Image: Tourists taking pictures
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Vacation photos don’t always capture cherished moments from a trip of a lifetime. Sometimes they reflect the harsh reality that you failed to give a moment’s thought about how you look before you stepped in front of a camera.
By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 11/6/2009 9:36:23 AM ET 2009-11-06T14:36:23

Vacation photos don’t always capture cherished moments from a trip of a lifetime. Sometimes they reflect the harsh reality that you failed to give a moment’s thought about how you look before you stepped in front of a camera.

Take me, for instance. I recently went on a trip to England and snapped a bunch of photos. When I saw them later, I would have torn them up right there if they weren’t digital. There I was, posing in places I had always longed to visit, and I looked like something buried inside Westminster Abbey. The photos are so bad they are almost incriminating.

Since this was not the reality I want to embrace now or in the future — and I don’t want any folks out there who are planning a fabulous trip to suffer like I did — I thought it would be appropriate to solicit advice from experts who deal in reality for a living. So I asked specialists in the areas of hair, makeup, fashion and photography from the world of reality TV to help prevent the tragedy of the ghastly vacation photo from happening ever again.

In my England pictures, my hair looked like a crow’s nest after a tornado. So I consulted with Tabatha Coffey. She is an Australian stylist and the star of “Tabatha’s Salon Takeover” on Bravo, which begins its new season Nov. 3. Tabatha’s words can sometimes bring people to tears. But since I had shed all mine after seeing my photos, I figured I was safe.

“Before people go on vacation, I would recommend getting their hair done so it’s nice and fresh, the color is fresh, and they’re looking good,” she explained. I should note that some of Tabatha’s advice applied to women specifically, and men specifically, but also to both.

“While away, a lot of people don’t want to deal with blow-drying their hair, so in that case product is a must. Product is great for curly hair to keep from frizzing, and straight hair to put control in it. I also recommend ponytails to clients. Ponytails can look really chic. Also hair bands and clips are great to control hair.

“For guys, I would recommend product also. If you go on a sunny vacation a hair product with sunscreen keeps hair from drying out and keeps it controlled.”

Tabatha also said to make sure and bring your favorite brush, hats and baseball caps for the guys, scarves for the ladies. Bottom line: In some cases, take the time to style your hair. If you don’t have the time, cover up with something cool.

Then there is makeup. I don’t wear any, although after my last trip I’m open to suggestions. For the purposes of this study I consulted with Carmindy (full name: Carmindy Kathryn Bowyer), who is the makeup expert on TLC’s “What Not To Wear.” She was gracious enough to offer some tips — mostly to ladies, of course — about how to make sure your face doesn’t look like a hideous death mask in vacation photos.

“First and foremost is sunscreen,” Carmindy said. “Make sure you pack this essential no matter if it’s rain, snow, sleet or burning sun. A good SPF will keep you young and protected, and if it’s a nice rich formula like SkinsCeuticals Sport SPF 45 you can skip packing a daily moisturizer, as this will be rich enough for you.”

I asked Carmindy if you’re just out and about and decide to take an impromptu photo, which items are essential to have on you. “Blotting papers like the ones from Clean & Clear to absorb shine and oil, and your lip gloss to keep color on the lips to look fab in photos,” she explained.

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In terms of no-nos, Carmindy said ladies should stay away from heavy eye shadow and dark eye liner, “as these can tend to look overdone when you’re supposed to be free-spirited and carefree while on vacation.”

As for the guys, Carmindy recommends getting some sugar. No, that’s not dating advice. She means real sugar.

“Men can keep their skin looking fresh and radiant by using regular white sugar they can get from room service to exfoliate their skin in the shower,” she said. “This also helps with ingrown hairs after shaving. Just soap up your face in the shower and open a packet of sugar and scrub in circular motions. Then rinse off for a sweet complexion.”

Of course, all of that is moot if you’re dressed in a burlap sack with arm holes. That wasn’t the case with me, but it wasn’t far off either.

For fashion guidance, I looked no further than Lisa Kline. She is a Los Angeles-based retailer and fashion expert who will be one of the judges on Bravo’s new competition reality show, “Launch My Line,” which premieres Dec. 3.

Naturally, when it comes to clothes on a vacation, it depends on where you’re going. “You need to be prepared for any kind of weather,” Kline said. “If you go to Mexico in December, you might think it’ll be hot, and you don’t bring enough to wear.”

“Enough” on a vacation is a subjective term, depending on the traveler. Most people like to travel light. Big mistake, said Kline, at least when it comes to looking your best for photos. “I use packing lists,” she said. “I check off how many nights, the weather, where you’re going, how many nights you’ll be out.

“I usually lay out all my outfits and coordinate. I believe you should pack more than you need, but that doesn’t mean it has to be heavy. I’m all about bringing everything. My thing is to bring the right thing for the right occasion.”

Kline said men should follow the same philosophy, but they should also always bring two or three pairs of jeans.

And, she advised, bring a small travel steamer with you. “Clothes always wrinkle,” she said. “I bring a steamer, sewing kit, stain remover and baby wipes to remove stains.”

Finally, even if you’re all dressed up and looking like a million bucks, you can still take a lousy photo if you don’t know what you’re doing. So I went to world-famous celebrity and beauty photographer Russell James, who has shot for Victoria’s Secret and appeared on “America’s Next Top Model” as guest photographer and judge.

“There are some simple rules regarding lighting,” James said. “If it’s the middle of the day, don’t have the person in full sunlight; they rarely look good. Stand them in the shadow of a tree, and you’ll get a nice skin quality.

“Also, backlighting. Quite simply, when the sun is lower in the sky, turn their back to the sun. You may have an issue with sun into the lens, but just cup one hand around the lens to protect it. Another tip, if you’re going to use direct sun into the face, do it at the very end of the day, the last end of the day’s sunset. It’ll give you a nice result.”

Although James naturally works with the finest of equipment, he realizes not everybody does. “On a point-and-shoot camera, put the strobe on,” he said. “Most cameras are simply on automatic. If you put the strobe on, it’ll come on no matter what. Even if you’re out in the strong sun it’ll make it look good. If the sun is dropping into the sea, and you have the person’s back to the sea, turn on the strobe and it’ll give you a nice effect.”

James also said too many people just snap a photo with the subject in the dead center of the frame. He suggests moving them to the extreme left or extreme right, to provide a more creative effect.

And, he advised, be sneaky sometimes. “The best thing is to be covert,” James said. “If you see some great interaction with family and friends, try not to tell them you’re taking a picture. Quietly get down and take it and you’ll get a much nicer natural emotional content to the picture.

“We all have our ‘I’m being photographed’ face, and then the life experience face. Try just to let people be in the space. Consider it a wildlife documentary.”

If you can’t afford to bring all of these experts with you on your next dream vacation, this will have to serve as the next best thing.

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