Know the Direction of Light
This might seem a little obvious, but this is a common mistake for amateur photographers.
Always pay attention to where the light is coming from. Use it to make your photographs beautiful. I can’t tell you how many times I see this happen. The sun is going down into the most beautiful sunset with a wash of saturated oranges, yellows and pinks. Then a photographer puts another person right in front of it and proceeds to take what’s known as a back-lit photograph.
Here’s the problem. If the light source (in this case the sun) is behind your subject, the subject will be in a shadow and won’t come out in the picture. Our eyes can balance a much wider range of light than the camera will. When you see someone in front of the sun, it might look okay to you, but the camera will just see it as a dark silhouette.
A better option is to use that wonderful, golden light and use it to light your subject’s face. Maybe even turn them slightly so its gracing their face from a 45 degree angle. Then make your picture.
If you really must shoot the age old vacation photograph, turn your flash on. If you have a setting on your camera for “fill flash” use this and dial the exposure compensation down a bit if its not quite right. You should get a really nice balance of light. Note this is probably not possible if shooting with a cell phone.
There are some other methods if you have an off camera flash and can mount it behind the camera. You could even go into a manual mode and adjust the exposure. This requires more than a point and shoot.
But note the following wonderful examples from some great photographers on Flickr – understanding where the light is coming from and being creative with it is really the key to improving your pictures whether you have a flash or not.