A camera is a simple tool at its most basic: a light-tight box with a hole in it.
But how you use it is a different story. It can be as simple as point and shoot or as complicated as making an impressionist painting.
In either case, photos are valuable souvenirs. Images hold the details that even the most dedicated journal-writer won't get down. They hold your memories in a tangible form; they prove you were there.
There's nothing wrong with vacation snapshots. That said, if you want to get more out of your travel photos — to try to move your snapshots in the direction of fine art — here are some tips.
— Get closer: It's almost impossible to get too close (if only because most lenses won't focus closer than 3 feet).
— Get off center: Most of the travel snapshots I see tend to put the subject square in the middle of the frame. Sometimes, that works to dramatic effect. Most of the time, it leads to a static, dull image. Move the frame around, see how the subject — whether it's a person or a mountain — looks when it's at the top of the frame, or the bottom, or the side.
— Simplify: Easy to say, hard to do. Focus on your subject, but pay attention to what will be in the background. A cluttered or bright background will take attention away from the main topic of your photo.
— Lighting: Where is the light coming from? Backlit subjects (with the sun behind them) often come out looking flat or simply in silhouette. That can be a great effect, if it's intentional.
— Read the instructions: Even the most elemental point-and-shoot camera comes with an instruction manual. I'm always surprised at how few people actually read it and learn what their camera can do.
— Details: Details are memorable. You have to get close to get good ones (and that includes human faces). When looking at something monumental, try to find a small detail that helps explain the whole.
— Experiment: Shoot a couple of rolls of film at home using the different settings on your camera. Play around. Shoot in bright light. Shoot your neighbor. Shoot your neighbor's dog. Use a fast shutter speed. Use a slow one. Take note of what works and what doesn't.
— Pay attention to what you like: When a photo strikes you as appealing or attention-grabbing, ask yourself why. What draws you to the picture? That will help give you targets to aim for.
— Spend time: Good photos often look spontaneous but might be the result of an hour spent on a street corner, waiting for the right combination of people and light to transform a street scene into a frozen moment of impromptu ballet. When you ask someone if you can take their photo, spend a half hour talking to them, and take unposed shots as they work or play.