Art of Being Photographed

We scroll through feeds of vacation photos and very few catch our eye. What makes our thumb stop? Why do we look at one, and smile?

Our vacation photos usually look like this: everyone lined up in a row in front of a series of scenic backgrounds. Either we are tiny figures on a postcard view, or our bodies block the scene we are trying to show. The message is ‘look, everybody, we are standing here, in this place we’ve gone to.’

This is not going to catch our eye. And it doesn’t show anyone at their best. What could the two friends at these Mayan ruins have done? They could blend in with the scene in a more interesting way. Or they could try a photo that tells a story about their adventure. Let’s see how to look good in vacation photos–your holiday photos, for our UK readers–and make them as memorable as your trip.

Blend In with the Setting

Here are three ways to break out of the tourist photo cliché while posing with historical sites and famous landscapes.

Engage with your surroundings

The easiest option on vacation is to stand in front of a postcard panorama, but it risks looking like a flat backdrop. How can you make yourself become part of the scene?

Look around for a spot with a more human scale. You want to fit into the setting and get close to it. We don’t need to see the entire landscape to know you are on vacation.

A photo in which you have become part of the scene catches our eye and lets us share your experience of being there. Find a place where you can be framed or enclosed by your setting.

If you pose where you have lines receding into the distance behind you rather than a flat background, you will look more naturally part of the space. Or pose where you can have something in the foreground in front of you.

Reaching out and touching something in your environment will make you look more comfortable in your surroundings. The gesture automatically shifts your stance and makes you bend your joints (something that is always flattering in a photo).

Use your body language in vacation photos

Travelers choose to be photographed at a particular place for a reason. Try angling yourself towards whatever view is prompting you to want a photo. You can turn one shoulder and hip towards the camera in a slight angle, or you can turn further to make yourself look narrower and more streamlined.

Here our tourists want to show that they are at the art museum in Dubai. We can’t really appreciate this because they are blocking the scene from our view.

It will help if they angle their bodies towards something interesting. Turning all the way and looking back at the camera over their shoulders inserts them even more into the scene.

Here they are enclosed by the setting. Each of them sits in a different pose and angle, which looks much more relaxed than lining up in a row. What they will remember from this photo is what they did there, sitting and looking out over the water.

Angle towards the view. Otherwise the picture is uncomfortable, as though you are turning your back and are about to walk off.

Looking at something in your setting also engages with the scene. We will follow your gaze to see what you are looking at. As with angling, you should look towards the interesting aspect of the location.

Here’s an example with a blank space. Even if there is nothing to see, we expect the person in the photo to be looking either at us or towards the remaining space in the photo, not away.

Clear away clutter

Hide your half-empty bottle of water and bulky bags to help you blend in. You can put them on the ground, at the feet of whoever is the photographer—they will be safely in your field of vision but the camera can’t see them.

And take off your sunglasses. A few photos of you wearing sunglasses is fine, but try some without, especially if some of the group are wearing sunglasses and some aren’t.


It may mean that you get some photos where you are squinting from the sun. But the photos showing your faces and your expressions will end up holding much more meaning.

Popular destinations tend to have a lot of visual clutter in themselves. Crop a photo like this to a more human scale and lose the crowds of tourists.

Here the background is still extravagant, and we still get the message of how grandiose this palace in St. Petersburg really is.

Tell a story with your vacation photos

A photo that tells a story makes us stop and look. We can always google an image of a historical site; your photos are most interesting to your friends and family when they are about you, and tell the story of your experience. You can do it by focusing on what’s unique about your trip, and by focusing on action.

Show what’s unique

Great vacation photos tell us why the vacation is worth posting about. Is it about old friends? Family? Luxury? Nature? Exploring a new culture? Why in the world did you go there?

Standing in front of a landscape may just not do it. Post photos that enact your story, whether it is meeting wolves in the Artic or traveling through the desert.

There will be unique photo opportunities on any vacation as you physically do things, or your family or group do things together, like trying on hats in a street market or barbequing in the backyard. Look for moments that relate to where you are.

Often, what makes a vacation special is who we are with–relationships are unique. Interaction among the people in the photo hints at a story and makes it more interesting.

Touch catches our attention. If it’s an affectionate relationship, show it.

Eye contact within a photo makes us automatically follow your gaze. We look at your expressions and construct a story about what you are feeling.

Add action to your story

Action intrigues us. Our eyes are very alert to movement, even if it’s only the suggestion of movement. Which photo stays longer in your mind?

We all look better when we are contracting our muscles and using them. We look more fit and alive.

Swing your skirt, toss your hair, use your body in some way to animate your vacation and holiday photos.

Even a simple gesture with your hand mid-air creates energy in the photo.

You can use wind and water to add action to your photos.

Make your vacation photos special. By engaging with your surroundings you take us with you to these places. By showing us stories of what happened there you give us a real sense of your travels. These photos will spark your own memories of your trip, and end up being the photos you treasure.

Learn More

Avoid a Double Chin in Photos: The Peach Technique will show you how to avoid a double chin in your photos.

Visit the Learn How page to see all the articles.


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