3 Tips For Great Landscape Photography At A Tropical Resort

Stop me if you've felt this before: you've been working super hard and are in dire need of a relaxing vacation. You do some research, consult your bucket list, and book a trip to one of those destinations you see on Instagram, YouTube, or National Geographic. For the next eight months, it's all you can think about.

As it gets closer to your departure date, you start to get excited about more than just the awesome pool/beach/view and the food - you'll probably get some great photos too! Better bring the nice camera.

The big day finally comes, but when you arrive, you're hit with the realization that you booked your stay at a resort - you know, the kind where lots of other people (and their kids) are staying and playing too. As you wander around during your first day looking for those gorgeous scenes to make your friends and family jealous, you struggle to capture anything without stray beach chairs, vendors or other tourists in your shot.

That was me earlier this year when I got to Jamaica. My wife and I never take tropical vacations, and we're terrible at relaxing, so I got super excited to spend some time shooting the beautiful landscapes Jamaica is famous for. But, what do you do when your "landscape" is a tourist resort and the view looks like this?

Pretty, but a little cluttered for a good landscape photo.

Fortunately, all is not lost, fellow travelers. There are still plenty of ways to come home with memorable landscape images during a relaxing vacation, even if you're at a resort. Here are my top three tips for scoring a keeper from paradise.

Work On Composition

The wonderful thing about landscapes is that they aren't going anywhere. The beach is still the beach, and it's still gorgeous. You just need to put the rest of the puzzle together if you want a great image. Like any other setting, the best landscape images involve great composition - so start there and get creative with how you use what's around you.

Can you use those beach chairs to anchor your foreground? If there's nothing interesting in front of you, why not try looking up? Can that hanging palm leaf help frame your shot? Good composition is an aggregated skill, so practice, practice, practice. When you force yourself to stop and look around, I guarantee you'll find something worth photographing, even at a crowded resort. 

A secret oasis hidden in under a canopy of palms.

Negative space + scale = drama!

One of my favorite images from the trip was this jungle hammock.

Change Your Perspective

This tip also relates to composition, but it's less technical. Sometimes, you just need to change it up. If the beach isn't working out, shoot the jungle. Get lower and see how that changes the scene in your camera. Break out the long lens to isolate a boat on the horizon, or reveal tiny details that your wide angle couldn't capture. 

When all else, fails, get airborne! If you own a drone, taking to the skies is a great way to get your lens away from the typical resort scenes to create something memorable. It's a totally different world when you're 100 feet up - everything looks brand new again. I encourage you to spend a few minutes flying around and experimenting with different altitudes, camera angles, and photo types. Just remember that you're still at a resort, so be respectful of other people's vacation when you're flying, and of course, obey all local drone laws.

That'll do.

Choose your own adventure.

Don't Push It

This one is probably the hardest tip for me to follow. I'm terrible at relaxing when I'm traveling, but during a tropical vacation, it's important to prioritize rest. While you can (and should!) leave some time for photos, that can't be your primary focus. You are on vacation. Take it easy.

If there's one thing I learned during my trip to Jamaica, it's that you can definitely do landscape photography while you're at a resort, but there are also plenty of moments where you shouldn't. I'm a sucker for colorful sunrises and vibrant sunsets, but that doesn't mean you should get out there and shoot every one of them. Sleep in some days. Linger for dessert and drinks after dinner. Snap a quick photo from the pool with your phone instead of lugging your camera around everywhere. Balance is important, and if you prioritize your vacation instead of constantly chasing after that perfect tropical photo, I promise you'll get more enjoyment out of your vacation.

Paradise, found.

You'd never know this boat was anchored about 100 yards off the shore.

Not bad for a smart phone pic.

Coconuts on an empty beach are what tropical vacations are all about.

Never skip the sunset catamaran cruise.

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