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Vacation Photos: The Ins and Outs of Travel Photography


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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
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Taken by my husband with the P&S

* 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.

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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.

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San Juan, Puerto Rico


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.

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Monkey in the wild in St. Kitts

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.

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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:

1. Royal Caribbean Adventure of the Seas – The Cruise Ship:

  • 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.

3. Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas – We visited here the past two years and I took a lot of images. Just brought my P&S with me, as we window shopped and got back on the ship.

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
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Floating Market in Curacao - check tomorrow's post for a before and after Blueprint of this image.

What Next?

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?

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No Comments

  1. Stephanie on April 11, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    I also take a ton of photos while on vacation but I don’t print them all for albums. My boyfriend and I have a tradition instead – each year for Christmas, one of his gifts from me is a photo book with all the best shots from our trip. He says it’s his favorite gift because even though he knows to expect a book, he never knows what photos I’ll choose or what the final product will look like. It’s nice because we still have the best photos printed in a tangible medium but we don’t have big bulky albums taking up a lot of space.

  2. Donna on April 11, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    My most recent trip was a full week at Disney World, both of my girls were there for the first time. It resulted in about 3000 photos (yes, that’s thousand!). I did a Creative Memories Storybook of the trip. It was 12×12 and just shy of 100 pages, but included the best photos, stories from the trips, scans of the autographs we collected…and my girls are still looking through it almost weekly over a year later. They love it and it makes me smile and it only takes up about 1/2 inch of bookshelf space rather than the 2-4 inches my old traditional albums would take (and they wouldn’t have had all the pics in that one album either).

  3. Ruth on April 11, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    When did you go on your cruise? I’m wondering if I was on the same ship as you…although I don’t recall seeing anyone lugging around a BIG camera! 🙂 I opted to just take my p&s and regretted later not taking my 5Dmii. We left March 4th on the same ship with the same port stops….were you on the following week??

  4. Kent on April 11, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    Great post. I have been lugging around my 7d and 70-200 for a while and also use the iPhone for some quick snaps. P&S a good idea. I use mostly LR. And keep photos online. Thanks.

  5. Rita Spevak on April 11, 2012 at 7:58 pm albums! It’s a fantastic way to display and enjoy your vacation photos. You’ll NEVER print for albums like this again, I promise.

    • Kari on April 12, 2012 at 12:02 pm

      I love My Publisher also!

  6. Jessica on April 11, 2012 at 7:59 pm

    I make photo albums of our big trips! I’m starting to collect quite a few but it’s so worth it. Even the crappier ones from years ago are super special to me because at the time, I was so proud of each of them. 🙂

  7. Jane on April 11, 2012 at 8:00 pm

    Thank you for sharing your tips and photos! I learn so much from you! After a vacation, I always clean the best and favorite photos for a vacation album (never magnetic–those turn the photos pink/yellow!). I’m a big believer of acid-free matierals for albums! (I’m a Close To My Heart consultant–Flip Flaps are great for scrapbooking lots of photos!) I always put all the vacation photos onto a DVD so we can relive the vacation, and also onto a backup hard drive. Sometimes I create a Shutterfly book of the 20 best photos–a fast, easy way to make a special gift for the dh or daughters.

  8. Jackie H. on April 11, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    Aruba was my most favorite place to take pictures – and that was back when I only had a point and shoot and I hope someday to return with my new(er) camera.Don’t you just LOVE the brightly colored buildings and boats. love.

  9. ang on April 11, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    I love having pictures in front of me to look at. I think my family and friends do too — it gives them a better feel. [pun intended!] Thanks for taking us along on your trip! 🙂 I love the picture of “Paparazzi Monkey”

  10. Lisa Jolley on April 11, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    THANK YOU for making it “ok” to shoot in AV mode! I, too, will use manual for portraits, but even with babies/toddlers, I have found myself setting my camera to AV mode just to make sure I don’t miss that great moment of a smile or a laugh or a look fiddling with settings. I’ve always felt like “lesser of a photographer” if I’m not 100% in manual!I can’t wait to see the before of the floating market. What an amazing photo!

  11. Laura Hartman on April 11, 2012 at 8:19 pm

    Loved this article. I spend so much time focusing on the business end of things my personal photo opportunities usually turn to chaos because I just want to relax. I loved hearing how you pull it off while still enjoying it.

  12. Kari on April 11, 2012 at 8:34 pm

    I always make a photo book. I leave them all on Flickr so I’ve got digital copies, and then go through mypublisher for printing. The nice thing is that you can share the link, so if you have grandparents who want a copy they can order one. They also keep your book on file so if something happens to it you can just buy another one. I like a lot of their pre-made templates and sometimes make my own in photoshop if I want more creativity.

  13. Jennie on April 11, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    Wow! I’m impressed you brought your 70-200. I must be weak because my arms are tired just thinking about lugging that thing around!Keeping it simple is a great suggestion. It probably matches the pace of a vacation much better too. 🙂

  14. Carla on April 11, 2012 at 9:43 pm

    Oh, Jodi… I so miss our albums! My husband decided one year it wasn’t necessary anymore because of digital. We could watch a cd or a dvd on the TV. It would be so much simpler. Well… it turned out to be so. We no longer see our vacation or family pics! Just don’t take the time. It was so much more fun reminiscing while turning the pages of an album/scrap book… something we did together, but no longer do. If we see our “memories”, it’s on our respective laptops, etc. Thinking about re instituting albums again!Your post is a treasure trove of info, and your shots inspiring 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  15. Liz on April 11, 2012 at 9:44 pm

    I pick the best images and scrapbook them. Yes, it takes up more space, but it is so much more fun to look through and see the actual photos, mementos from the trip, journaling about special memories etc. And I LOVE Close to My Heart (I’m not a consultant like the other woman who wrote about them, but they are AWESOME for scrapbooking) 😉 Definitely use acid free materials if you are putting in any album or it will ruin your pics down the road.

  16. Joyce on April 11, 2012 at 9:45 pm

    Just looked at the Curacao shots. I love that place!! On our cruise, we arrived there very early in the morning. We got up, my husband opened our curtain, and we both actually laughed because it was so cute with all the colorful buildings! And we were so CLOSE to them! We felt like we were docked right IN the town!! Loved the floating bridge and marketplace.

  17. Sara on April 11, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    We have taken some great trips (Germany, Paris, Spain) and I always make photobooks with the best and favorite photos. I typically spend around $80 making the books, but we love and cherish them so much. It’s well worth it!

  18. cathie berrey green on April 11, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    Thanks! As someone currently on an epic 2.5 week road trip I appreciate your post and have similar ideas. I am pluggedbin though and am enjoins it. We rented an Rv and are travelingbfrom philly all out west. I take instagam pics and update facebook and we are keeping a travel blog we update every few days and my husband, a videographer is making video posts. Been having a great time. I have my hiking d700 3 lens. Must have a wide angle and 70-200. Also have a 35mm film and a myoflex camera. I uses a lens bag!

  19. Joyce on April 11, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    Oh, and the arches over the floating bridge were not there 10 yrs ago. Interesting.

  20. Lynda on April 11, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    We went on a cruise to Alaska shortly after getting my first dSLR. Most of the time I let the little green box dictate my shots simply using one of the kit lenses. I’ve learned SO much in the past three years but my Nikon D90 actually did a great job capturing memories. For Christmas the following year I put many of the shots into a photo book. It’s so nice to have book that anyone can pick up and enjoy but I think that your idea to make a canvas is a nice addition. Every time you see this on your wall, it will remind of you of your family and this special time you shared. Thanks for sharing your trip and photo/travel tips!

  21. Cheryl on April 11, 2012 at 9:55 pm

    Love the tips, we are on a half vacation (the kids and I are for the most part on vacation while my husband works on the trip). I opted for my rebel instead of 5D and a point and shoot – so glad I had both, like you said sometimes I didn’t capture the “perfect shot” because I only had the p&s and it didn’t have quite enough reach etc…but I love them anyway because it was the moment. I do annual photobooks – usually through winkflash of my absolute favorite pictures from the year, special trips often get a book to themselves though – I love having them in my hand to look through and so do my kids. Doing the digital photobook though I have more flexibility to include collages/etc. to fit more in and they don’t take up quite as much space width wise either.

  22. Jennifer on April 11, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    Thank you for all the helpful info! It’s always interesting to see what other people use while they travel.I love that your girls are both holding cameras! 🙂

  23. Joyce on April 11, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    Senior Frog’s!! We went there in a few ports on our Panama Canal 10 day cruise.

  24. sunni on April 11, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    Loved this, Jodi! Great photographs and convo (with a little bit of tea thrown-in). I sat down at my desk w/ a cup of hot tea to sip and enjoy as I journeyed through this marvelous share. Then, I got to the part about the huge lens and tea got spattered on my desk and screen 🙂 I always try and take both the P&S and the Canon w/ 2 lenses. We have a huge amount of photo albums (scrapbooks as well) and have been thinking over options to help (as they do take up quite some space). Again, absolutely loved this and thanks for sharing with us!

  25. christen on April 11, 2012 at 10:32 pm

    I enjoy using to make my photo books. I used to use only mypublisher, but they are more expensive with a clunkier UI. Really, though, I miss having just photo albums filled with real 4×6 photos.

  26. Theresa on April 11, 2012 at 10:33 pm

    Loved viewing your photos. I learn so much from your site. Thanks for sharing.

  27. Patty on April 11, 2012 at 10:36 pm

    I make a photo book from each family trip we take. A fantastic way to preserve the memories. My kids LOVE looking through them all the time !! Highly recommend you make a photo book with your great pics! You will be happy to have the memories that you can physically hold onto..not just digital files!! 🙂

  28. Ashley on April 11, 2012 at 10:47 pm

    Thank you for this post! It is very informative and looks like you guys had a great vacatin!

  29. Camila on April 12, 2012 at 3:49 am

    Hey!Good to see that you can still keep up with photographing while being on a family trip. I love shooting but when I am in such trips I get so lazy. First because I hate carrying my big camera around and that by the end of the day I have back and/or should aches. I keep it simple, I carry my Mark II, 50mm and 24-70mm while on trips. I have just come back from Easter break in Paris, and realized I didn’t shoot that much, on the other hand, I enjoyed so much cycling around, and would only stop to scenes that really caught my eye! Great pics you did! Congrats, looks like you had a blast!

  30. Emily Godrich on April 12, 2012 at 8:26 am

    For viewing all of the digital images I have photographed of my family I purchased a Mac mini. It connects to our main tv in our house through HDMI. I select a lengthy repeating playlist and set my desktop screen saver which comes on almost automatically to randomly display from an iPhoto library. This is the way my family views the photos and helps to remember events that were special.

  31. Shannon on April 12, 2012 at 8:30 am

    I love facebook stalking your page 🙂 This has helped me out so much, I’m going on my first out of country trip to Cozumel in June. I have been contemplating taking my D90 and only taking a P&S but, after looking though your pictures I will not be leaving it behind because I am not missing out on any pictures!Thank-you for your amazing, insightful information!!

  32. Jeannie on April 12, 2012 at 8:33 am

    Loved reading about the equipment you did end up taking. Av priority is my go-to when I’m traveling. Otherwise I tend to end up a few more steps behind my family after every shot! I’ve started printing a photobook for each family vacation. I like the flexibility of a single image on one page and a compilation on another. It saves time, gets the photos off my computer, and allows me to include as few or as many images as I want. Then I go through and print my favorite two or three in larger sizes.

  33. Molly @ mixedmolly on April 12, 2012 at 9:05 am

    I am going to start creating “yearbooks” and print them through Blurb. It will make my life easier, and it will take up less room than albums or scrapbooks.

  34. Donna on April 12, 2012 at 9:14 am

    This was fabulous – thank you!!! I am going to Africa in June (mission trip) and was mulling (and mulling, and mulling) what gear to take.

  35. sharon on April 12, 2012 at 9:42 am

    You do an awesome job of everything…from taking pictures, editing & posting online. I enjoy & learn a lot from your site. I have done shutterfly & costco kids loved them!

  36. Amanda on April 12, 2012 at 9:59 am

    I love printed books. I do one every year with my favorite family photos from each month, and it is a Christmas present for my mom (and myself!). We don’t do much exotic traveling, but the few times we have taken a big trip I do a printed book for that as well.

  37. Christine Williams on April 12, 2012 at 10:05 am

    Just came back from a cruise myself (the week before you went) and took my new wireless remote. I was so tired of getting back from vacation and never having a great family shot. I find that the more sophisticated your camera/lens the harder it is to find someone to snap a picture for you. The wireless remote allowed me to setup the shot (yes I carried a tripod) then jump in and take 3-5 pictures quickly to make sure I got at least one good shot with everyone’s eyes open and smiling. Highly recommend taking one on your next family vacation!

  38. Tara on April 12, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    Last year we took a once in a lifetime trip to Hawaii. I didn’t know what to do with all the pictures I took and decided to break away from the norm and made a photo book online through Shutterfly. I was able to pack more pictures into the book and design the pages the way I wanted. So, I have a photo book full of pictures that takes up much less space. And it’s still on the same idea as a scrapbook.

  39. Chris Baker on April 12, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    What a great post Jodi! My wife and I are headed to Pregresso and Cozumel in 2 weeks and I have been pulling my hair out trying to decide what gear to take with me. Looks like I’ve got to find room for another lens! 🙂

  40. Jodi Friedman, MCP Actions on April 12, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    Thank you for all the comments. I love helping others and I am glad this article was valuable to so many.

  41. Deanna on April 13, 2012 at 11:31 am

    I’m terrible at printing family photos, but I do make online albums. Right now my screen saver is all the albums from when we lived in Europe for six months and I love to sit and watch it. I just ordered a canvas from and it turned out great – super inexpensive and they have an option to make the sides a solid color if you don’t have enough image to wrap, which is what I had to do. Love you edit of the floating market!

  42. Alan Stamm on April 15, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    As always, I’m inspired, humbled and so very admiring of your creative talent and technical skill.Your eye takes good pictures!Your four-person group and my party of half that size enjoyed one of the same islands (Curacao, as you know) five months apart. Though we shot some of the same locations, the results are more than slightly different.Nicely done, Jodi. Now I look forward to diving into other sets!

  43. Chris Baker on April 16, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    Jodi, when you were out on your tours, did you take all 3 lenses with you? I’m trying to decide if I need to carry my whole bag with me during the 7 hour Mayan tour, of if I could just get away with carrying just the camera, back up battery and extra card.

  44. bed and breakfast in Cork on May 25, 2012 at 6:06 am

    These all photos are really impressive. Such kind of photography should be appreciated.

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