Djúpalónssandur beach, and bay, at the foot of the Snæfellsjökull volcano in Iceland, photo by NSL Photography

I have four photographic techniques for vacation travelers which can help improve your travel images and assist you in not missing great vacation photo opportunities.

Have you ever been on a tour and when back at your hotel compared some of your photos with those taken by others on the tour and said to yourself, “Where did they get that shot?” Have you gotten home from a great vacation, having taken many photos of your family while away, only to find the photos of your kids are great shots of the tops of their heads? Perhaps you’ve had wonderful photo opportunities for images in churches, only to find your shutter speed was so low that the photos were blurry? Have you ever taken photos in a museum and found you only captured reflections of your flash from the glass protecting the exhibit?

Many travelers could avoid missing great photo opportunities by using the “Turn-Around” technique. I often notice travelers are out walking among ruins, down a boulevard, along a trail or a shore line, and it’s clear they have tunnel vision. I know that because as they walk, they never “turn around” to see what they’re missing.

It’s absolutely amazing what you can miss by never turning around. I probably make 20 percent of my photographs while traveling by turning around and finding something I missed completely or seeing a landmark or other sight with a more interesting point of view than most see.

When in Iceland not long ago, for example, I was photographing at Djúpalónssandur beach. I did my usual “Turn-Around” and found a great view of the black lava rock beach, unseen by most visiting there, with interesting lava formations and the famous Snæfellsjökull volcano in the distant background.

For me, the benefits of “Turn-Around” are felt every day I make travel photographs.

When making family photographs while traveling and at other times, adults often forget that they are generally taller than their children. In photography, that can mean unexpected results when making images of children alone or as part of a group. A taller adult holding the camera looks down on shorter children; instead of seeing the children’s faces, the camera sees the tops of their heads.

This affect can also be seen when adult group photos are made with some adults standing behind others who are seated. By standing straight and tall, the photographer will be catching the tops of the heads of the seated adults.

My rule of thumb is to get my camera down to the level of children’s faces, and for groups with some seated and some standing, to split the difference between their effective heights when holding and pointing my camera.

In churches, many museums and other interior spaces, lighting, while satisfactory for eyes, is not always conducive for bright, good-looking photographs without challenging the technique and skill of the photographer and/or the capability of the camera/lens.

Some of today’s more advanced DSLR cameras can have their sensor raised to a high sensitivity (ISO 4,000 or more) with little noise in the image, but most cameras aren’t that capable at this time. As a result, for many travelers to capture these photos where the subject is too far away for a flash to be effective, a very slow shutter speed is used, one that requires some camera/lens support, such as a tripod.

Unfortunately, most of these locations don’t permit tripods to be used. There are remedies, however. If your camera/lens has optical stabilization or vibration reduction, turn it on. In churches, I’ve often supported my camera/lens on the tops of pews. In other locations, I’ve held my camera/lens against pillars and walls, with the back of my hand as a buffer. Just be careful about what you use for support; you don’t want to damage anything. Additionally, it’s always a good idea to develop a good camera “hand-holding” technique.

In many museums, glass cases and covers are used to protect parts of their collections. Light from the museums’ own lighting and from camera flashes will, more often than not, reflect and obscure the subjects of the photographs for which the lighting is intended.

For photographers who aren’t using flashes built into their camera, the reflectivity problem can be eliminated or substantially mitigated by removing the flash from the camera and lighting from an angle which won’t reflect back directly to the camera. Of course, that won’t help reflections from the museums’ own lighting, nor all those using cameras with built-in flash units.

For those cameras, and when museum lighting is a problem, photographers can do two things. First, turn off the flash and instead use a higher ISO setting to increase the digital camera’s sensor sensitivity. Then, eliminate the problem of museum lighting reflectivity by using a flexible rubber lens’ hood, which can virtually seal the lens against the glass to eliminate reflection entering the lens, yet not damage or mark the glass.

Ned Levi is a professional travel photographer. You can view some of Ned’s travel and other photos at NSL Photography, or get more travel photography advice at the NSL Photography Blog.