Capturing the world through photography, video and multimedia

Improve your vacation snapshots

Improve your vacation snapshots

This weekend, photographers, writers and editors from The Times will be present at the Los Angeles Times Travel & Adventure Show at the L.A. Convention Center.

Brace yourself: No one asked me to speak. To take a line from one of my favorite comedians, Rodney Dangerfield (adjusting my necktie), “I don’t get no respect.” I could have filled three positions: photographer, editor and writer. I would’ve gladly represented the paper on any of these fronts. Maybe it was a straw poll; that’s what I am going to believe anyway. I’m just going to consider it an oversight.

Just because I won’t be at the Travel & Adventure Show, I still have something to say and you’re already here, so it made me think: Why don’t we use this post to get a head start on those travel photos? Regardless of where you are this weekend, this blog boils down to improving your photographs and camera skills. I do have some great travel tips that don’t even involve things such as cropping, HDR, ISO, exposure or megapixels, rule of thirds or selective focus. Nothing needs to be that complicated.

Here are my suggestions:

1. Your worst critic: Don’t be so critical of your own work. Remember not to compare your work with that of National Geographic photographers. You’re not going to spend a week in one location waiting for the perfect sunset.

You’re not getting paid to take photographs, so enjoy your travels and focus on taking photos to remember the trip.

2. Food: Food is a great subject. This may sound silly, but eating out at restaurants or even campsites is such an important part of most vacations. Closeups of food, flowers, books and items in shops will really add variety to your work. Also, restaurants usually have amazing window light and patios, which make for a great place for portraits. And if you forgot your expensive DSLR at the hotel, cabin or tent, try using your cellphone to take a few snapshots. I use my iPhone all the time. It’s better to get the shot and worry about the quality of megapixel size later.

3. People:– There’s nothing more boring than a bunch of photographs that look like postcards. Be sure to include yourself, friends and family in the photographs; that’s what makes them special. Again, get photos of yourself along with other people. I like to ask the servers at the restaurant to take a photograph of my wife and me. Those are some of my favorite photos from our vacations.

4. Books and slide shows: Do something creative with your photos and actually get it done. This is the toughest part for me. There’s no excuse for not making a simple book or slide show — yes, with music, — to show off your trip. It’s such a breeze with today’s technology.

Consider a well-organized coffee-table book to dazzle everyone with photos from your vacation. It makes it simple for friends to enjoy your work at their pace, plus you can add notes or locations to the photos.

5. Edit:- You’re probably waiting for the edit, edit, edit hammer to drop. Keep in mind that most people are only interested in their own photographs, so keep things short, sweet and interesting.

Because I am open to fair play and competition, I’m also going to include a few tips from Times’ photographer Mark Boster. If you get a chance to go to the Travel Show this weekend, be sure to check out his presentation, which includes his awesome Yosemite photographs. It’s definitely worth the price of admission.

Here are a some of Boster’s tips for improving your travel snapshots:

1. Buy a good camera and familiarize yourself with it before the trip: You are paying big money for the vacation, trip or cruise, so treat yourself to a nice camera that will render great quality pictures. Also, buy extra batteries and digital cards.

2. Composition and the rule of thirds: Learn how to compose a picture. Look for patterns, shapes and designs. Learn how to change perspectives and scale. Look for reflections, shadows and interesting designs.

3. Frame the objects in your composition: Use trees, arches, doorways or anything that can be used to accentuate the subject and draw the eye into the picture.

4. Embrace the light: Think about which time of day has the best light. (Hint … it isn’t at noon). Sunrises, sunsets, and nightfall are the best and usually render more interesting colors. Get up early and enjoy the first colors of the morning and the rising sun. Stay out late and decide where you want to toast the setting sun. Then, if possible, stay out after sunset and make a nice picture of the night.

5. Keep the camera steady: Buy a small, lightweight tripod that you can throw into a suitcase, and learn how to use it. Keeping the camera steady at the lower shutter speeds could be the difference between making or destroying a great photo.

Boster will be giving his Yosemite in Four Seasons presentation at 10:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday at the show.

I hope these suggestions help. Drop me a line and let me know if you got any great tips from the Travel Show. I’m always looking for ways to improve my photography. I guess that means I have to actually get out and travel.

Top photos:  Boats at the wharf in San Francisco. Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times; Elm tree in Yosemite Valley. Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times; Red rocks west of Las Vegas and the pool at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas. Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times

Middle photos: iPhone photographs of the sunset in Newport Beach and minestrone soup at Romeo Cucina in Laguna Beach. Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times

Lower photos: A maple leaf displays its fall color, a young buck raises his head above the tall grass, and one of the last shafts of sunlight glances across the granite face of the Cathedral Rocks and Bridalveil Falls in Yosemite. Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Read more reviews and photography tips by Robert Lachman


  1. June 5, 2011, 11:35 am

    I’m not able to view this web site properly on opera I believe there’s a downside

  2. February 7, 2013, 9:37 pm

    I see, aside from the technique, we also should pay attention to the tools and methodologies that will improve our photography's presentation. This is new to me and I need to integrate this to my vacation shooting.

Add a comment or a question.

If you are under 13 years of age you may read this message board, but you may not participate. Here are the full legal terms you agree to by using this comment form.

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until they've been approved.


Required, will not be published

Browse All Photos »