How to Shoot Stunning Vacation Photographs You’ll Want to Hang on the Wall

We all love vacation. It's a time to relax and enjoy the things we love most. For many, that means lying around doing nothing, or perhaps reading a book, sleeping in late, taking extra long lunches in exotic locations. But for us, as photo enthusiasts, it often means something completely different. For us, it's a fresh photographic opportunity. It's an opportunity for us to shoot stunning vacation photographs that we'll want to hang on the wall!

Vacation is often something planned well in advance. We research a place that we would like to visit. We save our money. And when the time arrives, we carefully pack our photographic equipment- Because we are photographers. This is what we do. We don't just take snapshots. We bring home works of art, right? Well, that's our goal anyway. But there are things that can get in the way: weather, unsympathetic family members, limited schedule.

No matter what, we don't want to come home with the simple recorded snapshot!

Otoño parisino (Explore!)





by Juanedc, on Flickr


Unless we have unlimited time and resources, we have to take what's dished out to us when we arrive. This is where your individual creativity kicks in. No matter what, you can find, and create, that beautiful wall shot that will hang over the sofa.

Eiffel Tower by gadl, on Flickr


When you're on vacation, don't settle for the ordinary.

The first step in achieving success is to do a little planning. What time of the year will it be? What is the extended forecast? Can you narrow your desired shot list down to the most important locations? Should you try something new? Do you need a particular color scheme in the room where you want to hang your large vacation photograph? Can you plan a surprise special activity for your family members (which will provide you with some shooting time? Will your accommodations be close to the areas that you want to photograph? Can you walk there? Will you have to drive, or take a cab? Is it safe at night? What are the hours of accessibility? Is it safe to be alone? Will you need rain gear? Will you need a tripod? Will you need a guide? Should you write down some key phrases in the appropriate language so that you can ask permission to take pictures?

Once you've gone through a checklist, and prepared yourself, the only thing left to do is open your mind to the creative possibilities.

For this article, we decided to take one popular travel destination, with a famous monument, and see how different photographers utilized their situation to get a fantastic vacation picture.

If you haven't already guessed- Our chosen location is the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France.

Feu d'artifice du 14 juillet 2011 sur le sites de la Tour Eiffel et du Trocadéro à Paris vu de la Tour Montparnasse – Fireworks on Eiffel Tower by y.caradec, on Flickr


Part of your planning should be a thorough investigation as to what special events might occur during your stay. Foreign countries will have different holidays, and dates of celebration, than what you're used to. Wouldn't you just hate it, if the celebration that produced this stunning photograph occurred on the evening that you decided to have an early dinner and go to bed?

The time of the year, and season, will be particularly important as you do your planning. Can you expect spring flowers or a gray winter day? The photograph below is a perfect example of a photographer who had to dig deep to find an interesting photograph. This gray winter day did not deter them, and they created this interesting scene with the Eiffel Tower and some tiny snowmen wearing coffee cup hats! It's a good idea to research sunrise and sunset before you leave. A long summer day versus a short winter day will help dictate your schedule.

Il neige sur Paris – 20 janvier 2013 by y.caradec, on Flickr


Speaking of time of day, as photographers, we all know that the early hours, and the late hours, of a day provide the optimum lighting. But did you ever consider these other reasons for getting our fannies out of bed? How about crowd control. We've all stood in front of some fantastic scene only to have our photo opportunity ruined my a thousand people milling around in front of us. By planning your photo opportunity during off-hours, or during meal times, you can increase your chances of having an unobstructed view. Another potential benefit is the occasional maintenance person who, after a kind gesture, might allow you access where you wouldn't normally be allowed.

Eiffel tower at sunrise by flashcurd, on Flickr


Arriving early, or staying late, can sometimes provide some crowd control. And don't forget to check out vantage points within your hotel. You may be surprised at your photographic opportunities from a rooftop patio.

…a Lighthouse in Paris by ЕленАндреа, on Flickr


Let's say you are on your vacation of a lifetime, in Paris, and it rains every day, what do you do? Think outside the box!

Rainy evening in Paris by runner310, on Flickr


A rainy day often creates a colorful world of unusual natural light, a broad spectrum of man-made light, and interesting reflections. Be sure to look up, look down, and search for a unique perspective. Another way to take advantage of a bad weather day is to turn to people photography. Bad weather often catches people off-guard which can lead to interesting candid images; just stick the Eiffel Tower into the background!

Man walking his dog near Eiffel Tower, Paris by Laurent Scheinfeld 😉, on Flickr


Since you're on vacation, why not try something you wouldn't normally do? If you're a photographer who is normally straight-forward in your composition, why not try an unusual angle?

B&B by _MissAgentCooper, on Flickr


Or, break out that lens you bought a few years back and rarely use!

Paris – Tour Eiffel by bibendum84, on Flickr


Perhaps, you have some family, or friends, with you. A little sweet-talking might get them in the mood to help you put that special element into your photograph.

A few of our favorite playful vacation photo techniques are: shoot images that are purposefully out of focus, add a tone for mood, and find an abstract view of a well-known landmark.

Pluie by Thomas Claveirole, on Flickr


Paris skyline, France by Luke,Ma, on Flickr


Interrail 07 – D1B – Tour Eiffel by Mr. Theklan, on Flickr


Let's recap a few thoughts before you take that next vacation.

1. Research ahead of time – location, time, weather, security, events, color scheme
2. Prepare some simple sentences (using the language of the area you are visiting) that explains that you're a photographer, asks permission to shoot, etc.
3. Modify your plan to the existing weather conditions: be flexible – have fun
4. Break out lenses you rarely use
5. Be an early bird or a night owl: less crowds and occasional helpful staff might get you the award winning shot
6. Check the view from your hotel. Hotel staff can be your best friends
7. Snap out of your routine: shoot unusual angles, add a tone, shoot out of focus
8. Include people for storytelling purposes

We hope to see your award winning vacation shots on your wall and here at Lightstalking!

About the author

Kent DuFault

is a professional photographer and author. You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.


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