Star Tribune photographer Aaron Lavinsky knows that vacations aren’t about taking photographs; they are about experiencing a new place and being open to experiences there. But he also appreciates how great photography can bring you right back to a place you loved.

Fortunately, his top tip for making a great travel photograph serves both purposes.

“Stand in interesting places,” he said. “Photography is all about your feet.”

That means taking out the camera when culture is on display, the scene is interesting or beautiful and stuff is going on around you.

“I like to be able to hear and smell the scene when I look at a photo,” he said. That can happen when photographers are taking in the moment fully, a moment they also happen to be capturing with their camera.

When he shoots for the newspaper, he contorts himself to get interesting angles and unique perspectives. But when he’s on vacation, he refuses to obsess behind the camera. “The reason you’re on vacation can get lost,” he said. And it’s not necessary when you are making a photograph that can help viewers place themselves in the scene.

“Time of day is the thing,” said Star Tribune photo editor Kevin Martin. Look for the soft light that comes in the morning and shortly before sunset. That can help cast the subject in a nice glow.

Another Martin tip: Scout your location. When he lived in Flagstaff, Ariz., he visited the forests so he knew just when the aspens turned a golden yellow. Even if you don’t live in a place, you can do advance reconnaissance. Encounter a lovely spot in the harsh light of midday? Return in the evening or the next morning.

Visiting a sweet spot more than once doesn’t seem like a hardship.

In fact, it feeds into a point Lavinsky stressed: When making a good travel photo, enjoy yourself.


Send your questions or tips to Travel Editor Kerri Westenberg at, and follow her on Twitter: @kerriwestenberg.