Thursday, September 1, 2011

Southern CA+LA—and How to Take Better Vacation Photos

I’m totes not a take-pictures-of-nature kind of person. Hence I’m not a landscape photographer. So usually, on vacation and touristy excursions, I take about a hundred pictures of nothingness, hate them all, never edit them, and they never see the light of day (aka the internet). BUT. I decided during a few days of our time in California to go out on a limb and take some vaca shots with seriousness, and hey. Here we are.

The firsts are of the San Juan Capistrano Mission, which is a super cool place that’s like a million years old and is overflowing with awesome things to experience and learn about.DSC_0026b DSC_0027bDSC_0028b DSC_0048bDSC_0030b DSC_0042b DSC_0034bDSC_0062b DSC_0065b DSC_0070b vertical2
Our next adventure was a day trip to LA to REALLY celebrate our anniversary. We started with Little Tokyo because it was Japan that brought us together in the first place (Jared served a mission for our church there, and was my brother’s favorite companion.) Someday I’ll tell you the whole story. DSC_0078b
They have a festival there for every new year, and everyone writes their wishes for the upcoming year—they were displayed on every tree through the whole of Little Tokyo—made me want to grow a tree inside my house and recreate the coolness of it all.
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Then the Hard Rock Café, Walk of Fame, Wax Museum, Santa Monica Pier and Venice Beach!DSC_0091b DSC_0093b
I have to be honest, I liked that flag almost more than the burger.
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Oh, and Marilyn was there. Wassup. Jared and I each chose a couple stars to take photos with. Of course, I chose Ella and Aretha. Only the best. Jared: MJ.
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Poor Jared was so tired of posing for me. I had to beg him for the last shot.
Which leads me to….my tips for better vacation photos!

1. Find the balance. You don’t want to be lugging your camera everywhere, especially if it’s an SLR. Plan out the days and times you know you want to have your camera with you, and other than that, sit back and enjoy the ride. Being a photographer, sometimes I get a little whiny about picture-perfect moments that pass me by on vacation, but I’m slowly learning to soak it up and live instead of being in photographer mode all the time.

2. Be selective. Like I said, I can’t even bear to think of all the times I took seventeen pictures of flowers on a trip and never did anything with a single one. Especially digital photographers seem to fall into the trigger-happy trap, and it makes the post-process pretty excruciating. I mean, how can you choose between seventeen pictures that are practically the same? It’s positively beastly.

But I’m not just talking about being selective with the number of times you press the shutter button—I’m also talking about being selective with the number of times you round people up for pics. Kids, pets, and husbands have a very certain breaking point here, (have you noticed?!) and the last thing you want is a photo of Wife grinning gleefully and Husband ripping his hair out because he can’t take one more picture. It goes a long way if parties involved are made aware that there will be x number of posed photos in x spot for x number of minutes. This is the most important tip, by far. I could say it a thousand times, peeps. Be selective.

3. Tell the story. Document the details and get as much variety as you can. This one is key for me, because after the seventh palm tree I’m taking pictures of my feet. I love to include the food we eat, the funny things we see and the souvenirs we buy, even more so than the traditional touristy spots. Everyone has a picture in front of Cinderella’s castle, right? Focusing on the details that made your trip unique and memorable will make your photos that much more valuable when you dig them out again five years from now.

4. Care about composition. Even if you’re working with a point-and-shoot, the most wonderful thing you can do for your photos is to care about composition and lighting. If you snap snap snap away with either the haphazard get-everything-in-the-picture mentality or shoot with the I’ll-photoshop-it-later mentality, you’ll wind up with less than fab photos and a lot of frustration. Find angles, light, and details that interest you, just like in any type of photography, and capture those first and the to-do list photos second (if at all.) More candid; less posed. More authentic emotion to document your trip; less saying “cheese.”

These tips are all about capturing the essence of a trip—emotions, people, and places. In that order. Is that how you feel about your vacations, or am I totally up in the night?

Hope these help! :)


  1. I love all of these! The pictures and the advice. Looks like a fabulous trip :) Also I'm totes jeal of you getting pictures next to the stars!

  2. Thanks Kenj! My how I miss you.

  3. Beautiful photos! And I love the tips! It's funny I was totally just thinking the other day that I am totally getting into the "trigger happy" mode and need to stop! :)

  4. Great tips. I think that it is sometimes hard to find that balance between being in the moment and being a photographer on a vacation. Love the colors. Great job