how to take better photographs on vacation mindset

How To Get Better Photographs While On Vacation – Part 1

It’s challenging to find time to shoot when you’re not a professional photographer. Many times, the struggle is real.

As an ametuer, enthusiast or avid photographer (or however you want to call it), you probably find yourself having time to shoot only on the weekend or while on vacation.

Shooting on the weekend will likely to take place around where you live. You want locations that are easily accessible or at least travelable. The advantage of this is you get to visit a particular location repeatedly and know it really well. The downside is you might feel restricted to what is available to shoot.

Going on holiday is exciting. Everybody likes a holiday, even more so for us because we get to shoot at a new location. But shooting while on vacation in a group, be it with your partner, family or friends can be logistically challenging.

There will be times where either you or them will have to make some sort of arrangement or even compromise just so you can get some time for photo shooting.

In this article (2 parts), I’m going to share a few tips I’ve learned over the years on how to get the best shooting experience while going on group vacation with non-photographers.

In Part 1 (this one), you’ll learn how to set your mindset and have realistic expectation. In Part 2, I’ll share some tips with you on how to maximize your opportunities for photo shooting.

san gimignano black and white

When in doubt, turn it into black and white!

First, Set The Right Mindset

Going on a vacation with your camera is very different from going on a photography assignment or a workshop. You have to understand your vacation is not dedicated entirely to photography and you have others to consider when planning a photo shoot.

If you get this mindset right at the beginning, it will make your expectation and life much easier for the whole trip.

You won’t get easily frustrated, disappointed or even putting blame on your traveling buddies because things don’t pan out the way you want.

So, here are a few tips to help you set your mindset before your trip.

You Only Have One Visit

high atlas mountain in morocco

High Atlas mountains in Morocco - not sure if I'll ever be back on this spot

This is probably true if you’re traveling abroad or on an epic trip to somewhere that you know you might not return in a long, long time (or not at all!).

During your trip, you might be spending every single night in a different location. Even if you are at one place for more than a night, you should treat each photo shooting visit as the only visit you have in the entire trip.

Also, even when you’re staying for more than a night in a single location, your group might plan to have different activities each day such as taking a day trip to elsewhere. You can of course, break away from your group, but then what’s the point of traveling together?

Make The Best Out of Any Weather Condition

I hear people mourn about the weather all the time.

I do get it. The sky is overcast, there’s no light, low contrast or the downpour that keeps you in your hotel room all day. I was just like that, making excuses to justify not waking up in the morning or bringing my camera out.

You tend to get a different perspective if you see each visit as the only visit you have, like in your entire life - it will get your butt off the bed and get yourself out there.

Secondly, there will always be something to shoot, even in the rain, snow, thunder or whatever the nature throws at you. There’s always something interesting to shoot. It’s the matter of training your eyes to see these hidden germ.

How do you train your mind? By going out to shoot in bad weather. Practice this first around where you live. If you struggle to find something interesting to shoot in places you’re familiar with, how are you going to find things to shoot in locations where you’ve never been before?

skogafoss iceland black and white

I turned this bad weather image into black and white

I did the island tour when I last visited Iceland with my family. We had 10 days in total, which means we stayed at each place for one night only, except for one or two locations.

We arrived at Skogafoss in late morning one day. It was drizzling throughout the day and the weather was just depressing. I didn’t have a rain cover for my camera, so I hid it under my coat and went shooting around the waterfall. Going through the images in post, this was the only one that showed some potentially and I turned it to black and white eventually.

Now, it’s one of my favorite images.

skogafoss in poor weather condition

Skogafoss in poor weather condiition

Bad weather always looks worse through a window. It’s merely an obstacle for us to create even better images.

When it rains, get out there. There’s no such thing as bad weather, only people with bad clothing.

You Can’t Shoot Everything

There might be more than one shooting location from where you stay during your trip and the temptation is to hit them all.

If you’re on a workshop, that’s probably what you’ll be doing anyway. But when you’re traveling in a “non-photography” group, you have to accept the fact that you can only shoot one or maybe two locations.

I went traveling in Tuscany a few years ago with my wife and her family. If you haven’t been to Tuscany, it’s wine-lovers and photographers’ paradise! Everywhere we drove past looked stunning and I just wanted to stop the car to shoot all day.

It’s a painful truth for photographers, but as soon as you accept the fact that you’ll have to miss some of the photo shoot locations, you’ll enjoy the time and trip better.

My personal advice is to pick locations that can be easily accessed. For example, some where that takes less half an hour to drive to or only require a short hike. It would be unrealistic to pick a location that need a couple of hours to get there.

Avoid Tunnel Vision

godafoss iceland tunnel vision

I shot the "classic view" of Godafoss...wished I hadn't overdone my research on this location

I like to be organized and often planned everything ahead. When I’m researching a photo shoot location, apart from checking how to get there, time for sunrise and sunset, I frequently search to see what kind of images I’m expecting to get.

Logically, that sounds like a sensible thing to do. But I can tell you, it’s a big mistake.

It’s fine if you just want an idea. But when you start browsing through images over images of what others have taken, you’re going to develop tunnel vision.

This means your mind is locked to the idea of wanting to take that particular shot to the point when you arrive at the location, you went straight in for it and ignore exploring the area for other options.

Keep An Open Mind

Sometimes, not everything goes according to plan because of various reasons. In a way, that’s the beauty of life - unpredictability!

When the time comes, don’t get annoyed or frustrated. Instead, embrace and take it as an opportunity to create something different.

san gimignano sunrise

San Gimignano at sunrise

While visiting Italy, I had planned to photograph the medieval town of San Gimignano at sunrise. I did my research and knew where I needed to be to get the shot. It turns out, I was at where I had planned but the view wasn’t as impressive as I thought.

In a surprising turn of event, the view behind my back looked much more intersting. So, I abandoned my initial plan and explore the view opposite San Gimignano. This image is what I got and I could never be happier.

tuscany sunrise

The gorgeous view opposite San Gimignano

Over To You

These are my approach to planning photo shoot while on family vacation. I want to share this because I know there are people like me who have struggled to make the most out of their vacation to do photography.

Coming up next, in Part 2, I'm going to share some practical tips on how to take more quality photos during vacation.

Before we end, what are your approach to enjoy photography while on vacation with family and friends?