8 ways to make awesome holiday snaps
8 ways to make awesome holiday snaps
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8 ways to make awesome holiday snaps

Denny Phan
Zurich, on 23.06.2016
So you lugged your camera halfway across the globe only to be disappointed with the results when you got home. Sound familiar? Well, you’re not alone! Until a few years ago, that was exactly what kept happening to me.

About eight years ago, I went on a three-week trip through Vietnam with my family. Before we set off, I had bought myself a powerful compact camera and was totally convinced that I would return with first-class photos. These snaps would be so amazing that I’d probably have to organise an extensive exhibition to meet the demand.

But surprise, surprise – it turned out that a new camera doesn’t necessarily take amazing pictures. The photos were uninspired, mind-numbingly boring and totally lacking a concept. So I had to cancel the exhibition at short notice and, instead, bored my friends and family to tears with what probably felt like 1000+ snaps. It was after that trip that I decided to take a closer look at the extensive topic of photography. A few voluminous books, countless YouTube videos and hundred thousands of shots later, I can no longer imagine my life without a camera.

In this post, I would like to elaborate on a few tips that will help you put beautiful holiday moments in the right light. The first six tips are not about equipment and should be useful even for those of you who prefer using a mobile phone to a camera ;-). Having said that, I also happen to know that many of you are interested in equipment; therefore, I’ve added my number-one tip on gear at the very end.

Going that extra mile

The extra mile comes in all shapes and sizes but usually makes the crucial difference between a generic holiday snap and a true jawdropper. The extra mile is often quite literally an extra mile – 1609.34 metres to be precise. Sounds exhausting, right? Especially if that mile is steep and includes a few cliffs or dangerous animals (that happened to me more often than you would believe…).

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For this photo, taken in Ishigaki (Japan), we walked up a hill just 100m off the main road. The view and unique shot were worth the effort. Nobody except ourselves was willing to break a bit of a sweat over a photo.

Why bother? Because most people with a camera don’t. It’s that simple. In our media-saturated world, our eyes are already used to a very high standard. To outdo this standard, you will have to pull your finger out and invest a little more time and energy. However, don’t risk your life for a perfect shot. The key to success is to move your lazy bones, walk up that promising hill, get up a little earlier and to pack that “heavy” camera in the first place.

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Anyone who’s seen Venice’s Piazza San Marco by day knows that there’s no lack of tourists or pigeons. But at the crack of dawn I was only sharing the rising sun with a newlywed couple – I’ve experience worse cases of photobombing.

Have you gone that extra mile for a photo? We’d love to hear about your experience and see the snap!

Less is more

Nine times out of ten, pictures are taken to be shown to others. If you want to impress your audience, take the “less is more” approach to heart. You’ve probably been on the receiving end yourself – sitting through 500+ holiday snaps can be gruelling. Your attention span will come to an end after about five minutes because 1.) you’ve seen that cute cat on the roadside from just about every angle possible and 2.) as an outsider, you’re unable to process all those impressions. Be critical when making your selection and try to reduce your holiday memories to the max, showing your audience only the very best.

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I’m not just talking equipment but also the knowledge you have of your destination. I’ve made a habit of entering a few keywords on the following platforms before every trip:

500px & Flickr – Huge photography communities with a massive selection of pics. These will give you an idea of what the majority of photographers have done to capture a sight or the charm of a region. Maybe it will inspire you to think about potential projects or must-have photos. A welcome side effect of surfing these social networks is that you’ll be all the more excited about your upcoming trip.

Google Maps – This platform features a user photo function. The pics are linked to the maps, allowing you to pinpoint the exact location. Very handy, indeed!

Instagram – This platform is my biggest source of inspiration. Many regions and places now have their own official Instagram account, which is usually chock-a-block with amazing pictures taken by different users. Before setting off on my journey through Western Australia, I checked out the Western Australia account. Browsing photos of your destination will allow you to pre-select potential subjects and to get an idea of what the landscape looks like at different times of day and in different weather. But most of all, you’ll see what other photographers did with the subject. Thinking back will give you an extra boost when you’re on-site.

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Working your way through Instagram can be similar to being in the jungle. But it’s worth it.

Staying the night

You may be one of the lucky ones who got to spend the night at Europapark or Disney World as a kid. I've been told that the experience generally included an early start, no queues and your fill of rides before lunchtime. By the time the crowds had poured in, you’d already been on the rollercoaster five times, stuffed your face with two helpings of candy floss and were having a well-deserved break at the cafeteria – feeling content and a little queasy. A few years ago, I started to spend the night in close proximity of cool places. As all photography-obsessed people know, the most interesting light seems to be at dawn, at dusk and at night. Sadly, many tourists on day trips are stuck on a bus at sunset watching “fifty shades of orange”, desperately trying to capture the beautiful light through a grimy window and past the snoring person beside them. Naturally, an overnighter is not always possible due to access or budget restrictions. Just keep the option in mind when you’re planning your next trip.

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The 12 apostles are one of the main attractions for people travelling to Melbourne. The majority of tourists see the formations on a day trip that ends before sunset. This picture was taken just after the last coaches had left the parking lots.

Recurring subjects

The followmeto couple quite literally lead the way with their successful photo series. Their pictures show an attractive lady holding the photographer’s hand and leading him around the world. The snaps made international headlines and the couple shot to photography stardom. The photos are great from a technical point of view and the amount of preparation that must have gone into every shot is incredible. The main reason for their success is the fact that the photos have a recurring subject. Viewers perceive the photos as part of a coherent bigger story (trip around the world). Therefore, we can conclude that a recurring motif is particularly appealing if it’s part of a bigger “story” with an identifiable connection. When you’re travelling or on holidays, you’re bound to come across recurring subjects. Think lively markets, bizarre rock formations, interesting front doors or special fabric patterns. Find a subject and make a photo series out of it. This will give your photography more depth and context.

If you’re thinking “recurring subject”, what the hell is he on about? Just take look at the stranger photography pictures I took and you’ll know what I mean:

Photographing strangers: 8 tips on how to take pictures of people you don't know.


Composition and the rule of thirds

Composition is such an extensive subject that it has filled tons of books. Unfortunately, there’s just no time for me to go into great detail here as I’m travelling and have an important meeting at the beach later on. :) However, I would like to share the basics on the rule of thirds. In a nutshell, aesthetics are nothing more than geometry. Symmetrical shapes, lines and recurring shapes seem to satisfy our senses. This is where the rule of thirds comes in. It’s easy to apply and creates order in your pictures.

This is how it works: Draw two imaginary horizontal and two vertical lines through your picture, thereby creating 9 even rectangles. When composing your photo, make sure to align your motif along these lines and intersections. Most modern cameras feature a grid option that shows the grid on your viewfinder or on the display.

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For this photo, I positioned my model and his reflection along the right vertical axis. The horizon is in line with the upper line of the grid.

Gear tip

My best gear tip has nothing to do with the actual camera but is an accessory that many people prefer to give a miss – the tripod. This is generally because that 20kg luggage limit has already been reached because of a hair-dryer or an extra pair of sneakers or simply because they don’t own a tripod. Keep in mind that it needn’t be a 1.8m pro model; a compact travel or table tripod will do. Personally, I refused to take one on holiday for ages – mainly because of the weight. But since getting a small table tripod (Gorillapod), I’ve been discovering completely new worlds with my camera. Impressive night shots are hard to get without a sturdy base. But it’s precisely those night shots that viewers love because they seem nearly impossible to get for non-photographers.

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I hope these tips have been of assistance and have given you a few ideas. You may have gathered that I’m convinced that good holiday snaps are only achieved when you’ve decided to be an active photographer. In other words, when you start putting some thought into your motifs, take design matters into your own hand and to go that extra mile whenever possible.

Last one

I’ve saved my most important tip for last. That way only those who’ve read through the whole article will get to read it – congrats, you’ve qualified! :) Due to the fact that we’ve always got a camera or a smartphone with what feels like infinite memory at hand, holiday-makers and travellers tend to no longer look at things properly anymore. And I’m not talking about looking for a pretty motif. I’m talking about taking in a breath-taking landscape, enjoying a moment or enjoying the ambiance. It happens way too often that I catch myself or others snap a landscape to bits before walking away absent-mindedly. Your camera doesn’t have to capture everything. Some images were made to be kept as memories.


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You might also like (in German):

Ferien! Noch keine passende Kamera?!


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Denny Phan
Denny Phan
Senior Category Buying Manager & AS, Zurich

A camera in one hand, an airline ticket in the other. That's what I call a perfect situation.

Find out more about me and my photography on Instagram or on my website

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