How to Take Pictures While on a Vacation

I went to Tokyo and came back with no pictures.

I knew that taking good pictures would take significant time and effort, taking them away from experiencing Japan. I brought my camera gear, but I decided to leave it in the hotel room and explore Tokyo without it. I went to the one of the best places I had ever visited and I had no pictures to prove it.

A year later, I planned a trip to Yogyakarta, Indonesia–the city where I grew up. I decided I couldn’t let what happened with Japan trip happen with this trip.

Camera Gear

I brought the following with me to the trip to Yogyakarta which I carried around in a messenger bag.

  • Nikon D750 (a full frame camera)
  • NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4
  • NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4
  • iPhone 7 Plus
  • Polarizer
  • 10-Stop ND filter
  • Cleaning kit
  • Camera battery x 2
  • Memory card (handful)


ISO 10,000 at work.

I had other cameras that were smaller and lighter (D90 and D40) but I wanted the high ISO capability of Nikon D750 since I would take pictures without a tripod (notice I didn’t carry one) and my 16-36mm f/4 wouldn’t be fast enough for a low light condition. The 24 megapixels of resolution would also accommodate cropping when I couldn’t slow down to compose properly.

My tour guide took this picture for me with my iPhone.

iPhone 7 Plus proved to be handy since I didn’t always carry my DSLR or I didn’t bother to pull it out of the bag. I also let my tour guide take several pictures for me with the phone and he felt home. I took one third of my pictures with the phone during this trip–most of them were food pictures.


A wide-angle shot like the one taken with a 16-35mm would make my pictures stand out from ones taken by casual snapshooters.

A fast-paced action in a tight space necessitates a wide-angle lens.

The 16-35mm lens had a maximum aperture of  f/4. Any faster than that (such as f/2.8) will result in a bulkier and heavier setup.

I planned to take food shots with the 50mm lens. The focal length turned out too narrow to take pictures of food on a table without getting up. There weren’t any other opportunities to use this lens either; the lens was pretty much unused. For future opportunities, I would bring a fast 35mm instead if I got one.


Rich-colored water.

I knew I would go to the beach; hence, the polarizer. The polarizer helped reduce the reflection on the surface of the water and brought richer color of the water. I could have used the polarizer somewhere else if only it had been hassle-free to screw it on.

With the 10-stop ND filter, I thought I would take pictures of passing traffic in the evening at some cool spot in the city; the opportunity never came. This filter doesn’t take too much space at all, though, so it never hurts to always pack it.

Shooting Strategy

I had to forgo the mindset that every picture I took had to be portfolio-worthy. The goal to take pictures was to document my vacation; memory would fade and these pictures would repaint the scenes when I couldn’t remember them.

Rule of third–check, strong foreground–check, light–good enough!

I definitely couldn’t linger in one location to find the best spot or to wait for the perfect light. I was with other people and they wouldn’t appreciate having to wait for me. Nevertheless, a good photo composition was always applicable–no tourist shot, please–even when I was on so-so spot and the light was nothing to talk about.

When among other tourists, include them to create a livelier (as opposed to a deserted, solitude) scene

Speaking of tourists, I was excited to include people in the frame. Placing something familiar (in this case humans) in a landscape shot helped reveal the size and scale of other elements in the frame.

Many soft, blurry, and badly composed pictures were taken in this cave.

Plenty of times I didn’t even have a second to compose a picture; I simply took so many shots hoping one of them would be a keeper. And sometimes I had to settle with  a slightly soft picture.

Serve warm.

And then there was the iPhone which I used to take all the pictures of the food. One snap and that was enough–couldn’t let the food go cold.

Photos Taken Statistics

I include both the count of all pictures and my picks. All includes duplicate shots of the same scenes and bad shots (way too soft, composition didn’t work, uninteresting subjects, etc). Picks count doesn’t include bad photos, or duplicate shots of the same scene.

Photos Count by Camera
Nikon D750 iPhone 7 Plus Total
All 493 (56%) 387 (44%) 880
Picks 126 (65%) 68 (35%) 194
Photos Count by Lens
50mm 16-35mm iPhone 7 Plus Total
All 4 (0%) 489 (56%) 387 (44%) 880
Picks 2 (1%) 124 (64%) 35 (68%) 194

Lessons Learned

Take as many pictures with a DSLR as opposed to with an iPhone because I could tell the difference in quality when I printed them in a photo book.

Shooting fast-paced in dim lighting, use manual so that the shutter speed won’t go too slow and make pictures soft.

Don’t hesitate to use a high ISO; a sharp, grainy picture is better than a blurry, clean picture.

Don’t forget to take picture of the food before you eat it. LOL

Bring a 35mm prime lens instead of a 50mm.

Inspect lens for any dirt more frequently.

When the horizon is visible, keep it level.

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