Vacation Photos: The Ins and Outs of Travel Photography
As you may know from following me on Facebook, I just got back from a family vacation to the Southern Caribbean. For the last three years, we have gone on a cruise for spring break. While on it I am unplugged from the computer, Internet, Facebook, and phone for more than a week. I highly recommend this “unplugged” time for everyone – try it for a few days or even a week and you will be regeuvenated and refreshed. You’ll also realize just how much time technology accounts for in your life. For me it is a large portion of my waking hours.
As a photographer, the one thing I do not “unplug” is my camera. Now that my twin girls, Ellie and Jenna, are 10 years old, they rarely want to get in photos. Vacation time is the one time where they don’t usually mind. They also know that is their “price of admission” for travel and fun.
Most of my vacation photos are snapshots rather than portraits. I see something interesting, I check settings on the camera. I snap the shutter button. As a photographer, I do keep composition and lighting in mind, but my goal is quickly capturing memories, not getting the “perfect” shot. With holiday travel, it’s a balance of quality and quantity.
Every time I travel, I have two big decisions to make:
- Should I bring a SLR or a Point and Shoot Camera (usually I bring both). This year I brought my Canon 5D MKII and my Canon G11 P&S.
- The much harder decision is what lenses should I bring? This is a HUGE struggle for me, as I like having choices. Will I want wide angle or telephoto? Or a more standard focal length? I shoot primarily with a 50mm and 70-200mm in every day life. But for travel, I want flexibility. In past years, I have opted for lighter weight long range zoom lenses. Recently I sold those.
This year I brought three lenses:
- Canon 16-35mm for wide angle shots of buildings, landscapes, and the cruise ship interior and exterior spaces
- Canon 50mm for portraits and low light shots. I rarely used this on the trip, though it normally is on my camera 90% of the time.
- Canon 70-200 2.8 IS II – this lens is a beast, weighing in at nearly three pounds. Attached to a Canon 5D MKII, and in 90 degree heat with humidity, it was a lot to carry around. Usually I travel lighter weight, but this year I burned a few extra calories hauling it. If you’ve been on a cruise with the unlimited food, you know burning off some of the calories is a good thing. I was extremely happy about this decision and this lens was on my camera 75% of the time. It was great for photos of my kids, closeups around the ship, street shots, photos of the islands from the balcony of our room, and so much more.
* A note about traveling with a large lens on a cruise vacation: You will hear comments from passengers to cruise photographers to customs agents and security like “wow, that is some camera” or “that is a huge lens” or “your camera must take great pictures” or “you must be a great photographer.” I also had a lot of natives to the islands we visited pose for me without asking. They’d see the “big” lens and smile or give me interesting looks. I love this shot of the man carrying a baby monkey. I tipped him after I photographed a few images. It’s always a good idea to carry some small bills with you to thank people you photograph.
Shooting Style on Vacation
I shoot Raw format with both my dSLR and my Point and Shoot camera. This allows me to correct white balance that constantly changes at each location and lighting scenario. I used a 32GB CF Card in my SLR and a 8GB SD Card in my P&S. I also had a few smaller cards just in case.
Keep Things Simple
Normally I shoot with manual exposure and auto focus (unless I am doing macro work – then manual focus too). Shooting manual typically gives me the control and results I want. For this trip, I opted for Aperture Priority. It made life so much easier while shooting snapshots on the go. I may start using Av more often.
Here’s how I used it: I chose my aperture, f2.8 for most people shots, f8 or greater for things requiring greater depth of field, etc. I set my ISO according to conditions and I was on evaluative metering mode. While on the ship in darker interiors, I went to ISO 2000-3200. While outside in bright sun, my ISO was at 100-200. In the shade I was around ISO400. Then, and this was the fun part, I just slide the exposure compensation dial as needed. This was way easier than shooting manual and possibly missing a photo opportunity while fidgeting with settings.
My camera naturally underexposes by a third of a stop, so I set exposure compensation at +1/3. If it seemed under exposed or I was back lighting, I increased it. If whites were too bright, I decreased it. Try it sometime if you normally shoot manual. I probably sound like a “kid in a candy shop” but it really simplified things on the go.
Back Home: Now What?
The past few years on our trips, I took 300-500 images. This year, I went a little crazy and took 900+. After unpacking and starting the laundry, I popped in the CF Card and SD Card from the two cameras. I dumped all the photos into Lightroom 4. I then went through the photos, did picks and rejections, fixed white balance as needed, and then exported them to jpg images. I explained the process after last year’s vacation: How to Edit 500 Photos in 4 Hours.
The big difference is that I didn’t do full Photoshop edits this time. I may pick a few to edit later but with more than 900, Lightroom was sufficient. After taking a few seconds per photo and exporting into folders by ports and what was taken on board the ship, I also wanted web versions with my logo and watermark. I have an action I custom made with my information (see it on photos in this post) – so I batched each folder through Photoshop to get the ones for web. Lastly, I uploaded to a Smugmug Gallery, which is my personal website.
Here is a list of my photo galleries from the trip in the order in which we experienced them. The bullet points list the things I enjoyed photographing most at each destination:
- Both closeup and wide angle shots of the outside of the ship
- Wide angle shots of the ship’s interior – such as the dining room, promenade, etc.
- Images of each port from the balcony of our room
- Food – especially the hand carved watermelons
- Animal shaped towels hanging in our room or on our bed at night
- “Behind the scenes” – I went on a behind the scenes tour of the ship. If you cruise, you’ll love seeing everything from the kitchens, storage areas for food and beverages, the laundry facilities, the theaters, the engine control room, and the bridge (where the captain and his staff direct the ship)
2. San Juan, Puerto Rico – The ship departed from San Juan. We went in a day early to enjoy.
- The old fort – just incredible
- The buildings, some of which were not in great shape but made for amazing images
- Old San Juan – the shops and buildings
- My Pina Colada at lunch
- Street signs in Spanish – living in Michigan we don’t see many items written in other languages.
4. Basseterre, St. Kitts – This was one of our favorite ports because of the nature and the history.
- The Caribbean locals
- The monkeys
- My kids with the monkeys
- The gardens at Romney Manor-Caribelle Batik (once owned my Samuel Jefferson – the great, great, great grandfather of President Thomas Jefferson)
- Brimstone Hill Fortress – the fort was amazing as both a backdrop for photos of my family and on its own. Also great scenic views of the ocean.
5. Oranjestad, Aruba – Mainly beaches.
- My girls playing in the sand – especially the image where they wrote Aruba in the sand and their legs were on each side of it
- The colorful buses (such as the banana bus and the rainbow bus)
- Note: the “fake” license plate sign that says I Like Aruba (with the Facebook thumbs up icon)
6. Willemstad, Curacao– Another favorite island – lots of history and very colorful
- The floating marketplace
- Photos of the locals – especially the colorfully dressed man playing the guitar
- The street art – drawings all over the streets, bricks, and stone – it only rains 17 days a year so I guess they can make chalk art that lasts a while
- The colorful homes and buildings – full of character
- The moving bridge
- The crabs we spotted slowly walking on rocks while we ate lunch overlooking the ocean
In past years, I printed all our vacation photos 4×6 and put in cheap magnetic albums found at craft stores. I am starting to consider going paperless now that I have 50+ albums taking up almost an entire wall in my house. I am undecided. I may print a canvas of the photo from Curacao above. And I may print a book of favorite images from the trip. I would love your thoughts. What do you do with your hundreds of family and vacation photos?