The Caribbean can be one of the most photogenic vacation destinations on Earth with its azure waters, spectacular sunsets, and colorful buildings, boats, and other backgrounds. But taking good pictures in the tropics also can be a challenge if you don't account for the bright sunlight at midday and other variables.
Here are some great tips on taking memorable vacation photos from the professional photographers at the Society of American Travel Writers.
- Shoot photos early in the morning and late afternoon to add more color and shadows to your photos, giving more definition to the subject. Between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., the sun is overhead and the light is flat. One exception: "In the Caribbean, to capture the water at its most electric aquamarine, shoot the seascape from on high, preferably at noon,” says maritime and travel writer/photographer Patricia Borns.
- Move in close to your subject for impact. Too far back and your photo can be too busy. Get close, and then get closer! Fill the frame with your subject.
- Always feature a sense of place in your shots. If you are in the tropics, frame the photo with palm trees; if in the mountains, frame it with pine trees.
- Don’t shoot every photo at eye level. Get low to the ground or climb up to get a better vantage point. “Shooting a scene at other than eye level can add drama or perspective to an otherwise static setting," says David Swanson, a freelance travel writer/photographer. "Even if you can’t peer through the lens, hold your camera overhead or at waist level and experiment.”
- Pay attention to details and distractions in the back of your photo or behind the heads of your subjects. Frequently, a telephone pole or tree is sticking up behind your subject. Move around until there are fewer distractions in the background.
- Digital space is cheap. Shoot lots of photos and edit and erase at night. Also, shoot in the highest resolution possible; if necessary, carry extra memory cards.
- Use your camera's fill-flash, even outdoors during daylight, to “fill-in” shadows. “Sometimes you don’t have the option of waiting for the right light," notes Laurie D. Borman, editorial director at Rand McNally. "The fill flash will light up a person’s face and remove shadows when the sun is overhead.”
- Shoot important subjects from several different angles and vantage points, and with different lenses and at different exposures. Take an overall wide shot, a medium range shot, and a close-up detail shot. Check your photos on site to make sure you have your shot. “When shooting with a slow shutter speed and no tripod, shoot three quick frames in a row, making a better chance one will come out sharp," says Michael Ventura, a freelance travel photographer.
- Wait before you click! Wait for the clouds to clear, the truck to move away from the front of the cathedral, or other distractions to pass. “Look around you and see what’s happening," says photographer Mary Love. "If a child with a red balloon is coming around the corner, wait until she runs into your frame.”
- Put local people in your photos. Ask permission first, however, and try not to pose them. Putting people in your photos gives a sense of size and scale. "Learn the phrase for ‘Smile, please’ in the [local] language... and smile before, during, and after you click the shutter," advises photographer Maxine Cass. Afterward, "turn your digital camera around and show the image to your subject," adds Annette Thompson.
- Use your camera to record details you would like to remember later, such as street signs, place names, and menus, recommends Shelly Steig, a freelance writer and photographer.
- Carry a rubber mouse pad in your camera bag. "It will make it easier on your knees and clothing whenever you kneel down for a low camera angle," according to Michele & Tom Grimm, photographers and authors.
- “Don’t rely on your zoom lens to compose your images. You have two feet. Move about for the best angle and composition," says Dennis Cox, travel photographer, and director of Photo Explorer Tours.
- “Bracket your exposures and remember that if the light is low, you can increase your ISO (the equivalent of being able to change film speed) for every shot," advises Catherine Watson, freelance travel writer.
- “On cloudy, dreary days, try to include bright colors such as red (a person’s jacket, an umbrella, a sign) in the photo, since reds, oranges, yellows, and fuchsias can make a washed-out rainy scene pop with liveliness," says Susan Farlow, a freelance travel writer.