10 Tricks for Getting That Memorable Photo

I’ve been in Sydney for a few days now and still cannot get over the view of The Opera House from the hostel. This world is full of unforgettable moments and places. I feel so blessed to be able to experience this and can’t wait to post more pictures to share (many thanks to Anika for this one)!

But marveling at the view got me thinking… As awesome as it is to be able to experience such a visual, it’s even more awesome to be able to share the moment later on with friends and family. And in order to do that, you need a good photo. And as easy as it is to point and click, grabbing that unforgettable moment is much easier said than done. I’ve seen more poorly constructed photos than I care to remember.

So how can you be sure that you walk away from your once-in-a-lifetime experiences with photos worth framing? I mean, most of us aren’t professional photographers, so how would we know anything about objectives, exposures, or distances? No worries mate; I’ve compiled the following steps to help you capture that memorable moment before it’s gone. Follow these tips and your friends will be begging you to take all their photos for them!

10 Tricks to Getting That Memorable Photo
Because Capturing the Moment is an Art…

1. Make sure you’re traveling with a camera that is easy to carry. Why does it need to be easy to lug around? Because if it has a bazillion parts and requires its own overhead compartment space, you’re less likely to bring it with you on your adventures. You want a camera that will fit in a small bag or in a jacket pocket. If the camera weighs ten pounds you’re not going to be taking it on your hike up a volcano or down that mile stretch to the waterfall. Professional photographers need to haul that stuff but you don’t, and unless you’re really committed to lugging a small child’s worth of equipment up the Great Wall of China, just find something more compact. You don’t want to feel obligated to your camera; you’re going to want to want to carry it.

2. You should know how to use your camera before you ever set foot on a plane. Yeah, I know, you can push a button. Not my point. Know what your camera’s strengths and weaknesses are. Can it shoot great action shots? Is the night quality kind of sucky? How does zooming in affect the quality of the photo? Which setting gives you the best lighting for portraits? What about for pets or nature?

You need to know how to use your equipment to the best of its ability and know what shots are more likely to turn out. For example, if your camera has crappy quality when you zoom in, you’re going to have to get photos as close as you can to your subject and then crop them later. That way you don’t sacrifice the crispness of the image for the distance.

Knowing your camera also means knowing how many shots you can take before the battery dies. This way you don’t end up in some remote jungle face-to-face with a lemur only to have the battery pack become your problem. Know your camera. Love your camera. Treat it as a friend, for it will be responsible for giving you some of the best memories of your life.

3. Great photos are all about lighting. Not kidding. What makes stars look great in some photos but not-so-great in others? The amount of light they are receiving and how soft or harsh that light it is. Photographers love to shoot in what we call the “Golden Hour” (this is the hour after sunrise and hour right before sunset). Why? Because soft gold lighting makes everything look awesome. If you’re looking to stage something in particular, try to schedule it during these hours. Truly magic hour!

If you can’t (or don’t want to) get up at the crack of dawn for your photo-op, just make sure your lighting is consistent. You can’t be in shadow and have your background in full light, or vice versa. Make sure the lighting is consistent throughout the entire photo. Consistency is key.  If the sun is behind you, use the “fill flash” on your camera.  Otherwise you will be in the dark with the sun blasting out the image.

Courtesy of Holly Beck

These photos can be cool, but just know that’s what’s going to happen going in.  If the sun or “light source” is behind you, use that “fill flash” and try to fill in the dark areas.  You will be amazed how incredible your photos will turn out with adding a little flare of light from behind and/or from the side using the “fill flash”.

Understanding how the sun exposure works may take some time. But the more you practice, the more confidence you can have in the moment while shooting. You can walk away knowing that you are getting a worthwhile souvenir for all to see!



4. Practice comfortable and flattering poses that you can whip out anywhere. When I was in high-school, I modeled for Italian Vogue and Elle Magazine. If you trust nothing else I’m saying, trust this. You always need to be photo-ready. I mean, who knows when you’re going to get the chance to meet Julianne Hough?

So this means practicing a candid smile in your mirror at home and then closing your eyes to memorize what that feels like. Practice standing with three-quarters of your body facing the mirror and tucking your chin slightly. Standing straight on to the camera makes you look wider, and we want you to love your photo! Practice, practice, practice until this feels natural.

Also make sure you practice having, ‘big eyes’. Some of the worst photos are born from what I call Slitted Stoner Eyes Syndrome. Big eyes make you look excited and awake. If the sun is awful and in your face, practice closing your eyes in between takes and counting down to your photographer so that they’re taking the photo when you’re ready. For example, let’s say I want a picture on the beach. I’ll say something like, “Okay the sun is in my eyes so I’m going to count to three and open them. Ready? One… two… three!” Open them wide, smile big, and get the photo. Then close them, wait three counts, and go again.

5. Google images of the place you are traveling to before you get there. I know this seems like a waste of time, but it’s absolutely essential to getting that perfect moment. This way you can marvel at all the amazing professional photos and figure out how to recreate your own. Did you like a certain angle on the Eiffel Tower over another? Did Buckingham Palace look better at a certain time of day?

This is also a great tool for figuring out the best locations to get photos with you in them (because let’s be honest, that’s the point, right?) What photos did you Google that best showcased the traveler? Why did you like these photos? What colors were they wearing? Where were they in relation to the attractions in the background? You need to have an idea of what you want before you get there to up your odds of capturing that moment.

Most of the best photo-ops are at least partially scripted. Understanding and being prepared for this is half the battle. For example, if you see some amazing shots of someone horseback riding on the beach, mimic their hair, clothing, and posture as close as you can. And always remember to smile while having your adventures!

But with this being said…

6. Always always always be on the lookout for other non-scripted memorable moments. While everyone wants that iconic photo in front of the Hollywood sign, look for those unique or uncommon subjects to photograph. This is why you’re going to want to have a camera you’re cool with hauling everywhere. Having the ability to take the photo in those unsuspecting moments is essential.

Photo by Andrea Preziotti

Spend some time walking around your destination looking for interesting places or things to shoot. When you find something worth photographing, play around with different angles, depths, and heights. Some of my favorite photos have been captured while lying flat against the sand or by climbing up boulders to get an unobstructed view of that sunset.

And always be looking for those candid moments of your fellow travelers. I have a friend who loves to take photos of others taking photos. They’re pretty cool, and absolutely worth sharing later. Plus it’s a general rule of reciprocity. If you’re taking photos of them that means that they are (in a perfect world) taking photos of you.

Photo by Andrea Preziotti

Which leads us to…

7. Find a buddy who understands your need for a cool photo. Holly Beck will be the first to tell you how camera obsessed I was in Nicaragua. And while capturing the moment was of utmost importance to me, she was cool with it and understood my passion. She and the other girls worked with me to make sure I left digitally satisfied.

Of course, this means that you need to be taking photos of others and be willing to help as well. It’s really not a lot of memory space or a big hassle for you, so I advise you to be as helpful and dedicated to their shots as your own. Plus, you never know what cool things your travel buddies are taking, and you’re going to want to get copies later.

8. If you don’t have a travel buddy, get used to asking others to take photos of you. As a solo female traveler, I often have to ask anyone and everyone to take photos of me. Sometimes this can be embarrassing but here’s the good news: that moment of embarrassment and inconvenience will hopefully land you with a worthwhile photo. Worst case scenario they are disgruntled and you never see them again. Best case scenario, they are really cool about it, you make a new friend, and now you have someone to grab a pint with that night.

And if you happen to be on some sort of guided tour, get the names and e-mail addresses of your fellow tour-goers. This way you can swap photos and stay in touch. You never know who you will meet or what kind of friendships will develop from these random moments.

I know asking others for help and conquering social anxiety can be a pill, but I promise you it will be worth the effort. Nothing is worse than regretting not asking. And you only live once, so push yourself a little!

9. Always take at least two photos of the same thing. I recommend ten. I know this seems a little ridiculous, and even more to ask of a stranger, but you are going to want choices. Plus, I have a hard time trusting strangers to get the perfect photo. Remember, most of them are like you; just everyday tourists with no previous training. All you need is one good photo, but you also need crazy luck to land that perfect photo on the first try.

But how could it go wrong, you ask? Let me count the ways… You may be blinking or have hair in your face. God forbid the flash wasn’t on the first time, or your photographer has their finger on the lens. You’re smiling funky, there is a tourist walking in front (or behind you), the photographer moved and the photo is blurry… Need I go on? If any of these happen to you, you’re going to be sad. Don’t be sad. Be safe.

And as someone who lives by the, “Always Get Two Method”, I can attest that the second photo always ends up being better. You’re more relaxed and the photographer has now had a chance to warm up. It’s an extra couple of seconds worth of inconvenience of your photographer, and you get to walk away confident that you have a photo worth keeping.

So, now that we’re in agreement that more is better…

10. All you need is one bad-ass photo, but it may take a thousand photos to get it. I know taking a bazillion photos of one thing can seem like a pain, but you’re going to find things later when you’re reviewing them that you didn’t see in the moment. Maybe your shirt is tucked in funny or the camel you’re riding is looking away. So be patient. Your hard work and commitment will be sure to land you something unique.

And if you’re unsure if you should take a photo of something, just take it anyway. If it sucks or wasn’t as cool as you thought, you can delete it later. But you can never get back those moments you didn’t take the time to capture.

Keeping these tips in mind you’re bound to get some great photos! Ready to go out and give it a try?

Enjoy, my fellow travelers! Capture those breathtaking moments and bad-ass adventures I know you’re having. And make sure to send me copies of your favorites. =)

Happy Adventuring!


89 thoughts on “10 Tricks for Getting That Memorable Photo

  1. Hey Hillary, thought you might be interested in sailing the Baja penninsuala. At the end of every october a fleet of boats heads down and back and it’s usually pretty easy to find a crew spot on one. Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll give you the details. Sounded like it might be your kinda adventure.

    • Thank you so much! I wasn’t sure if it would appeal to anyone since it wasn’t about the technical aspects, but I suck at technical. So instead this was born. I’m so happy to hear that someone appreciated it!

      What has been one of your favorite captured moments?

    • And pictures love you! Seriously, you are crazy photogenic. Flaunt it, girlfriend!

      And how exciting! The more you practice the more you’ll learn. I’m STILL figuring out my camera and I’ve had it for four years (but I’m also technologically impaired, so I may not be a good standard). Pictures tell the best story and I feel like they’re the best souvenir. Capture some moments and be sure to send them to me!

      Lots of love~

  2. This is some excellent advice! It’s funny, when I went on my first trip outside the United States with my class to Europe, my friends noticed that I had a knack for taking good photos. I sort of instinctively put a lot of these tips into practice, and thanks to the wonders of digital photography, it is easier than ever to take a billion photos and delete the bad ones.

    And never underestimate the power of a simple point-and-shoot camera. I have gotten some of my favorite photos from some trusty cameras that cost little more than $100.

    You’ve got some amazing photos here, Hilary. I can’t wait to begin photographing the hidden corners of Paris now that I’ve got plenty of shots of the touristy places from previous trips.

    • Thank you so much! I’m so glad you liked it. And I know a lot of these tips can be instinctual. I’m glad to hear that you’re taking advantage of your natural skills!

      And I’m glad that you like the photos. I’ve worked very hard to get them =). I can’t wait to see what you come up with! Please send me some of your favorites.

      Take care!

    • Haha, thanks! I’m going to have the strangest vocabulary when I get back to Vegas… Fijian words mixed with Aussie slang and accent. I’ll be quite the sight, that’s for sure!

  3. Great tips! Thanks. I have only recently graduated to a digital camera. On all of my previous adventures I’ve taken my little ’90’s point and shoot Olympus film camera. That little baby has gotten me some gems, but I’m still used to conserving my precious frames and holding out on pictures because I only brought 3 rolls of film or whatever. Your tips will help me use my digital with more confidance!

    • I’m so glad I could help! And I completely understand trying to conserve pictures. I’ve invested in a bunch of memory sticks to make sure I never have to worry about that. But worst comes to worst, you can always delete the non-gems from the digital if you really are pressed for space. =)

      Looking forward to seeing what photos you take of your adventures!

  4. Pingback: Real Photography Advice » Blog Archive » 10 Tricks for Getting That Memorable Photo | The Nomad Grad

  5. Though I do agree that you need a camera you’re willing to lug around, I purposefully left my little point and shoot at home before moving to Tokyo this time to force myself to actually use my (then new) SLR because I always ended up taking just the lighter point and shoot- and I’m glad I did! I’m comfortable using most of the settings now and I just pack a little lighter to make up for the weight 🙂

    I always carry my camera in a ziplock bag when I’m on the move. You just never know. A little rain (or being dropped in a puddle) never hurt anyone… except for your camera.

  6. If you’re going as far as Australia, come to New Zealand! There’s everything here from beaches, surfing, hot thermal pools, mountains, lakes, bush, green rolling pastures .. and no snakes or poisonous spiders. And the people are even friendlier than Australians.

    • Hi Denny!

      Thank you so so much for the offer. Unfortunately, I’m on my way to the Pacific Islands right now, but I do have full intent of going to New Zealand at some point in the near future! And know that you’re more than welcome to come out to Vegas whenever you want!

    • Thanks so much! And what a great compliment! I think that’s the goal of every writer, isn’t it? To have their own voice come across?

      I hope it helps! Send me some great photos!

  7. I know I’ve been an astronomer for too long when I read this:
    “What makes stars look great in some photos but not-so-great in others? The amount of light they are receiving and how soft or harsh that light it is.”
    And my first thought is….”What is she talking about? Stars generate light, they’re not receiving it from….oh, wait, different kind of star.”
    Anyway, your adventures are an inspiration. Hope to make a similar jump sometime over the next year….

    • Ahahahaha, I love it! I couldn’t stop laughing when I read this.

      I’m so happy to hear that you find my adventures inspiring! Please let me know how I can help you take the leap!

      • So glad I could bring a smile to your day. 🙂

        My plan is to build up some momentum as a freelance writer (predominately science research coverage and analysis but really…for whomever is willing to pay me!) then quit the day job and become location-independant.

        Fortunately, I’m pretty sure it will be *just that easy*. 😉

  8. Good travel photo tips here. One other piece of advice I have is to always have a backup battery for your camera. That way, if you do run out of charge and are face-to-face with a lemur, you can still get the shot! 🙂

      • I’m really into photography, so now I carry the big camera (digital SLR) in a camera backpack that goes in the overhead bin. 😉 I’ve gotten so many great shots over the years, both at home and abroad, that I couldn’t choose just one. When I was younger and less of photography nut, I carried a nice point and shoot that gave me some fantastic pictures of canals in Amsterdam and statues in London. (I’ve even used those disposable cameras and gotten great shots!) I think the most important thing is to get a shot – perfect or not – just to capture that moment in time. You will always have the memory, the picture is just to remind yourself of it. 🙂

        • I think you’re absolutely right; it’s all about having something to help you remember. And if you get a perfect shot, then that’s the icing on the cake. Such a great attitude to have about it! =)

  9. Great advice! I’ll try these tips while I’m in Japan. I definitely understand taking multiple photos of things to get the right shot– when I was in Germany, I ended up taking 6,000 photos over 6 weeks. A little excessive? Yes– but some of the shots I got out of it were totally worth it!

  10. So glad you are enjoying it. I loved my time in Oz. I head the Australian Navy is recruiting Americans now. I wanted to go, but my wife would kill me. 🙂

    • Ahaha, wow you are brave! I’m sure I’d be very worried if my husband wanted to do something like that too!

      I may have already asked you this, but how long were you in Australia?

      • Not that long, only like 9 days. It was just vacation. But I loved it. I kind of journey into the underground music scene there and I just loved the openness and liveliness of the culture. I would live there in a heartbeat if I could.

        • Nine days is still a decent amount of time! So glad to hear you go to enjoy such a unique part of the country. Such nice people, eh?

          And I completely understand; working on that myself!

  11. Oh Australia! I am *so* jealous. I cannot wait to start roaming the world. But according to your advice, I guess, first I need a camera!

      • Because you’re in Australia. So many of my friends and family have been, and I’ve yet to board the plane for the dreaded twenty hours.

        • Haha. It’s part of the price for the reward, I suppose. You’ll get there someday… whenever you’re ready to deal with the flight.

          And not to worry. You’re not the only one who has avoided certain places because of the flight time. That’s the main reason I haven’t gotten to India yet. =)

  12. Oh DEARE LORD! I love the horse shot on the beach! Seriously? Your having a wonderful time and that is a beautiful thing! Thanks for sharing for your housebound buddies! Love

    • Haha, thanks so much Lynn! That was taken while I was in Nicaragua. It was such an amazing experience. SO surreal =).

      Can’t wait to chat again! I’m so glad that you’re enjoying the posts! Happy to help how I can. =)

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