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The University of Alabama

UA Matters: How to Capture that Amazing Vacation through Photos

So, you want awesome vacation photos? Your vacation is supposed to be fun, and you want your photos to reflect that, but sometimes getting the perfect picture can be harder than you anticipated. The University of Alabama’s Zachary Riggins offers a few tips that may help you get the shots you envisioned.

  • Know your gear. Whether you’re shooting with an iPhone or a top of the line dSLR, knowing its various functions and capabilities can make a big difference in your final shot. For example, an iPhone will allow you to adjust focus and exposure — so if your subject is backlit, you can adjust for that. The Internet is full of tutorials and how-to’s for just about every camera out there.
  • Planning. I know this may seem simple, but it can save you a lot of time and frustration. Check the weather, sunrise and sunset times, and search the Internet for photo-ops at your destination. You can also see examples of photos other people have taken. You might want to shoot something totally different, or you might want the iconic shot that everyone snaps. Either way, having a plan before you get there will save you time and energy.
  • Go early. My dad always told me the early bird gets the worm (and he still tells me that). He is right, too. There are two very good reasons to go early. First, the best light. Just before and shortly after the sun comes up is a magical time for photographers. In fact, in photography and cinematography, it’s called the golden, or magic hour (this includes sunset). It can transform an otherwise familiar landscape into a unique view, with golden and red hues, interesting shadows, soft light and sometimes mist. Second, more space. Since everyone else will be snoozing, you won’t have to deal with hundreds of other people trying to snap the same photo. I recommend sunrise over sunset simply for the lack of crowds, but both are beautiful times to work.
  • Rule of thirds. Imagine your photo is divided by lines — two horizontal and two vertical. These lines create nine equal parts (imagine a spreadsheet with only three columns and three rows). To create an interesting composition, you want your subject, or important elements, to be placed along these lines. It’s a little difficult to describe, but a quick Google search will yield some great examples. Use this, and it will change how you shoot.
  • Look for a different approach. Often times we find ourselves shooting photos from the same familiar angles and places. Try something different — include natural or fixed elements to frame the subject — things like blossoming trees, fence lines, windows or even other people. Try shooting through a pair of sunglasses, or focus on the reflection in a window, mirror or a puddle. Don’t be afraid to experiment. The sky is the limit, so get creative.
  • Look for the moment behind the moment. Often we get into a routine of simply asking our travel companions to pose in front of points of interest. This is great for documenting that you were there, but we want to capture the emotion, experience and the feeling behind the vacation. Find those moments between saying cheese. It could be as simple as snapping a candid photo of your friend gazing in awe at the Grand Canyon. You determine which laugh, smile and even tear will be in your travel album.

Riggins is director of photography for University Relations.


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UA Matters is a weekly posting that offers information and tips on consumer issues facing Alabamians. The information is available to reprint in your publication free of charge. Also, access to subject matter experts is available upon request. For more information, contact Kim Eaton at 205/348-8325 or>.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.