Eight tips for improving your vacation photos

If you want to improve your vacation photos, read on, but we give a hall pass to the readers who submitted photos for the Travel section's annual "What I Did on My Summer Vacation." They can stop reading here because they've obviously mastered photo basics — and beyond.

In fact, they made it difficult to whittle down the 1,500 submissions to something manageable, which you'll see in the Sunday print Travel section and online.


These days, with cellphone cameras, everybody is a photographer. Many of the photos were taken with phone cameras (mostly iPhones), which put the power in everyone's hands.

But, like all power, this one can be misused. I know. I do it all the time. My middle name is not "Visual Intelligence."

So I asked my photo guru — Richard Derk, the travel photo editor for the L.A. Times for many years — to share some of his tips for taking better pictures, for being prepared and for getting yourself out of a jam, if need be. Here are some of his suggestions:

--Don't be afraid to move people around or to move yourself to get better light. If you're in a dark room, move your subject to the window. If you're facing the sun, move so the sun is behind you.

--Want to take a picture at noon? Take a nap instead. Derk says that L.A. area directors liken shooting at midday to taking a picture in a microwave. Early morning and late afternoon light are best for helping bathe your picture in a flattering light.

--Hold still. Derk wasn't talking about not moving the camera (although you should try to hold steady, of course). He's talking about the photographer. If you have a great photo with a nice light, stay there for a moment and see if someone walks through the picture, adding another dimension to it. This takes patience, which is a trait of good photographers.

--Under the category of being prepared, he suggested taking extra batteries or a battery charger or a device with which you can repower your phone or your camera. There's no worse feeling than seeing that little "battery low" signal coming from your camera when you know that great photo is just a click away.

--Don't be overprepared either, he said. Travel light; take with you just what you need; there's no use lugging a bunch of photo equipment if you're not going to use it. The stuff gets heavy and it's easily damaged so leave it at home unless you're doing a heavy-duty shoot.

--Keep your lens clean. If you carry your camera phone in your pocket, as I often do, grime is going to accumulate in that lens. Don't use alcohol on it (or any lens). Instead, try lens cleaning solution (use judiciously on any electronics) or, in a jam, use contact lens solution.

--Take extra photo cards, if you're using a camera, and don't forget to reformat them regularly.

--If a card corrupts, don't panic. There is software that can help -- in Derk's experience, he recovered about 80% of what was on a card. He has used Image Rescue by Lexar (about $35) with good results.