How to Take the Perfect Vacation Photo

It’s always sad when a dream vacation comes to an end, but the best part of coming home is sharing photos with friends and family. The only problem – taking the perfect vacation pictures can be challenging.

The good news? You don’t need an expensive camera or a background in photography to take amazing vacation pictures! You just need to follow some simple rules of photography.

Here are some tips and tricks for taking incredible vacation photos!

Remember the “Rule of Thirds”

The Rule of Thirds is a great photography tool to help you take visually dynamic pictures. The grid helps you decide where to frame the subject in your photo. A lot of beginner photographers will place their subject right smack in the center of their photo, but a photograph can become more professional if the subject is placed just off center.

In order to utilize the Rule of Thirds, you have to visualize your frame into nine squares (3×3). Try to align the subject of your photo right along these lines and intersections. Your subject could be a person, an animal or even an object!

Note: If you are taking pictures on an iPhone and would like to have the “grid” on your phone screen, follow these steps: Go to Settings, choose “Camera”, then switch “Grid” on (the button should be green). (Don’t worry! The pictures you take will not have the grid on them! It’s just a tool to help you frame your shot!)

Find Good Lighting

Finding quality natural light can help you take the highest quality photos (particularly natural light outside). To keep it short ‘n’ sweet: My best advice is to try and stay out of the direct sun and find some shade to take your pictures outdoors.

There are two types of light – Hard light and soft light.

Hard light happens when photographing in direct sunlight. It is going to bring sharp angles and dramatic shadows. It’s far more difficult to capture detail when shooting in a hard light. (Try to avoid hard light when possible!)

Soft light happens when shooting in the shade. Soft light will give you some of the best quality lighting. Your pictures are going to have softer edges and limited shadows on your subject. This is the most flattering light when shooting people!

Remember the Golden Hour: Speaking of lighting–you might be surprised to learn there is a golden hour for photography…it’s true! Shooting landscapes and people during the golden hours of the day means your pictures will have a softer light while the colors will still be vibrant and beautiful. The golden hour happens twice a day–shortly after the sunrise and the period before sunset. During this time, the daylight is softer because the sun is lower in the sky. When you take pictures in the sun during midday, the light will be harsher because the sun is higher in the sky.

Avoid the Zoom

Unless you’re shooting on a high quality digital camera, try to avoid the zoom at all costs! Your image quality is going to decrease significantly when you use the zoom button on a smart phone camera.

Why does the image quality decrease on an iPhone photo but not on a digital camera?

When you use the zoom on a digital camera, it’s called “optical zooming”. This is when the camera actually physically moves the lens away from the sensor. That means the zoomed-in photo is going to have just as much detail as a non-zoomed photo. If you’re taking pictures on a digital camera, the zoom feature can be a great tool!

When you use the zoom on a smartphone, it’s called “digital zooming”. In this case, zooming happens after the image has already been captured by the sensor. When you digitally zoom, no additional detail is being captured in the image. This means the photo is going to have low resolution and look pixelated.

Original Image                                    Digital Zoom – Pixelated                          Optical Zoom – Clear and Detailed

The solution? Instead of using the zoom, try to get closer to the subject. If this is not possible due to safety (you don’t want to get too close to a lion on an African Safari!), try to zoom in only slightly. This will help keep the image’s quality higher while still giving you a closer photo.

Horizontal Over Vertical!

If you’re taking photographs on a smartphone, my advice is very simple…always try to take pictures while holding your phone horizontal (left) versus holding it vertical (right).


Horizontal pictures (left) are more dynamic and help to create a defined foreground and background of a picture. This is going to make your photographs feel far more professional. Horizontal pictures also display well because they will fill the entire screen of a computer. Vertical Pictures (right) have a tendency to feel static and two dimensional, plus they display poorly on any sort of computer screen because you will get black on the sides of the picture. Horizontal pictures are going to look way better on Facebook than vertical pictures because you won’t get those black spaces.

There is one exception to this rule: If you are standing near the base of a structure or object that is very tall (such as a tree or the Eiffel Tower), you may need to take a vertical picture in order to capture the subject. Your other solution would be photographing the subject horizontally, but from farther away. You can see the two ways to photograph it below.

When in doubt, always choose to take the horizontal picture!


Choose a Subject for the Landscape Shots

If you find yourself in a place with amazing panoramic shots, it’s easy to snap a million pictures that all look the same (particularly when the picture involves a body of water!). When you take a photograph with a foreground and a background, your picture is going to be more dynamic and three dimensional. Take these two pictures below:


The picture on the left is beautiful, but it feels very plain with just the water and the island. The picture on the right is far more dynamic with the palm tree in the foreground of the photo.

Capture Candid Moments

We all love a good ol’ group photo. Everyone has frozen smiles as they stare into the camera waiting for the hundredth picture to be snapped. Taking posed photos is a classic part of vacation, but you should also try to mix in candid moments as well.

Instead of calling everyone’s name and telling them to “Smile for the camera!” try taking some candid pictures as your subjects talk, laugh, dance, sit, etc. You’ll get some of the most genuine and honest photos when you allow people to stay in the moment.


Scenic Shots are Amazing…but so are Close-Ups

Taking scenic landscape photos is a great way to capture any vacation, but taking close-up photographs will make all of your friends and family envious of your photography skills! Vacations are going to transport you to amazing places with beautiful buildings, foods, flowers, plants or even people (the list is endless!). Try taking some close-up shots that capture the unique attributes of a vacation destination. The key is to pick an interesting subject for your photo.

Take a look at these examples below. Every picture has a subject that is close up.


If your subject is small like the macaroons, stand about a foot from the object to take your picture. Remember: Avoid using the zoom!

If your subject is larger such as a person or even a building, stand back farther, but don’t feel like you have to capture the entire building or person. The musician photograph focuses on the trumpet while the building picture focuses on the blue window.

(Notice the Rule of Thirds used in these pictures as well!)

Change Your Perspective

A lot of vacation photos end up being angled straight on with the photographer standing directly in front of the person, object, building, etc. Try taking some photos from other angles as well. You might find interesting perspectives while crouching, standing over an object, or by raising the camera over your head. Changing your angle can make an everyday object far more interesting.

NOTE: When you’re taking pictures of people, the most flattering angle is a high angle!

Quality over Quantity

It’s easy to find yourself clicking away taking the exact same photo with slight variation over and over again. Keep in mind that your friends and family don’t want to see the same tree or statue in 20 consecutive pictures.

There are two ways to limit your picture taking. If you really enjoy snapping a million pictures, at the end of each day (or multiple times throughout the day!) choose the best photos you’ve taken of a subject and delete the similar shots (and blurry ones!). You can also try limiting how many pictures you take to begin with–tell yourself that you will only take three pictures of the same scene variation.

Always remember that living in the moment is just as important as taking pictures! As great as photographs are, being 100% present can be just as meaningful. It’s important to find a balance between taking vacation photos and experiencing the vacation! Try snapping some pictures and then putting down the camera, that way you’ll get the best of both worlds.

Make a Book

Don’t let your beautiful pictures sit on a smartphone or laptop after the vacation is over! If your photos stay on a phone or computer, it’s going to be difficult to show them to friends and family. It’s best to pick your top favorite pictures to display because it’s difficult to keep people interested if you’re showing them 2,000 vacation pictures. The solution? A Shutterfly book! (No, we don’t get any commission from Shutterfly!)

Shutterfly is a photo publishing website that will help you create a book of your best photographs. Depending on how long you want your photo album to be, you can choose your best 20-100+ photographs to upload to the site (you get to choose how many pictures you want to add!). Shutterfly will then help you create a book of those photos which you can purchase and have as a memento of your trip. The books range from $12 to $75+ depending on the book size, amount of pages and any add-ons you choose. They’re a great way to showcase the story of your trip while showing your best photographs!

Want to practice your vacation photography skills? Join Cruise & Tour on one of our amazing trips! Leave the logistics to us so you can focus on capturing your once-in-a-lifetime shot! Call 800-383-3131 today to book your spot!

By Kaitlyn P.