Take Your Best Shots: Tips From the BT Editors

By Valerie Rains
March 11, 2011
Ralph Velasco/myBudgtTravel
Good travel photos last a lifetime, but taking them is hardly a snap. To expand on last March’s photo tutorial, we dreamed up a set of even more challenging photographic scenarios and looked to the experts—you—for solutions. With these editors’ tips and visual examples pulled from readers’ journals on BudgetTravel.com, you’re sure to come home with images you actually want to hang.

Use these editors' tips and visual examples pulled from readers' journals on BudgetTravel.com, you're sure to come home with images you actually want to hang.



Common Mistake: Trying to squeeze a sweeping landscape into one measly frame.
For Best Results:
Check your camera for a stitching function, which displays a guide to help you nail a smooth, multishot panorama. They're built into many point-and-shoot cameras and even sold as smartphone apps (like Pano for the iPhone, $3). Even without this feature, anyone can improvise a similar sequence by using a tripod or a ledge for support while panning across the horizon and clicking away.
Our Reader Pick: Joe Routon, of Haddonfield, N.J., combined five shots to get this expansive Florentine scene. His progression appears seamless. Don't sweat it, though, if yours doesn't. Embrace the rough edges: A row of slightly off-kilter shots has a certain collage-like charm


SO YOU WANT TO SHOOT... An Iconic Façade

Common Mistake: Overlooking the intricate details.
For Best Results: Seek out the building's most notable elements and snap those—and only those.
Our Reader Pick: Rochester, N.Y., resident Stanley Hattman's photo of these twisting, ochre forms (chimneys atop Antoni Gaudí's La Pedrera apartment building in Barcelona) works in two ways. On one level, it captures a typical Gaudí architectural feature, but it also stands alone as an abstract image with its own appeal. The camera Hattman used was nothing fancy. "But it has a zoom, which I needed to get this shot," he says. When camera shopping, go for one with optical zoom, not just digital—you'll get vastly sharper photographs.


SO YOU WANT TO SHOOT... Reflections

Common Mistake: Pulling back to snap both an object and its double.
For Best Results: If you zero in on just the reflection, you'll walk away with a far more surprising photo.
Our Reader Pick: Ralph Velasco, of Corona del Mar, Calif., took this picture of a cluster of canoes on the Ljubljanica River in Slovenia. "I'll make an effort to walk around any reflective surface—the mirrors of scooters, the chrome of parked cars, shop windows—to see if there's a chance to take something that isn't the typical postcard shot," Velasco says. Another benefit of focusing on reflections: color variation. When you include two versions of the same thing, you get a whole lot of the same palette. But here, the bright orange of the canoes pops against the blue of the water and the paler streak of the reflected buildings.


SO YOU WANT TO SHOOT... A Group Portrait

Common Mistake: Just, you know, standing there.
For Best Results: Don't fight the temptation to ham it up—after all, you're on vacation. If you give every person in the group a pose to strike (however hokey), you'll ensure everyone is engaged and alert.
Our Reader Pick: Kyle Murphy, of Redondo Beach, Calif., made a pact with his Nile adventure-tour cohorts that they wouldn't take any overtly touristy snapshots. That didn't last long. When a fellow Giza visitor took two normal pics of the group, then suggested they act out "Walk Like an Egyptian," Murphy recalls: "Not one of us even hesitated."


SO YOU WANT TO SHOOT... A Memorable Meal

Common Mistake: Shooting down on a plate from directly above.
For Best Results: Hold your camera at a slight angle to the food and tweak the place setting to play up atmospheric details.
Our Reader Pick: Lynn Farrell, of Scottsdale, Ariz., staged her shot of grilled calamari at the Merolagia restaurant in Mykonos, Greece, to take in the no-frills paper place mat, the distinctive glassware, and the beer bottle in the background. "I made sure the bottle was turned so that you could see the Greek label," Farrell says, "and shifted the plate so that one of the corners came toward the camera." Above all, keep in mind that the best meals are rarely just about the food; they're as much about that hilarious waiter, the incredible view, and the botched menu translations as any individual dish. The photo you take should remind you of the complete experience.


SO YOU WANT TO SHOOT... Your Hotel Room

Common Mistake: Relying on lamps for illumination.
For Best Results: Go natural. Identify when your room gets the best sunlight-mornings and late afternoons are often the most flattering-then throw back the curtains and turn off your camera's flash.
Our Reader Pick: For Donna Carroll, of Boca Raton, Fla., the prime time to shoot her west-facing room at South Africa's Cape Town Ritz Hotel was just before sunset. "When I checked into the hotel, the mountain was covered in clouds, but by afternoon, the weather had cleared," Carroll says. Waiting for the light offered the added benefit of geographic context: Carroll's photo combines her room's interior with a striking cityscape in a single shot.


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Anthony Bourdain: Find Great Local Cuisine

If there's one man who's made a business of pushing culinary boundaries, it's Anthony Bourdain. His now-classic television series, No Reservations, begins its seventh season this month, continuing the intrepid eater's global quest for unforgettable food. From Beirut to Kerala, the chef and author has tried his share of stomach-churning specialties (iguana, fermented shark), and picked up smart strategies for vetting street carts, scouring morning markets, and more along the way. His most lasting lesson? That local food is the best gateway to extraordinary travel. What's the first thing a traveler should do after hitting the ground?If you're in a place like Vietnam, Thailand, or Spain—with a strong food culture—go to the morning market, where the average merchant and home cook do their buying. You'll get a quick idea of what everyday consumers enjoy. When you film, you have a lot of resources at your disposal. How can regular travelers find the kind of folks that you learn from?A lot of the people that we reach out to are bloggers. It's relatively easy: If you type in, say, "Saigon street food," chances are, you'll eventually come across somebody who has dedicated himself to that subject. Then it's just a matter of reaching out—which is easy, given the way we communicate now. What do you say to those who might be intimidated by street food?Street stalls are in the business of feeding their neighbors. You're far more likely to be poisoned by a big hotel chain buffet. I mean, if no one drinks the water in a particular country, you certainly shouldn't either. But a crowded food stall where a lot of locals are eating something that doesn't look very familiar to you? That's the good stuff. And in a way, the filthier the place looks, the better; clearly they're feeling pretty confident about their food. Is there a destination you think is underrated right now?Beirut. It's a thrilling, wonderful place. It feels like a European Miami but much better. Better food, nicer people, better all-around city. Have you ever gotten really sick?Twice in 10 years, and it wasn't a surprise. Simple diarrhea is another story; it's something you just have to be prepared for as a traveler. You bring your appropriate medications, but it's hardly the end of the world. And I always try to remind people: Leave yourself open to the perfect meal by leaving yourself open to the occasional really bad one. The best kind of vacation is one where everything goes marvelously and memorably wrong. Those are the incidents you laugh about 20 years later. No Reservations airs on the Travel Channel Mondays at 9 p.m. EST.     See more popular content: 26 Stunning Photos of Ireland The World's Best Street Food Our 10 Favorite Cherry Blossom Festivals How to Take Better Food Photos  

Just Back From… a Dream Trip to Antarctica

Our favorite part... Each landing that we made on the continent and on the surrounding South Shetland Islands. The local names have an incredible allure, from the Drake Passage and Half Moon Island to Deception Island and Port Lockroy. We felt the history pages come alive! It was the thrill of a lifetime to explore the glorious ice- and snow-covered landscapes and to spot the abundant wildlife: chinstrap, gentoo, Adélie, and emperor penguins; Weddell, crabeater, and leopard seals; pelagic sea birds; and humpback and orca whales. Navigating from the ship to shore via Zodiac boats and kayaking among the icebergs were part of the extraordinary adventure. Worth every penny... Splurging to travel with Lindblad Expeditions on the National Geographic Explorer. After comparing various programs, we found that Lindblad offered the best value. Our trip included one night at the Grand Hyatt Santiago; a lunch allowance; an afternoon city tour; a welcome dinner; all airport transfers; a charter airfare from Santiago to Ushuaia; a cruise of the Beagle Channel with lunch on a catamaran in Ushuaia prior to boarding the National Geographic Explorer (an extremely comfortable and well-equipped ship); all meals and nonalcoholic beverages on the ship, including afternoon tea; two captain's receptions; special expedition parkas that we got to keep; kayaking; a visit to a local museum in Ushuaia followed by lunch after disembarkation; the services of the naturalists and Zodiac drivers; and the presence of special guests on the ship, including Peter Hillary, National Geographic photographer Ira Block, and underwater naturalists, whose videos we watched during our nightly cocktail hour. Wish we'd known that... Every expedition has a different itinerary depending on the movement of the other ships in the area and the daily ice and weather conditions. We were so eager to see it all, but could visit a particular area  only if the captain and expedition leader were able to negotiate the right to land and if the weather complied. One day, ice conditions hampered our ability to visit a second location that we were looking forward to seeing in the afternoon, so we had to stay at our morning location for further activities. We learned to be flexible. What we should have packed... We actually packed very well because we are a skiing family. Essential clothes: ski pants, thermal underwear, gloves and liners, wool ski socks, ski goggles, ski hats and ear muffs, waterproof backpack. We purchased inexpensive rain boots instead of expensive insulated arctic boots, and our feet were very comfortable with thick wool ski socks for insulation. Our only complaint: We needed to bring two suitcases each to account for the hot, summery weather in Santiago and Valparaiso. Great local meal... We spent an extra night in Valparaiso, Chile, after our trip to Antarctica ended, and had two memorable meals there. Our best lunch was at Allegretto, a cheerful, funky restaurant evoking a '50s-style diner with wooden booths and a jukebox playing old rock 'n' roll songs. The large stone-baked, thin-crust pizzas are delicious and meant to be shared. We ate a late dinner at Pasta e Vino, enjoying the lively atmosphere at the family-run restaurant. Every dish was excellent and flavorful, and the pisco sours were amazing! Fun surprise... The captain's willingness to modify the itinerary so that we could follow whales and search for emperor penguins in the Weddell Sea. These were especially memorable experiences because both took place in the evening after dinner with the sun still high in the sky (in December in Antarctica, the sun does not set until very late and only for a brief period of time). We would all be out on deck hanging over the bow of the ship, our noses and fingers freezing, snapping photos and thrilled to be watching nature as it is intended to be appreciated. We're still laughing about... My husband driving in the hills of Valparaiso! The streets are extremely curvy, narrow, and steep. Dogs run around without leashes and stop traffic. One-way streets come up suddenly. Street names are very difficult to find, much less to see in time to turn, especially at night. It was so funny to watch him navigate this incredibly difficult city for drivers! Hotels we liked... At the Grand Hyatt Santiago, we were lucky enough to get an upgrade to the Business/Concierge level because it was my 50th-birthday celebration. We had a lovely family lunch on the patio overlooking the pool and a delicious welcome cocktail hour and dinner in an open-air restaurant. The pool was gorgeous, with a giant waterfall cascading into the deep end. For our stay in Valparaiso, I'd found the Robinson Crusoe Inn on the Internet and was very pleased. We were assigned to the newer of the hotel's two buildings and had a gorgeous view of the harbor. It was a two-bedroom, two-bath suite for approximately $260 per night, including a full breakfast. There was a patio with outdoor seating that overlooked the city and the harbor. The entire hotel had a bit of an eclectic, charming feel. It was walking distance to quite a few of Valparaiso's attractions, including Pablo Neruda's house, San Sebastián, and the Open Air Museum.

15 Places Your Kids Should See Before 15

Two years ago, we picked 15 American landmarks every kid should see, from Ellis Island to Redwood National Park. Our new and improved 2011 lineup takes that challenge even further, by highlighting how our country's top sights cater to kids' abbreviated attention spans. From roasting marshmallows around a campfire to playing dress-up at Monticello, these cool, interactive activities ensure that the younger set will enjoy these must-see spots as much as their parents do. See the slideshow. Grand Canyon (Ariz.): During the day, stroll the 4-year-old Skywalk, a U-shaped, glass-bottom observation deck that juts 70 feet over the canyon's West Rim and sits 4,000 feet above the Colorado River. Come sunset, hit Grand Canyon Apache Stables, where, for $25.50 per person, you can hitch a one-hour ride on a horse-drawn wagon that ends around a campfire. Tip: BYO marshmallows and hot dogs so you can cook up a nighttime snack. Skywalk Package including mandatory Legacy pass. Kids 3–11, $57.49; Adults, $73. grandcanyonskywalk.com Grand Canyon Apache Stables: $25.50, kids 8 and up, apachestables.com/rides Redwood National Park (Calif.): Ancient, sky-high sequoias aren't the only attraction in this lush California locale—there's cool aquatic life, too. Take a guided tide pool tour, where budding biologists can scramble between the coastal forest's rocks while hunting for underwater creatures such as orange and purple ochre sea stars and sprawling, green anemones. Free tide pool tours are offered during the summer through Redwood National Park; check website for exact schedule. nps.gov Monticello (Va.): The dreaded "look but don't touch" rule means nothing at the Griffin Discovery Room, which opened on the grounds of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello estate in 2009. Nothing is off-limits in the space, which features replicas of the third president's possessions, from his alcove bed to his polygraph machine. Even his closet is fair game: Kids can try on clothes modeled after his 18th-century wardrobe. The Griffin Discovery Room is part of Monticello's House and Grounds tour. Adults, $17 (low season), $22 (high season); Kids 6-11, $8 (year-round).monticello.org Related: The World's Newest Natural Wonders   The Freedom Trail (Mass.): Who needs a social studies book when you can learn about Colonial history from an 18th-century ship captain while parading around Boston's waterfront? The 90-minute Pirates and Patriots tour, led by an actor in 1770s naval garb, focuses on maritime history and introduces the scrappy, ship-raiding characters that inhabited the city's North End during the Revolutionary era. Stops include the aptly named Long Wharf, once the longest in the world and the epicenter of Boston's colonial shipping industry, and Griffin's Wharf, site of the 1773 Boston Tea Party. Bonus: Some tour guides are known to hand out vintage goodies, so you might walk away with a fistful of colonial money or musket balls. Browse our favorite budget hotels in Boston. The Freedom Trail's Pirates & Patriots Tour runs from June to Nov. Adults, $12; kids 6–12, $7. thefreedomtrail.org Niagara Falls (N.Y.): Sure, your grandparents honeymooned there, but the majestic waterfalls straddling the U.S.-Canada border are worth a 21st-century trip. Ever wonder what it's like to be a rubber ducky in a massive bathtub? Sign up for the Cave of the Winds tour, which begins after you change into a complimentary yellow poncho and sandals (trust us, you'll need 'em). After riding an elevator 175 feet down into the Niagara Gorge, you'll stand on the Hurricane Deck, where you'll be drenched by the tropical-storm-like spray from the 181-foot Bridal Veil Falls, where the water falls at a rate of up to 68 mph.  Cave of the Winds operates May 1–Oct. 25. Adults, $11; kids 6–12, $8; 5 and under, free. niagarafallsstatepark.com The National Mall (D.C.): Riding the streets of Washington, D.C., in a boat on wheels might sound cheesy, but cruising the Potomac River in one is pretty sweet. Set in a WWII-era amphibious vehicle, the 90-minute D.C. duck tour covers both land and sea. The first leg hits the history-packed National Mall—look for the 19-foot-tall Lincoln Memorial, the Capitol building, and the Smithsonian museums—and then switches to a scenic river trip. Highlight: The boat pauses at Gravelly Point, a park located just a few hundred feet from the runway at D.C.'s Reagan National Airport, so you can watch roaring planes take off and land. Browse our favorite budget hotels in Washington D.C. D.C. tuck tours cost $31.50 for adults, and $16.20 for kids 11 and under. trustedtours.com   Related: 25 Best Places You've Never Heard Of   Colonial Williamsburg (Va.): Everyone in this living-history site likes to play dress-up, and visitors are no exception. At the Great Hopes Plantation—a re-creation of the town's original 1700s farm—a stash of old-timey accessories await, from tricorne (three-pointed) hats for boys and shifts and mop caps (bonnets) for girls. The costumes come in handy in the field, where kids can perform 18th-century household chores, such as picking bugs off potato crops, fetching water from the well, or hoeing the soil, that are likely to make clearing the dinner dishes seem like a breeze by comparison. Great Hopes Plantation can be accessed through regular admission tickets. Spring prices: adults, $37.95; kids 6–17, $18.95; 5 and under, free. history.org Walt Disney World Resort (Fla.): Taking a family vacation to the world's largest, most popular theme park is a no-brainer, and just-opened exhibits give even more reasons to visit Mickey & Co. Our pick: the Wild Africa Trek, a private, three-hour safari featuring live Nile crocs, statuesque giraffes, and lazy hippos. Strap into a harness and you can even dangle 10 feet above the crocodiles' heads. (The attraction is open to kids 8 and up.) Mid-jungle trek, the safari car (imagine an open-air Jeep that allows for standing) will stop on the trail for a traditional African lunch. Wild Africa Treks begin at $189 per person, including lunch, but not including admission to Disney's Animal Kingdom. disneyworld.disney.go.com Independence Hall (Penn.): Acquaint yourself with the spirits of America's founding fathers on Philadelphia's Ghost Tour, a 90-minute, candle-lit stroll that winds past landmarks like Independence Hall, where the Constitution was adopted; the Powel House, which hosted George and Martha Washington's 20th wedding anniversary celebration; and the 238-year-old City Tavern, John Adams's former watering hole. A cape-wearing, lantern-carrying guide points out "haunted" graveyards (St. Peter's Cemetery) and reports sightings of Benjamin Franklin, who's said to roam the city's streets. The best part: All the ghost stories are based on documented accounts, which makes them all the more spooky. Ghost Tour of Philadelphia, adults, $17; kids 4 and up, $8. ghosttour.com   Related: Tourist Traps You Love Alcatraz Island (Calif.): Shiv collections and cramped jail cells don't exactly sound kid-friendly, but they offer a glimpse into America's most notorious island prison—and the National Park Service is all for bringing younger ones for a visit. Hop a ferry from San Francisco's Pier 33 and stroll the damp, gray halls of the maximum-security pen, which housed criminals like Al Capone and George "Machine Gun" Kelly from 1934 to 1963. (You can even get behind bars in one of the cells, if you dare.) Don't miss the audio tour, which was updated in 2007 when former inmates and guards recorded their memories of doing time at "the Rock." If you're feeling brave, take the night tour, which lets you roam the prison after dark. Browse our favorite budget hotels in San Francisco. Alcatraz Cruises is the official carrier for tours to Alcatraz Island. Adults 12–61, $26; kids 5–11, $16, 4 and under, free.alcatrazcruises.com Ellis Island (N.Y.): Between 1892 and 1924, more than 17 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island; today, their descendants account for 40 percent of Americans. Go on a hunt for your ancestors at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, where for $5 you can search through millions of records to find the exact date your relatives sailed into the Port of New York, as well as which ship they were on and whether they traveled with other family members. (Bonus: copies of the documents are yours to keep.) And don't miss the construction of the Peopling of America Center, which cost $20 million to build and is slated to open in 2012. The new space focuses on U.S. immigration from 1955 (when Ellis Island closed) to the present, and houses interactive multimedia exhibits, like a touch screen that reflects demographic changes in American cities over time.  Browse our favorite budget hotels in New York City.  Ellis Island admission prices as of March 18: adults, $37.95; children, $18.95; children under 5, free. ellisisland.org Yellowstone National Park (Wyo., Mont., and Idaho): Snag a Young Scientist Toolkit stocked with magnifying glasses, rock samples, and stopwatches to time geyser eruptions at the Old Faithful Visitor Center and hit the great outdoors for some investigating. The coolest toy: an infrared-thermometer gun that takes readings of thermal pools when pointed at the water. And there's lots of H20: The 3,472-square-mile park is home to more geothermal features (geysers, hot springs, mud spots) than any place on earth. The Young Scientist activity booklet and toolkit costs $5 (toolkit must be returned after use). Park entrance fee starts at $12. nps.gov   Related: Best Secret Hotels of the World   Fenway Park (Mass.): Even die-hard Yankees fans have to admit that visiting Major League Baseball's oldest stadium is an exercise in Americanism: Babe Ruth pitched there! Ted Williams hit a 502-foot home run! Fenway turns 100 next year, but its features are still intact. Check them out for yourself on a guided 50-minute tour, where hands-on exploration is encouraged: You can touch the Green Monster (the park's 37-foot-tall left-field wall), peek into the dugout, poke around inside the press box, and even walk across the baseball diamond, depending on how friendly the grounds crew is feeling that day. Browse our favorite budget hotels in Boston. Fenway Park tours, adults, $12; kids 3–15, $10; seniors, $11. mlb.mlb.com Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve (Idaho): The National Park Service calls this Idaho preserve "the only officially weird park" in the country. And for good reason: The jagged, black landscape—formed by volcanic eruptions up to 15,000 years ago—boasts a 618-square-mile lava field, the biggest in the U.S. (The rocky surface is so moonlike that Apollo 14 astronauts trained at the site in 1969.) The park's most awe-inspiring feature is its lava tubes, underground passageways created by hardened molten rock. Grab a flashlight and head to Indian Tunnel, which, at 30 feet high and 50 feet wide, allows for comfortable exploring. Craving an even more intense experience? Exit the cave at the far end, a feat that requires mounting a big rock pile and squeezing through a small opening. Park entrance fee is $8 per vehicle; bike or foot entrance starts at $4; age 14 below is free. nps.gov San Diego Zoo (Calif): With more than 4,000 rare and endangered animals representing 800-plus species and subspecies, the San Diego Zoo is one of the most diverse in America. But its coolest attraction—literally—is the Polar Bear Plunge, which reopened last March after a $1 million makeover. Aside from permanent polar residents Kalluk, Chinook, and Tatqiq, new features include a snow den you can burrow into (the snug space mimics where female bears birth their cubs); a helicopter used on actual Arctic explorations that invites climbers into the cockpit; and the Experience Wall, where zookeepers open the glass panels surrounding the bears' habitat, letting them sniff at visitors through wire mesh. Ages 12 and up, $40; 3–11, $30. sandiegozoo.org   See more from Budget Travel Top 10 Most Travel Inspiring Movies of the Year Our 10 Favorite Cherry Blossom Festivals 11 Places You Want to Be Right Now 10 Beautiful Castle Hotels