How To Take Better Pictures On Your Cruise

Who doesn't want to have great photo memories of their cruise vacation? Everyone today has access to photo and video technology that[end] our parents could not even dream of. It was not that long ago that good photos required an expensive, heavy, and complicated SLR camera, not to mention fumbling with rolls of 35mm film. 

Tip One: Select The Best Camera For You

Surprisingly, this is probably the least important tip to getting good pictures. Even smartphones have built-in cameras with capabilities as good as what some cameras had just a decade ago. However, because of the tiny lenses used in smartphone cameras (including iPhone, iPod, iPad and others), there are limitations. These device cameras may be good for spontaneous snapshots, but for maximum photographic creativity, a stand-alone digital camera is highly recommended. And, while a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) with interchangeable lenses will give you the most horsepower, even today's modestly-priced point-and-shoot digital travel cameras can produce amazing photos.

More important than the camera you use is your knowledge of your camera's features and how best to utilize them. If you are looking for a good Internet resource to compare camera reviews, check out Gordon Laing's website CameraLabs.

Tip Two: Understand Lighting

The word "photography" comes from the Greek and actually means "drawing with light." Understanding light and how it impacts the quality of your photos is probably the most important aspect of good photography. You will get your best portraits (photos of people's faces) outdoors on a cloudy day, or under a shade tree on a bright sunny day. Taking a portrait outdoors in sunny conditions will most likely cause deep shadows to be cast under the subject's eyes. If you shoot a subject looking into the sun, you may get rid of shadows, but your subject will usually be squinting from the bright light. If the sun is behind them, you may end up with nothing more than a silhouette against a bright background. You can mitigate some of the shadow effect by using a fill flash when shooting in sunny conditions. It may seem strange to use a flash when shooting a photo on a bright day, but it is the best way to have the flash fill in shadows.

Photos in bright sunlight can cause shadows

The best times to take photos are early morning (sunrise) and late afternoon (sunset). These "magic hours" are when the sunlight is diminished somewhat and casts long and dramatic shadows. Portraits taken at this time will be much "warmer" and more pleasing.

Tip Three: Reduce Blurry Images

One of the biggest complaints people have with their photos is blurry images. The main reason for blur is camera shake caused by the slightest movement of the camera when the photo is taken. Even taking a breath while taking the photo can cause the camera to move. If you understand what causes a blurry image, you can adjust your techniques to avoid it. As is the case with many factors of good photography, blur is also a by-product of light, or the lack thereof. The less light you have available, the longer your camera must keep the shutter open to let in more light to take a picture (assuming you are using the Auto or iAuto mode). This is referred to as a 'slow shutter speed', say 1/60th of a second or lower. Your camera may automatically adjust your shutter speed to compensate for low light conditions. Therefore, the lower the light, the longer the shutter stays open and the greater the camera's sensitivity to camera shake. On a bright, sunny day, camera shake is not much of an issue. However, try taking a photo indoors without a flash and you will see that you are more likely to get a blurry image.

Tip Four: Choose The Correct Mode

Most cameras, even pocket digital cameras, allow you to manually select from a variety of shooting "modes". Modes are usually selected using a Mode Dial on top of the camera, or from a menu on the camera's screen. These modes will adjust your camera's settings (shutter speed, ISO, aperture, etc.) based on the type of photo you are trying to shoot. For example, in Sportmode (usually identified by a running man icon), the camera will use a very fast shutter speed in order to freeze the action and will also adjust ISO and aperture to compensate. In Portraitmode, the camera may adjust the aperture in an attempt to blur the background, making the person in the photo stand out. When you put your camera into Auto or iAuto mode, the camera will try to select the appropriate mode based on what it thinks you are trying to do. If you are in a hurry, or don't have time to select a mode, the auto setting is acceptable as a fallback, but you are always better off selecting the specific mode for the type of photo you are shooting. Take some time to familiarize yourself with your camera's modes. Read the manual that came with your camera and keep it handy for reference.

Tip Five: Rule of Thirds

Imagine that your picture is divided into thirds, horizontally and vertically. The rule of thirds suggests that we align our subject with one of the points where the lines intersect. That means our subject is one third of the way “into” the picture – from either the top or bottom, and from either the left or right. In other words, prevent the subject from being in the middle of the screen.

See how the lines intersect on the subject's eye?

See how the lines intersect on the subject's eye?

I use the rule of thirds when composing a photo of a single subject, such as a portrait (like above). However, if you are composing a group photo, this rule becomes less important. Applying the rule of thirds makes photos less "static" and more pleasing to the eye. Now that you are aware of this rule, you will begin to notice that even in television programming, they will often use the rule of thirds when shooting scenes

Many cameras will have an option to display a rule of thirds grid (like the one shown in the photo) in the camera's viewfinder or screen to help you frame your shots. Check your display settings for this option.

Tip Six: Use a Tripod

The best way to avoid a blurry image is to use a tripod to keep the camera steady. With a tripod on a solid surface you can even take photos in near darkness and still get good results. You can also use an object such as a table or a chair to steady the camera if a tripod is not available. Even a small beanbag or small cloth bag filled with grains of rice will work nicely. To get good photos at dinner on a cruise ship, carry a small tabletop tripod. These are cheap and very inconspicuous. And, yes, they make tabletop tripods for your iPhone!

Tip Seven: Use the Timer Function

Another tip for reducing camera shake when taking photos is to use the camera's self-timer. This is especially useful when shooting in very low light conditions, where even the subtle motion of your finger tapping the shutter-release button can cause blur. I almost always use the timer when shooting photos using my tripod. Most cameras have a timer with a 2-second and 10-second wait time before the shutter is released. The 10-second timer is good if you want to be in the picture, such as a group photo. Ten seconds will give you plenty of time to get into the group before the camera snaps the shot.

Tip Eight: Bring Extra Memory Cards

If your camera uses memory cards to store photos, you should always travel with at least three of these cards. Memory cards are very inexpensive today. I use 32 gb SDHC cards in my Panasonic Lumix and Canon EOS 70D camera. Even at maximum resolution, I can fit hundreds of photos on a single card. I travel with a laptop computer and I always dump my photos off my camera's memory card to my laptop each night, then clear the memory card for the next day's photo taking.

Camera memory cards  | CruiseReport

If you don't have a computer to transfer photos to, then you need to travel with enough memory cards to hold all of the photos you will take on your vacation. Most cruise ships will sell memory cards in their photo shop, but you will pay three times the price of what you can buy these cards for at Walmart, eBay or Amazon.

Tip Nine: Bring Extra Batteries

There's nothing worse than being on an excursion and having your camera shut down because the battery is completely dead! I always carry an extra fully-charged battery when I leave the ship for an excursion. In fact, I have both an extra battery and an extra memory card. The ability to change a battery and replace a memory card on-the-fly is another advantage of a stand-alone camera for photo taking compared to a cell phone.

Tip Ten: Take LOTS of Photos

When you see something interesting, shoot several photos of it. Odds are that at least one of them will be good. This is a "brute force" method of getting good photos, but all professional photographers will take multiple shots of the same scene. Don't assume that every shot will turn out perfect. One of the biggest advantages of digital cameras is the ability to shoot an unlimited number of photos and just throw away the bad ones. Back "in the day", you could spend hundreds of dollars on film and developing just to get a handful of good pictures. I remember on my first cruise, I spent nearly $400 on developing of film! Compare that to the cost of three SD cards (about $20 each), and the SD cards can be used over and over again!

When we are on assignment for CruiseReport, we shoot hundreds of photos each day of the cruise for the blog and review. Of course, only a handful of pictures are good enough to make it to the web.

Tip Eleven: Avoid Using Your iPad

I see lots of people using iPads to take photos on vacation. I would hesitate to do that. First, the iPad is clunky and hard to hold on to. You have to hold the slippery iPad in one hand and tap the screen with the other to take a photo. If you drop it, it's toast. Use a camera to take pictures and use your iPad to store and look at the photos.

Tip Twelve: Know How To Turn Off Flash

Spend a few minutes to learn how to turn OFF your camera's flash. I am always amazed when watching a sporting event on television to see how many flashes go off in the crowd. Your camera's flash is only effective up to about 10 feet, so if you are shooting a photo of a football game from 60 yards away, the flash does nothing more than waste battery power. Also, many museums and other venues require that you turn off your camera's flash. Nothing is more annoying than when someone continues to use their flash because they simply do not know how to turn it off. If you cannot figure out how to turn off your flash, go to the ship's photo studio and ask them for help. Or, better yet, read your camera's manual.

Tip Thirteen: Don't Shoot Through Glass

I see this one all the time. People on motor coaches are trying to shoot a photo of something outside through the window of the coach. This presents a host of problems. First, odds are pretty good that the window is dirty, which will affect the quality of the photo. If there is debris or water droplets on the window, the camera's auto-focus may try to focus on the debris on the glass, which means the subject you are trying to shoot will be out of focus. The next problem is reflection. You will most likely end up with a nice picture of the camera's reflection on the glass. If you have your flash turned on when you shoot through a bus window, you will end up with a picture of a bright light being reflected off the glass.

If you DO see something you absolutely have to shoot through glass, (1) make sure you have your flash turned off, (2) find the cleanest part of the window to shoot through, (3) press the barrel of your lens right up to the glass before you shoot the picture. Doing these three things will reduce the likelihood that you will get a picture of a reflection.

Tip Fourteen: Use Flash to Shoot Indoors

A photo taken indoors using flash is the hardest type of photo to shoot, in my opinion. However, it is inevitable that, at some point, you will have to use your flash. The challenge is getting the right amount of light from the flash so that that your subject is not under-exposed or over-exposed. Some cameras will allow you to adjust the amount of flash the camera produces. Here again, it helps to know your camera. After you shoot a flash photo, play the image on the camera's screen to see if it is exposed properly. If it is under-exposed (too dark), move closer to your subject and try again. If it is over-exposed (too bright), move farther away and shoot another.

Tip Fifteen: Understand Resolution

"Pixels" are little blocks of color that make up digital images. A 'megapixel' refers to one million pixels. It is not uncommon for a modern camera to shoot 16 or even 20 megapixel photos. Therefore, a 5-megapixel camera will produce a photo with 5 million pixels. Most cameras will allow you to select different resolutions (modify the number of megapixels). The advantage of a higher resolution (more mexapixels) is the ability to zoom in on portions of the photo without losing quality, or, to crop the image and retain high-quality (see example below). The disadvantage of high-resolution images is that they are larger in size and take up more space on your memory card.




At CruiseReport, we always shoot at the highest resolution because storage space is not an issue. Even at 20 megapixels, we can store hundreds of shots on a 32 gigabyte (a gigabyte is one billion bytes) memory card. And, we transfer our images to a computer each evening, then erase the memory card for use the next day. However, if you are planning to maintain all of your photos on a single memory card for an entire cruise, you may need to consider shooting at a lower resolution to conserve storage space. For most consumers, a slightly lower setting, say 8 or 9 megapixels should be more than adequate for producing a good photo.

BONUS TIP: Keep Your Subject Close

This tip applies a scenario where you want to shoot a photo of a person next to a monument or other large point of interest. We see people all the time shooting photos from a distance of 100 feet or more, trying to get the monument and the person in the same photo. The problem with this approach is, you can see the monument or point of interest, but the person is so tiny that you can't even tell who it is. Below is a photo of Rickee in front of a large mural in Vienne, France. In the first photo, she is so far away that it is hard to recognize her.

Subject too far from camera

Subject too far from camera

A better technique is to put your subject in the foreground, with the point-of-interest (in this case, the mural) in the background (see photo below). This will prevent your subject from getting lost.

Keep your subject close to the camera and use monument as a background

Keep your subject close to the camera and use monument as a background

Imagine that you are trying to get a photo of someone in the same shot as the Eiffel Tower. You will have to be several hundred feet from the Eiffel Tower to get the whole structure in the photo. Using the first method, your subject would be so tiny that you would not even see them in the photo. By placing your subject in the foreground, you can have the Eiffel Tower over their shoulder in the background.

The challenge you have when shooting a photo using this technique is keeping the foreground (subject) and background (monument) in focus. You will want maximum depth-of-field for this type of photo so, a smaller aperture (f/16 or smaller) should do the trick. If you have SCN presents on a DSLR or pocket digital camera, trying using the Landscape setting.

If you have any comments, or any photography tips of your own, please share them using the comments area below.

Originally posted on: 4/16/2015