Emerald Rue

5 Travel Photo Hacks + Camera Recommendation

  • Apr 16, 2019

If you’ve ever been the type to get home from vacation only to discover you can’t stop looking at the photos and videos, wishing you were still there, this post is especially for you!

I’m breaking down my Top 5 Hacks for better vacation photos as well as recommendations for cameras if you’d like to upgrade from your phone.


Hack #1: Lighting

Have you ever taken a photo and your subjects look totally blacked out while your background is gorgeous and clear? That’s because cameras like the one on your phone auto-meter for light. The sensor is taking in the entire scene and will choose to expose for what is brightest in the frame.

WHOA, non-techie language please, Jen! If your subjects are in shadow and the background is sunny, the camera will choose the bright sun every time.

There are 2 work arounds for this problem. First, touch the faces of your subjects on the screen, which tells your phone you’d like it to focus on and expose for them instead of the background. Sometimes this will do the trick BUT if there’s a huge contrast between the light and dark, this hack is not your best bet.

Second, move the subjects so they match the background light. If it’s sunny, put them in the sun! It’s as simple as that!

Bonus Tip: Beware the direction of the sun. If it’s directly behind your subjects, phone cameras don’t do well on compensating for the direct, intense light. Try to sidelight or front light instead by moving your vantage point in relation to the sun.

Sunny background & subject in shade results in blacked out subject.
Shady background and subject in shade is great!
Bright background and subject in sun works!

Hack #2: Tell a story

When you get home and your friends ask how vacation was, you tell the story of your adventures. Make sure you’ve got storytelling photos to accompany your tales! Not all of the photos need to be the look and smile variety. Get some action shots or candid moments!

Hiking through the Grand Canyon.
Dinner with friends in Cyprus.

Hack #3: Get in the Photos

Raise your right hand and repeat after me, “I will also appear in vacation photos.”

Your kids want to remember the whole family on vacation and if you’re self-conscious or always doing the snapping, you’ll miss out. Kids don’t care what you look like in a bathing suit or if you washed your hair that day, they want photos of a happy vacation that include mom and dad.

Hand your phone to someone else to take over as documentarian, use the timer function or get a selfie stick if you must! Just show up!!

That goes for your travel companions as well. Take photos of the teens or dad, even if you get a few eye rolls now and again. They’ll thank you later!


Hack #4: Details

Don’t forget to document your surroundings. Likely they’re different than where you live. Wildlife, food you eat, scenic shots, lodging, architecture, locals, etc. All of these details round out your vacation photos and help tell that story!

The Acropolis in Athens Greece.
A delicious crepe in Milan, Italy.
Beautiful hotel detail in Lake Como, Italy.

Hack #5: Take Your Camera Everywhere

This is easy if it’s your phone, as typically it’s always on you. If you choose to bring a point and shoot or DSLR, be sure to think about the ease of carrying it before you leave for vacation. If it adds 10 pounds to your sightseeing bag, perhaps consider a lighter option.

Anticipate hazards such as sand, water or sun and bring necessary bags or cases to help keep your phone or camera in working order.

My only caution is this: be sure to step out from behind the camera/screen to enjoy your time on vacation. If a photo gets missed here and there, don’t fret! Be present with your family and remember you’re likely on vacation to relax, try new things and spend quality time with the ones you love.


Which brings me to…

My Recommendation for an Upgraded Camera

Serious about investing in a camera? If your budget is only $100-$200, you’re better off just using your phone, which will have comparable functions to a lower end point & shoot. Keep that cash and go on an excursion!

Because I’m not a guru who’s tried them all, I’ll point you in the direction of this great article outlining several outstanding choices. 

I personally own and travel with the very last option, the Olympus OM-D EM-10. I chose this camera for a few reasons.

  1. Option to use full manual mode, meaning I can control all the settings if I choose. It also takes excellent photos in auto mode.
  2. The lenses are interchangeable and I’ve invested in a second long range zoom.
  3. It’s light and fits nicely in my crossover purse. I like to sightsee and walk a ton on vacation. The extra weight can really bog you down and I find this camera is light enough for me.
  4. It allows me to take video. When I purchased this camera, I was not yet filming, but I’ve since used the video function on two vacations and have been pretty pleased with the results.

There you have it! 


Feel free to comment below if you have any questions about travel photo hacks or camera choices.