time to do your art, then put the camera away (wink).


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  1. I don’t know why but I love the writing, as well as the subject, in this Feature Article!

  2. Thanks so much for this, I’m going away this weekend and this gave me everything I need to prepare myself. I’m inspired now, off to find some of these mysterious alcoholic butterflies you speak of :)

  3. Hi Dasha,

    You’re welcome! Please put a link in the comments to your favorite images from the trip when you get back. I’d love to see them.

    –Zeke K

  4. I really like your writing style. Your last comment might be the best :)

    That said the photo you’ve chosen to illustrate the article is great – looks like off camera flash to me.


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