san francisco images

Note from Gabrielle: I asked Lindsey of Café Johnsonia to attend a retreat on behalf of Design Mom. It was hosted by Adobe and was all about taking better photography with the help of Adobe Lightroom 3.3. Here’s Lindsey’s report.

When I was asked to attend the super fun Girls Photography Getaway, I was beyond excited to take a little jaunt (sans kids) to gorgeous San Francisco — to sightsee, take pictures, rub elbows with other bloggers, and learn more about using Adobe Lightroom 3.3. I had a great time and made a list of tips to help you make the best of your next vacation photos.

Ferry Building San Francisco

1.  Plan your time wisely.

-Work out a schedule so you’ll be in the right places at the right times. Different times of day have different types of light. Noon will give you bigger shadows. Dusk and dawn will have softer light.

-Our rooms at the stunning Hotel Vitale faced the Bay Bridge. I don’t think there was one of us who didn’t wake up early to take pictures of the sun rising over San Jose and the Bay Bridge.

-We headed to the Ferry Building first thing in the morning — before the crowds came — to take pictures inside and out.

-When we hit up the Golden Gate Bridge, the light was perfect. The sun was starting to set and gave us glorious light.

-If you want pictures of landmarks without a lot of people, you’ll probably want to wake up early.

lens rentals

2.  Plan out which equipment to take.

-When I booked my ticket to San Francisco, I contacted a recommended company,, who rents interchangeable lenses (and any kind of photo equipment you can imagine). Len provided me with two lenses: a 70-200 mm f/2.8 VR and a 105mm f/2.8 VR Macro.

-In addition to those, I took my beloved 50mm f/1.8 lens, and borrowed MizBooshay’s 17-55mm a few times during the trip to get some cityscape shots. If you don’t want to lug around a bunch of lenses, another option is to rent one that has wide angle and telephoto capabilities.

-Of course, if you have a point-and-shot camera, then you don’t need to worry about lugging heavy lenses around. In either case, take some time to learn your camera’s functions before you leave. The airplane ride is a perfect time to crack open your manual. The best way to get great pictures is to know what you are doing and take full advantage of all your camera offers.

-Take plenty of batteries or at least remember to toss your charger into you bag. Not that I’ve ever forgotten to bring mine or anything. Ahem. You don’t want to be caught without enough juice in your battery, or you’ll lose precious opportunities. And it will make you really sad. Not that I know what that feels like or anything. Ahem again.

-Consider the other accessories you might need. Do you want to bring an external flash? You may or may not need it. Think about your itinerary decide what makes the most sense. You might want to toss in a lens cleaning cloth, some q-tips, and a blower for dust, especially if you are going to the beach. You may also want to bring a large Ziploc bag to put your camera in for those days when the weather is inclement or unpredictable.

camera bag epiphanieepiphanie camera bag interior

3.  Take a sturdy camera bag with you.

-I borrowed a Shootsac from my friend, Ashley, who is a professional photographer. She showed me what she used it for and told me to borrow it. I loved it.

-Whatever you buy or use, make sure that it has room for your camera, extra lenses and other gear, and still has space to carry your wallet and a few other things. The Shootsac was great because it was flat enough to put into my luggage and then I pulled it out for the day for the lenses and kept my camera around my neck.

-You want your bag to have enough padding to protect your camera if you happen to trip or something. It would be a tragedy to spend a trip with a broken camera and/or lenses. Adobe hooked us all up with the Belle bag from Epiphanie. (Design Mom blogged about Epiphanie here.)  I’ve been wanting to get one for a long time. I now use it in place of a purse because I carry my camera with me almost everywhere I go.

4.  Think about your personal comfort.

-Take sunglasses. Put your hair up in a ponytail so it doesn’t blow into your picture if it’s a windy day. Bring a plastic bag to wrap your camera in if the weather is rainy. And also, replace that uncomfortable strap that came with your camera.

-Try something like this strap from Capturing Couture, like Adobe gave us. There have been quite a few times when my neck has been sore or rubbed raw by the manufacturer strap. My new one is much more comfortable and looks much prettier. If you are comfortable and not worrying about how much your feet hurt from walking in those shoes, you’ll take better pictures.

lindsey johnson cafe johnsoniaphoto taken by Gayle Vehar

5.  Make sure you get a photo of you.

Don’t be afraid to ask someone to take your picture so you can show it off to all your friends when you get home. You’ll be so glad you did — even if you hate pictures of yourself. You can set the camera up the way you want to and let the stranger or friend snap away. But make sure you get at least one good picture of yourself, even if you reach your arm as far out from your body as you can. Do it.

san francisco nob hillsan franciscosan francisco

6.  Look for details.

Images of the details will bring back great memories when you get home. Take pictures of the food you ate, people you saw on the street, patterns, textures, doors, windows, etc. Before you press the shutter, look through the lens and find the angle that best suits your subject matter and that will give it the effect you want. If you happen to have a Macro lens or function on your camera take some close-up shots to emphasize texture.

I have a thing for stone, rough textures, and architecture. A lot of my pictures reflect that. I look for it wherever I go.

san francisco

7.  Have fun.

Don’t worry so much about the technical stuff so you miss out on the original purpose of your trip, which is to have a good time. If you are enjoying your vacation, your pictures will reflect it.

volkswagen bus

8. Organize your images.

-Once you get home, you’ll want to upload your photos and organize them as soon as possible — for more reasons than just wanting to see them. I take tons of pictures so it’s important to me to spend as little time as possible organizing and editing photos. Before I started using Lightroom 3 it took me forever. It’s easily my favorite photo software. Adobe sent me a copy before my trip and I installed it the day I got it and haven’t looked back. Everyone I know who uses it, loves it.

-If you’re new to Lightroom, expert Julieanne Kost posts numerous tips and helps both on her blog and on Adobe TV. The videos are especially helpful.

-On the trip, I took pictures of a few different Volkswagens. I am a VW gal. The bus pictured above is vintage and I wanted to give the photo the same feel, so I used a Lightroom preset to give it the look I wanted.

-Whatever software you use, edit your photos as soon as you get home and organize them with the date and any other info you want to remember. You think you won’t forget, but you will! Even better, take a small notebook with you while you are out and about and record info you definitely don’t want to forget. Then you can add it in later. Some people I know take pictures of the name of where they are or the date. That works too. (Even better if you are shooting with film.)

lindsey nametag

Thank you to Design Mom for the opportunity to represent you. I had a blast! Also a big thank you to Adobe for a fun trip and the chance to meet some spectacular photographers and new friends. If you want to see more pictures from the trip, you can check out my blog, Cafe Johnsonia, or the blogs of fellow attendees — Lolli, Donna, Lotus, Gayle, Arena, Ariana, Erika, and Drew.

What about you? Do you have any tips for getting great travel photos? Please feel free to share.


Disclosure: Adobe paid for Lindsey’s airfare, accommodations, and meals. They gave her a complimentary copy of Lightroom, and a neat-o bag and camera strap. They did not pay her to sing their praises or profess my undying love for their products. She just does.