Shoot vacation photos like a pro: Tips from Times-Picayune Director of Photography David Grunfeld | Entertainment/Life


After two years of on-and-off lockdown in the COVID-19 pandemic, restrictions have eased and people are traveling again. In fact, with more people going back to work, the need to relax may be greater than ever. 

And with vacations come photos, on social media or just to be shared with family. How do you make those vacation destinations and experiences look just as fabulous as you remember them?

We asked David Grunfeld, award-winning Times Picayune | New Orleans Advocate director of photography, for some advice.

First, have fun

The most important thing is to enjoy your vacation. Slow down instead of having an iPhone or Android camera in front of their face. Less is more.

First of all, the most important thing is to enjoy your vacation, he said.

“It’s really important that people need to slow down and not take as many pictures instead of having their iPhone or Android camera in front of their face,” Grunfeld said. “Less is more.”

But when taking meaningful, purposeful photos, Grunfeld encourages vacationers to think about composition and technique. To create vacation memories you’ll remember for years to come, pay attention to these five points.

  • Find good light
  • Keep it clean and simple
  • Pay attention to composition
  • Look for people
  • Be curious  


Spending time on Little York Lake celebrating the 4th of July with the Parker family, my hometown best friends.


Whether you are using an iPhone, an Android or a traditional SLR, Grunfeld said to “follow the light” when taking vacation photos. 

“Beautiful quality light will improve your vacation pictures,” he said. “What I would want to share with my friends is, ‘Look how romantic this place is’… Your vacation photos should reflect what you experienced.”

Give us your best shot!  Send your favorite vacation photo this summer, and we might publish it

Calling all vacation photographers!

He said to think about light that might appear differently than typical shadows or highlights. He suggested walking down a street during sunset or sunrise or thinking about how a place might look during a rainstorm, for example.

Grunfeld said that light is the most powerful element any great vacation photo can have.

“Nice-quality light is your friend. Bad-quality light is your enemy.”



Laurel Springs North Carolina.

Grunfeld said that as a little boy, he would sit around a carousel projector with his family as his father showed all of his vacation photos for them to remember. After two pictures, he recalled, he was bored.

The photographer likened the carousel projector to modern-day social media.

“How do you get people to stop the thumb?” he considered. “How do you get people to stop scrolling to look at the photographs?”

The answer: Keep photos clean and simple.

First, it’s important to watch your background, he said.

David Grunfeld and Henny Youngman

‘While a perpetual photography intern at the Syracuse Newspapers while attending Syracuse University, I had the pleasure of making a selfie with Henny Youngman at the New York State Fair in the early 1980s. Staff photographer Michael Okoniewski caught me in action,’ says David Grunfeld, right.

“If you’re standing in front of the Eiffel Tower (for a selfie) and you say ‘I’m taking a picture in front of the Eiffel Tower,’ … you don’t want the Eiffel Tower growing out of your head, like you’re having an Eiffel Tower hairdo,” he said.

The director of photography also suggested that if vacation-goers choose to shoot video, it’s best to do so in short snippets.

“People will get bored after 15 seconds,” he said. “Do panoramics… Make it interesting.”



The Shelter Island Yacht Club.

It’s an old rule of thumb: Divide your field of vision evenly into a nine-part grid — three vertical lines, three horizontal. Position major elements of your photo along those lines. It’s much more interesting that placing the main image smack-dab in the center of the field.

The smartphone is here to help, Grunfeld said. Activate the grid on your phone, then place subjects on the one-third lines. The slightly off-center composition keeps the eye of the viewer moving. It will make for a more compelling photo, Grunfeld explained.

And Grunfeld said you can accomplish the best vacation photos just with your phone. He encouraged people to get familiar with the features in their phones’ camera apps. Light exposure can be adjusted, for example, which is one great way to improve your snapshots.


Early morning fishing on Little York Lake in Preble, New York.

Whether smartphone or SLR, “the best thing before you go on vacation is to understand how the camera works,” he said.

Grunfeld also suggested minimal editing on photos. He said that if you are going to edit your photos, be sure to stylize it so people know that it’s not real.

“The worst thing is that you look at something, and you go there to eat it, and it’s awful, or you go to waterfalls, and there’s no water,” he said. “If it’s a gray day and you’re in Paris, don’t change the sky to blue because you’ll look back and say ‘oh I remember that.”  

Most importantly, slow down to compose a photo.



Meet Bill Cox, owner of the Scipioville Garage in Cayuga County New York.

Grunfeld encourages vacationers to photograph people they meet along the way. In the case of nature, for example, he said that people can create a sense of scale to show the vastness of a place. He also argued that people look and act differently everywhere you go and that capturing people can help you remember your experience.

However, Grunfeld reminded travelers that the most important thing is putting their cameras down and enjoying the moment.

“Places are about people. People aren’t about places,” he said.



Harry & Peg’s on Shelter Island, New York.

Overall, Grunfeld said photos are all about storytelling and curiosity.

He suggested that vacation-goers try to photograph all of the senses when they’re on vacation. Sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch should all be considered, he argued.

“What if you take a walk for five minutes?” he said. “It’s all about curiosity, not just what is in front of you, and then, once you develop that curiosity and get off the beaten path, your pictures will look different from everyone else’s.”



Sam, Magill and Isaac Grunfeld at a Krispy Kreme in Brentwood, Tn.

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