8 Great Photo Tips for Beginners (from a fellow neophyte)

Disclaimer:  I am in no way a professional photographer but I have had my moments.  A good camera makes it easy, but it doesn’t work miracles.  I learned a lot from a college photojournalism class and I’ve always wanted to be that “artsy friend” that takes her Nikon out on a quick shoot and comes back capturing beautiful moments.  Maybe someday, but for now, I’m more like the friend that has a good eye and by the grace of god sometimes gets lucky.  In some ways getting some advice from a novice is just as important as getting pearls of wisdom from a professional.  I feel your pain in wanting to memorialize all those vacation memories and here are some things that I have found helpful in my travels and some things I still need to remind myself to do.

1. Don’t live completely behind the lens.

While it’s great to have your camera ready at a moments notice to snap that photo that may only come around once in a vacation sometimes you need to be an ogler in order to see the best shot.  Don’t forget you are there to soak in the moment and see the sights first.  Unless your job is a photographer, your pictures are the secondary goal.  Build on the memory from the photo by living it first.

Orcas Island

I hate to use the phrase, but  “now a days” you have the ability to take a ton of photos and then dump them onto your computer or bring another memory card or several memory cards.  This gives you the option to go through your work with an editing eye later to delete.  I’ve never been happier than when I kept a photo that I initially thought was a dud only to see something great happened in the corner that with the magic of cropping becomes the new focus of my pic.

3. Don’t be afraid to take action shots – move away from that “glamour shots” style of stiff group photography.

I know it goes against every picture you have of yourself and your family from every holiday.  A camera comes out at your Aunt Thelma’s Thanksgiving dinner and immediately everyone stands in that straight line pose in front of the fire place.  These prom style set ups have their time and place, but I’ve really had to deprogram myself and try and take more candid photos.  For me this is a trick I apply to both people I know and don’t know.  I had to get over the complex of taking photographs of random strangers to score that shot that captures the essence of lunch time at a Parisian café.

4. Look for a different perspective – look up down and all around instead of just straight ahead.

Sometimes looking right at the subject isn’t the only way to look at a potential photo.  I always look up from the ground, over from a ledge or turn around and look behind.  Another quick note about perspective is to make sure you move your subject around.  It is easy for me to fall into a trap and center every building when I could have a better shot if I’d just move it to the right or left and supplement the picture with the background.


I often keep myself out of my photos so make sure you include yourself in your pictures!

6. Take a “starter shot”.

I’m sure this has some kind of professional name for it and I know I’m not the first person to think of this trick but recently I began taking a photograph of a street sign, placard or hotel sign or something to document the day.  This is helpful for the times when I’ve traveled to a few cities within one trip and later I can differentiate between what back alley was in Sienna and what little shop was on the corner in Florence.  I have a tendency to do most of my journaling in the evening, so if I blank on the name of a place I can always revert back to my memory card for a trigger.

Just to prove I have one. A pic of the best pasta I've ever eaten in Monterosso al mare.
Just to prove I have one, this is the best pasta I’ve ever eaten.  Monterosso al Mare, Italy 2011

7. Last suppers.

We have all answered that age-old question, “If you had to pick your last meal what would it be?” For some of us we have found that utopian dinner on vacation.  I am the first to admit I get a little twitch when I go on Facebook and I have to see a photo of a seafood risotto someone made for their husband’s birthday dinner (let’s face it we are all guilty of similar posts) but when you come across something as amazingly beautiful to look at as it is edible your eyes and your stomach will be thankful you documented it!

8. If the early bird gets the worm, what does the night owl get?

There is a definitely something to be said for timing when it comes to those classic shots.   Those first few hours of sun and the last few in the day always seem to help capture the moment effortlessly.  Now we can all get up early on vacation and sound like professionals out shooting during the “golden hour” to snag that picture that you can hang in your guest room to make all your friends jealous.

Happy Snapping!

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