7 Simple Ways to Improve Your Vacation Photos

Tip #1 - Know your camera

This first tip is probably the one most overlooked by amateur photographers. Know your camera!

Whether you're using a sophisticated DSLR, a drone, a basic point and shoot, or the camera on your phone, it's important to know what your camera is capable of doing, and how to use each feature to maximum advantage. You may be surprised by what you find! (I was amazed to discover that my iPhone could do vertical panoramas, and I absolutely love the slow motion video feature.)

While my Nikon is quite capable of panorama photos, it's a cumbersome process to shoot and edit them. With my phone, it's easy.

Naturally, there's some distortion and the image quality isn't the best when I let the camera do the hard work, but this photo reminds me of the magnificent ceilings in the domed Lady of the Castle Church in Old Rhodes Town. And that's what vacation photography is all about!

Vertical panorama inside the Church of the Castle in Old Rhodes town, highlighting the size and shape of the domed roof

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A quick Google search will teach you how to adjust the focus, and how to adjust for bright and low light situations for your specific camera model. Don't forget to educate yourself about your camera's timer and/or remote shooting functionality – so you can include yourself in at least a few of your vacation pictures!

Once you know what your camera is capable of, practice with the features you think you'll most use during your travels. Being familiar with your camera and its functions means you won't miss a shot while fiddling with the settings.

Tip #2 – Hold your camera steady

Blurry images are often caused by camera motion when you're taking a photo. While most modern cameras have some degree of built-in image stabilization, a perfectly motionless camera is "still" the best way to create sharp photos. (Pun intended!) So my second tip is to learn how to keep your camera immobile when you actually snap the shot. Experiment with different ways of holding your camera to discover which technique works best for you.

Tip #3 - Learn the basic rules of composition – but don't be a slave to them

After you've learned about your camera's capabilities, take a few minutes to familiarize (or re-familiarize) yourself with the basic rules of composition. Knowing these rules (and how and when to break them) will allow you to compose interesting shots that capture the viewer's imagination.

Leading lines draw your eye to the main point of the image, even if it's not front and centre. In this shot of a busy street in Old Rhodes Town, the edges of the road and shops draw your eye past the crowds of tourists to the pink and white mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent, even though it is the farthest point in the photo.

Using leading lines to draw the viewer's eye

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Filling the frame is a great technique to emphasize what you saw. "We saw some butterflies when we visited Butterfly Valley in Rhodes" versus "there were so many butterflies, they literally covered every surface!" Filling the frame with the subject is a very effective story-telling technique for photographers.

A tree trunk covered in black and yellow butterflies

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Hundreds of black and yellow butterflies completely covering the trunk of a tree

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Using a frame within the frame is a unique way to highlight a subject that might otherwise fade into the background. In this shot, the eye is drawn through the gate in the wall of Old Rhodes Town towards the historic Naillac Tower in the distance.

Using the frame within frame technique to highlight the Naillac Tower

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Tip #4 - Learn some basic editing

Almost every photo can benefit from a bit of editing before you share it with the world. I'm not talking about a full-out, touch-up session in Photoshop, but learn how to straighten the horizon, crop out distracting elements, and add a touch of contrast (but not too much).

In this example showing the King of Kaunos tombs overlooking the Dalyan River, I just straightened the horizon, slightly increased the contrast and vibrance, and removed the small branch in the top left corner that I felt was a distraction. Total time to edit? About 60 seconds - but now the image matches what I saw and remember from our glorious visit to Dalyan in December.

Unedited photo of the King of Kaunos tombs in Dalyan, Turkey

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Edited photo of the King of Kaunos tombs in Dalyan, Turkey

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Tip #5 - Always be prepared

Capturing great travel images is only possible if you have your camera with you. Get in the habit of carrying it when you're out and about – with reasonably charged batteries and sufficient space on the memory card – to capture your vacation memories. And, while you're at it, make sure you clean the lens regularly. Water spots and greasy finger prints can detract from an otherwise awesome image.

Tip #6 - Try to tell a story with your photos

Most of us take photos of our travels to safeguard our vacation memories – and make it easy to share them with friends and family. Use your photos to tell the story of your trip – look for interesting details and unusual perspectives, get candid shots, and take pictures of signs and defining moments to help you remember where you were, and what you were feeling at the time.

Don't be afraid to dive in and show details in your pics. Did you know that street vendors sold sweet corn along the kordon in Fethiye? Yep, barbecued corn on the cob!

Street vendor selling corn on the cob near the harbour in Fethiye, Turkey

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Detailed close-up of 3 cobs of barbequed corn being sold by a street vendor in Turkey

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And candid shots are the best way to reconnect with the emotions you were feeling on your trip!

A candid shot captures the various reactions as a family of four fall of a paddleboard into the sea

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A candid shot captures the pure joy of two children being towed through the water on a paddleboard

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Tip #7 - Be respectful and careful

While it can be quite an adventure taking amazing photographs during your travels, don't get so wrapped up picture-taking that you forget about your surroundings. Please, don't be the person who stands too close to the cliff's edge for a perfect selfie – and falls off the side of a mountain. Or the person who gets arrested for posing naked next to a revered national treasure. Be careful, be respectful.

If you're travelling with a drone, familiarize yourself with drone laws before trying to enter a foreign country. Otherwise, you could be subject to a fine or find your equipment confiscated by the authorities.

Drones in Turkey

And be aware that, in many countries - including Turkey - it is unlawful to take photos of the police and military. If you're unsure, ask permission first, to avoid getting yourself into trouble.

That's it. Seven simple photography tips to improve your vacation pictures – and take them from now to WOW! I promise, you won't be disappointed.