These days, you can’t go anywhere in the world and not see someone taking pictures. That’s because now quality photography is available to the masses at a pretty reasonable cost. When I return from vacations, I always have hundreds of photos to reference when I’m sharing my experience with family and friends, or simply recollecting a memorable moment. Because the truth is although a personal memory is invaluable, an actual image will always be more vivid and can stand the test of time.

Long gone are those days when we had to act “too cool” to take a photo of where we are or what we are doing. Thanks to conveniences provided by tools such as the smartphone, anyone anywhere can capture a moment in time with a simple push of the button, and for that reason, it has become socially acceptable to do it. But not all photos can be treated equally. Some are simply better than others. And not all travelers are avid photographers who understand aperture and exposure settings. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t all want excellent images to show off to our loved ones. So here are some simple tricks that won’t take any actual knowledge of camera settings but will help you snap better photographs on your next vacation.


Let’s state the obvious: You can’t take a good photo without the right equipment. Choosing the right camera requires a real understanding of your needs and your ability. Sure, a large, expensive DSLR can produce really amazing images, but if you’re the type of traveler who is constantly on the move and prefers to travel lightly, that DSLR camera will be of no use to you when you leave it in the hotel room as you’re walking around a city seeing eye-catching things. Choose a camera that fits your lifestyle, even if that means simply investing in a mobile phone with a quality lens. The best camera is the one that’s near when you’re ready to take a photo!

Lighting/time of day

The time of day you choose to take photos can truly affect your image. The best time with the best lighting is known as “the magic hour,” and it takes place right after sunrise and right before sunset. The color of the sky provides the best lighting to easily capture almost any image. If you’re looking to shoot things in the middle of the day, keep shadows in mind. Try to position yourself so that the sun is always behind the camera, or so that the camera is under some kind of cover (an awning or an outdoor ceiling, for example).

Shoot what you eat

Never underestimate the story that a meal can tell. Nothing says more about a culture or a location than food. For that reason, you shouldn’t forget to snap images of what you eat while on vacation. And don’t think that only fancy restaurants are worthy of snaps, because food markets and local dives can often produce the most interesting shots.

Vertical versus horizontal

Take a moment to think about what you are trying to capture before pressing the button. Is the scene causing you to naturally look up and down, or from left to right? Determining that will help you decide how you should hold the camera. Nothing is less appealing to the eye that seeing a landmark or landscape in an unnatural angle. If you are uncertain which is best, be safe and try snapping a photo both vertically and horizontally, and then choose which is best for the image later. You can always delete a photo, but you can’t go back and retake it.

Pay attention to detail

When you’re shooting almost anything that isn’t landscape, it is important that you pay close attention to details. Avoid clutter, unnecessary people or litter by simply changing the tilt of the camera. Don’t be afraid to stage things in your photo if you think a public object, or whatever, would look better moved slightly to the left (as long as touching it wouldn’t be illegal and you replace it when you’re done). Make images more personal by including your personal belongings, travel documents or whatever as props in chairs or on tables.

Don’t miss the moment waiting

I can’t tell you how many times I would miss a great image because I’d wait for the perfect picture. For instance, I would position my camera and myself at the perfect angle and wait until a man walked out of the frame. But instead of that man walking out of the frame, an entire group of people would enter. My tour guide would be moving on, and I would be out of luck. I’ve learned to just snap! And if after that snap a better opportunity comes along, I can simply snap again. But if I wait and miss the moment all together, I can’t get it back. Having a not perfect picture is better than not having the picture at all.

Ask a stranger

This suggestion might sound a little intimidating, but I personally have never been told no when I asked a stranger for help. So often, the person behind the camera is left out of the pictures and it isn’t noticed until you’re back home going through all of the images. Avoid not having yourself in photos by asking strangers to quickly snap a picture. Set everything up, including the angle you want, so that all the person has to do is press the button once or twice. More often than not, the person will simply ask you to return the favor, and then everyone’s happy and photographed!

Take a picture of everything

Nothing is worse than returning home from a trip, explaining something memorable and having nothing to use as reference. As I stated earlier, you can always delete pictures, but you can’t create a picture you don’t have. If there is anything you see that interests you, snap a photo. It’s that simple. That street sign, or local kid, or crazy architecture might seem insignificant while you’re on your trip, but it’s those things that you’ll remember when you return. My personal motto: If it makes you look twice, snap the picture!

Megan Pinckney (@shadesofpinck) is a retired beauty queen turned lifestyle blogger who loves exploring the world and writing about it.