Friday, May 30, 2014

Our Trip to Surf City

The week before Memorial Day, Chris and I packed ourselves and our puppy into a car and hit the open road. Well, less open than full of traffic. But at the end of our two day (14 hours of driving) trip, we made it to North Carolina, where we spent a week with my family.

We really had a lot of fun and enjoyed getting to spend time with everyone. The condo was great, the area was nice, and the beach was gorgeous. Oh and the weather was completely perfect, which we we worried about because we were still in "value season." A lot of the attractions were still closed that week, so that was a bummer for the kids, but for beach bums like Chris and I, all we needed was some sunshine and good waves.

Once we got back, I created a Dropbox folder so we could all save our pictures somewhere everyone could access them. It's so fun to see the trip through other people's lenses. I totally missed the "babies eating sand" adventure, so it was nice to get to see it after the fact. lol
Picture courtesy of Andrea Worsham.
One thing my mom very sweetly mentioned was that my pictures all looked really great. (Aww shucks, you're making me blush!) I do have a pretty nice camera. It's a Canon PowerShot 12.1 megapixel camera with 20x optical zoom. Definitely not a professional camera. No DSLR here, but it gets the job done. The huge optical zoom can make a really big difference in capturing clear pictures from far away.

But the other reason I think she liked my photos so well is because well, I have a lot of experience snapping pictures. And especially, travel pictures. After you come back from a trip or two and are disappointed with the photo memories you have of your adventures, you learn pretty quickly what you need to do to get the right pictures.

So while I am by no means a professional, I thought I would share a few of my personal tips on how to take nice vacation pictures. Mostly things I've learned from trial and error or by accident (sometimes that's the best way to learn). So while you peruse my North Carolina vacation photos, hopefully you'll enjoy reading my tips, and at very least, learn what not to do. haha

Oh, also, some of these are pictures from my cell phone. Because sometimes my camera wasn't handy but my cell phone was. My thought is that a grainy picture is better than no picture. And sometimes cell phone shots even turn out pretty nice. Never as good as a real camera (believe me, I've tried everything) but it's still possible to get decent pictures. So let's call this the first tip:

1. Know when to use your cell phone camera. See that beautiful sunset over the ocean? Or the hula dancers just after twilight? How about your dog playing tug-o-war with your friend? Well you better memorize the scene because if you try to take that picture with your cell phone camera, you're bound to be disappointed. In my experience, cell phones are not the best for action shots or lighting issues. If the lighting is funky and you have the time to go grab your real camera, by all means do it. Obviously with action shots you may not have those extra couple minutes, but it honestly may be better to just enjoy the moment in person than try to capture it horribly on your cell phone. Sometimes it works out for the best, but not often. Tricky shots deserve a real camera.

For the picture below, I only had a couple seconds to grab my phone and snap this picture, so I went for it. Sure, the light at the bottom is blown out and Ripley is pretty fuzzy, but it's passable. And it's a cute memory, so it was worth it to take the picture on my cell phone. It wasn't really an action shot and the lighting was mediocre, so in this case, I say go for it. Also, I see Ripley lick Chris all the time, so I wasn't missing out on much by holding the phone in front of my face.

Here's another cell phone shot. Pretty fuzzy. Not sure why I didn't grab my actual camera for this one, but there ya go. Lesson learned. In this picture, Ripley was showing me his unhappy face. He did not enjoy riding in his crate. Can you say "lapdog"?
2. Tell the story. On this trip, Chris asked me why I was taking pictures of him and Ripley while we were just driving to North Carolina. And I told him I was documenting Ripley's first road trip. And shortly after that, I captured that first picture of Ripley licking Chris's nose, a picture that to me, tells the story of how grateful Ripley was that Chris pulled him out of the crate and let him ride on his lap in the passenger seat. It's one of my favorite shots, not because of the stellar quality, but because it reminds me of this little moment of the trip that would otherwise be forgettable. Sometimes those are the moments that fill in the little details and complete the story of your vacation. And they often get overlooked in vacation photos, which is a shame. I love little details like that.
3. Follow my favorite writing advice from Ernest Hemingway: "Write drunk; edit sober." In other words, when it comes to taking pictures, snap them freely. Take 10 or 15 pictures if you're not sure you're getting a good one. Play with the settings if you need to and just try stuff out. Don't hold back when you're in picture-taking mode. Just make sure you have a large SD card (a 32GB card is sooooo worth the money) and you can take pictures until your battery gives out on you. Then, when you get home, pull the massive collection of pictures up on the computer screen and "edit" away (ie. delete the bad pictures and Photoshop the decent ones). For every picture I post here, I probably took between three and ten alternates that either got trashed or filed away later.
4. Zoom out. I see a lot of vacation photos of people's faces and not much else. You can't even tell where they are or what they're doing. So then, they're not really vacation photos, are they? Capture your surroundings to get a sense of the place and tell that story I mentioned earlier. With today's camera's having such high megapixels, you can usually end up cropping the picture to get in a little closer without the photo getting grainy. In fact, sometimes I prefer to crop pictures after the fact instead of using the zoom on the camera (this is especially true for cell phone camera, which don't have optical zoom). Digital zoom is basically worthless, so get the wider shot and enjoy the scenery or crop it out later. I promise that you won't forget what your face looks like just because you can't make it out in the photo, like the one below. You can just barely see Chris in the middle of the picture. But what a fun shot! I've got shallow water, two rows of waves, that deep teal ocean, all that sky, and about 1% of the picture is Chris. But I really like the picture because again, it tells a story. It reminds me what it was like to stand there as the waves crashed against my feet, watching Chris plunge into the ocean.
5. Pop a squat. Everyone stands up and takes pictures around them, holding the camera at eye level. And honestly, it can get a little boring. Plus, you're missing out on all the other wonderful perspectives out there. Think of your toddler and how she's seeing the world. Pretty different than how you see it. Same with pets. I really like this picture below that I took of Ripley (yes, I was squatting). By getting down at his level, I can see in this picture how he was seeing the beach, longing to play with the other dogs, maybe curious about the underside of the pier. That feeling of being so close to the sand.
6. Hand your camera off. I used to always feel weird asking someone else, even Chris, to take a picture of me. Like I was conceited or something. But the truth is, you don't want to get home and realize you were behind the camera in every shot and now you have no evidence that you were even on the vacation. When Chris and I were backpacking through Europe, I would take a picture of him in front of a cool fountain or the ocean or whatever, and then I'd hand him the camera and ask if he would take one of me. And I'm glad I did. Looking back on those pictures, I'm glad to see myself in them. And sometimes we would ask a stranger to take a picture of the two of us together, and those are some of my favorite pictures.
7. Embrace the weird. Go for the silly faces from time to time, even if you're standing in front of a church. Or snap the awkward selfie so you can get a picture of the guy with the mullet behind you. Why? Because life's too short and you gotta laugh as often as you can.
8. If you like it, it's a good picture. You're taking pictures to remember your trip. And no matter how much you love showing them off to family and friends, those pictures are for YOU. So take the pictures you want to see and remember, and forget about everything else. So what if the lighting is terrible and the edges are blurry and everyone else in the picture is making a weird face. If you enjoy the picture, it's a keeper.
9. Your face isn't important. Ok, sure. I like smiley pictures too. I take lots of them just like everyone (just scroll up if you want proof). But don't forget to round out that story of yours with some pictures of people from other angles, doing other things. Poses are fine, but candid moments are where the story live. In the picture below, Nick is holding Reese on her fourth birthday. He and Emily just wrote "Happy Birthday Reese" in the sand to surprise her and now he's showing her the message. I don't even need the words in the shot for this to be a beautiful picture. It's beautiful because the moment is so beautiful. Nick and Emily were so sweet to do that for their daughter and Reese was so captivated by the writing in the sand. For me, this picture captures that.
The Butterfly House at the NC Aquarium
10. Go to fun places. Sounds like a no-brainer, but if you want good vacation photos, go somewhere photo worthy. Even if it's just a day trip to the aquarium or a stroll through a really nice park, that's where you get more of the good stuff. 100 pictures of your hotel is gonna get stale pretty quickly.
I have no advice about the picture below. Ripley climbed in there himself and just waited for me to get the camera and take his picture. Totally random and perfect. So I guess my advice would be to cross your fingers and hope your dog has an eye for photography.
11. Look for art. I sometimes I think about what I'd like to see hanging on my wall and then try to identify it in real life. When I saw Andrea sitting there watching the sunset, I thought, "She looks like a model in a magazine or something." So I framed the picture like I would see it in an ad. I know that's not the same as art, but you get what I'm saying. Look for photo opportunities that mimic things you see in frames, magazines, etc. Hell, if you've got a picture you like, memorize the composition before your trip and try to recreate it, like pictures of flowers or a cute shot of kids rolling in the grass, or even the Mona Lisa. If you like it, chances are the inspiration you take from it will turn into a great picture.
12. Get to know your camera. When I got this new camera last year, I took a few weeks before our trip to Hawaii to figure out some of the different settings I thought would be useful. So they were fresh in my mind and I actually ended up taking advantage of the "Handheld night mode" and the "burst shot mode." But more than that, figure out if your camera tends to shoot pictures too light or too dark and how to compensate. Is there a long delay or is it pretty quick to capture the photo? Do you know how to quickly turn the flash on and off? One thing that I love about my camera is that it's set to take in a lot of light, so in low-light conditions, I can still get decently bright pictures. So this means I don't have to waste time testing to see if the flash would be better at times like the one below, when night is rapidly approaching.
So those are my favorites from my camera. Not perfect, but perfect for me. Hope the tips for taking nice vacation photos were helpful. It was fun to go back and think about all my other vacations and the photos that came out of them.

And also! My family took some wonderful vacation pictures too! Here's a few of my favorite shots.
Love this one because you can see the house we rented in the background, while you can also see what Adam and Nick were up to in the foreground.
Just try and tell me these two aren't going to be sitting at a cafe in a city somewhere when they're 19 or 20, wearing those big sunglasses.
Ok, so now I'm really done posting pictures now. It took me a week to finish this and I need to be done. Now. haha