One of my favorite photos from a vacation to Monhegan Island shows a nearly full frame of rocky cliffs and, at the very top of the photo, a sliver of sky. In that sliver is my older sister. Somehow the camera shimmied and the photographer — otherwise known as “the little sister” — didn’t quite catch the scene. And didn’t take any other shot. I like the photo, but it’s more representative of my quirky taste than of the vacation.
The point is: If you’re the photographer for the family vacation, take more than one shot.
If you’re really interested in getting some tips on taking good vacation shots, however, the best folks to ask are the ones who do it for a living. The photographers who work at the Bangor Daily News spend every workday with their eyeballs pressed up against the back of a black box. And every one of them takes a camera on vacation, too.
When I spoke with them about taking good shots, they gave me lots of practical tips. Here they are for the photography adventures you might be taking this summer.
With some good luck and a few tips, maybe you won’t lose face — or lose the face — when you’re on vacation.
1. Buy the film — and lots of it — at a discount store before you leave rather than on the road. If you don’t use it all, store it in the fridge, where it can be kept long past the expiration date. Better to have too much film than not enough — especially if you’re in a tourist or resort area.
2. Stock up on batteries. Make sure you get the right size and at least one backup set in case you leave your flash on or the equipment is faulty.
3. If you’re on foot, don’t get bogged down with a lot of equipment. If you’re shooting with a 35mm camera, the common lens (50mm) and a zoom are all you need. If you’re traveling by car and have room, take all your photographic toys. Good to have lots of lens cleaning tissue, too. If you don’t have tissue designed for lenses, you can use a soft cotton T-shirt in a pinch.
4. If you’re really serious about getting good photos, take a backup camera. A point-and-shoot camera is a good complement to a 35mm. Or you can buy the disposable types at discount stores. Any camera is better than none when that once-in-a-lifetime scene comes up.
5. Don’t sleep in. Some of the most interesting and atmospheric lighting occurs at dawn and dusk.
6. Bad weather for you is often good weather for your camera. Sunlight casts shadows, but an overcast day can offer shadow-free shots. Rain can leave behind fascinating opportunities, too.
7. Use extra caution at the beach. Even the tiniest grain of sand can jam the gears of a camera. Best to transport your camera in a plastic bag and clean it as soon as you get home from any sandy outings.
8. If you’re going to be near water, think about getting an underwater camera or a housing device for protecting your camera in water. There are even some disposable cameras that can get wet. A whole new world is waiting out there underneath the surface.
9. Get close. Instead of having someone stand at the base of a monument, walk backward until you have the whole monument in the frame and then have people stand in front of you. That way you’ll get their faces and enough of the touristy scene to have a photo that’s meaningful in several ways.
10. Tripods are great compositional tools because they tend to help people frame subjects more critically. Plus they are invaluable for taking time-exposed shots.
11. Don’t just take standard line-’em-up photos. Get pictures of the kids building sand castles or your sweetheart whirling by on an amusement-park ride. When people are unaware of you and involved in activities, they make better expressions.
12. After you have all your vacation film processed and printed, pick out the best shots you have and take the negatives to a custom printer. Be sure not to get fingerprints on the negs. Get a custom enlargement of your favorite photo, and enjoy the memories of your