You’re doing it all wrong.
The cliché photo of your feet near a pool or on the beach? Wrong. Constant check-ins and photo updates on Facebook when you’re out of town for vacation? Wrong. The irksome picture of the pre-departure cocktail at the airport? Also wrong. The urge to prioritize your face over the surrounding scenery in your shared photos? That’s very, very wrong.
There’s no easy way to say this, but when it comes to posting vacation photos on social media, many of us are about as successful as Walter Mondale’s 1984 presidential campaign.
In the pre-Internet era, vacations were judged by the quality of the memories that we brought home in our mental carry-ons. In 2016, the success of travel is often defined by the number of likes our vacation photos receive on Facebook and Instagram. The need for constant social media affirmation is the nuclear reactor fueling many of the vacation photo mistakes — and the ceaseless over-sharing.
“There is a real temptation to be constantly reporting, chronicling, and recording our lives,” said Daniel Post Senning, author of “Manners in a Digital World: Living Well Online.” “It’s important to step back from that urge. Posting is not obligatory.”
Let’s set subjective opinions aside for a moment and look at some of the real dangers of over-posting your vacation snaps on social media. I’m not talking about the risk of boring your friends, but the possibility of leaving your home open to theft.
If you’re announcing your flight departure from Boston to Copenhagen on Facebook, you’re letting people know that your home is ready to be burgled. Every time you check in at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, or post a photo of your meal at Sixieme Sens in Paris, you’re using a digital bullhorn to announce that your apartment is empty. And if you tag friends in those photos, you compromise their safety as well.
“Safety is more important than status updates,” said Jodi R.R. Smith of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting in Marblehead. “You’re broadcasting this information to a wide audience on social media.”
Almost 60 percent of millennials post their travel plans online, according to a study published in May by the cyber security company Webroot. Baby boomers are more discrete. Only 29 percent of boomers share their travel plans on social media.
If you’re compelled to share every perfect moment of your trip in real-time, make sure you’ve got your social media privacy settings on lockdown and someone to keep an eye on your house.
The best way to avoid problems with security is to wait until you’re home to post vacation pictures. Don’t check in on Facebook at the airport, announce travel plans, or share any pictures while on your trip. This is a jagged little pill to swallow for those who like to share a running commentary of their vacation on social media.
It may sound harsh, but waiting until you get home also helps you sidestep another big social media mistake: over-posting.
“A lot of people want to share photos in the moment,” said Audrey Scott, cofounder of the travel blog Uncornered Market. “They don’t want to wait until the end of the trip to post. But waiting lets them think about the top three or four experiences and gives them an opportunity to share things that were meaningful.”
Experts in the world of social media and travel photography agree that the proper number of photos you should post when you get home from your trip is about 10, more if your trip was longer than two weeks. Pick your best photo (or two) from each day of the vacation.
“Don’t be tricked into thinking that your photography is great,” said Daniel Noll, the other half of Uncornered Market. “You should think of yourself as a storyteller when you share your pictures and distill the highlights of your trip. People are already bombarded with imagery.”
Put your photos in a Facebook album rather than posting them individually. That way friends can decide if they really want to see every picture from your tour of the Vodka Museum in Moscow.
“Give enough to update people,” Senning said. “But don’t let the volume of information eclipse the fundamental message that’s being sent. You start to get into dangerous territory.”
Once you’re home and thoughtfully curating your pictures, the real work begins. Start by weeding out photos that are blatant visual brags. A study in Psychological Science found that while you think your vacation was amazing, no one wants to hear about it. The study concluded that friendships are based on things that people have in common. If you’re raving about the champagne in the Air France VIP lounge or the great view from your villa in St. Lucia, you’re going to alienate a few friends.
“At worst people may be envious and resentful of those who have had an extraordinary experience, and at best, they may find themselves with little to talk about,” the study states.
Continue curating by sifting out selfies. Experts offer differing opinions on posting vacation selfies, but the bottom line is that your camera should be pointed at the landscape more than your face.
“You should be trying to share the scenery with your friends and family, and not ‘This is what I look like today,’ ” said Amy van Stekelenburg, a London-based travel blogger with a prolific following on Instagram under the name the Nomads Project. “You might have a bit of a tan, but we’d like to see what’s behind you.”
After traversing the minefields of home safety, over-posting, bragging, and selfies, you’re still facing an uphill climb to make sure you’re not posting cliché and staid pictures. Just because you’ve seen pictures of feet on a beach (usually posted during the winter for optimal obnoxiousness), the Eiffel Tower, or dad and the kids standing dead still with practiced smiles doesn’t mean you need to take the same pictures. It’s your cue to do something more cheeky and fun.
“Of course you have to have the tourist photo,” van Stekelenburg said. “But try taking photos of familiar monuments from different angles. Make it interesting. Everybody knows what the Eiffel Tower looks like, so show something different.”
Add spontaneity to your group pictures. You can stand stiffly like a family of possums caught in a flashlight beam, or you can show people in action.
“I love action shots,” said Smith. “If it’s hot out, lie down on the pavement and pour water over your head. Just do something rather than posing. Tell a story with the pictures.”
Smith said what she prefers to see is real life, not a “Full House” version of reality in social media.
“Instead of telling me how hyperbolically amazing your vacation was with staged photos, show me an uncurated version,” she said.
Sharing your vacation food photos on social media is another sticky wicket. A picture of your dad fighting with a lobster could be fun. Not so fun is a picture of runny lobster ravioli. Noll said an occasional food shot on Instagram is fine, but he’s tired of seeing what he describes as “plates of brown.”
Perhaps the important thing to keep in mind when you hit the “share” button is your motivation for posting pictures. If you’re hoping to package yourself and your vacations as flawless, pricey, and perfect, then go to town by sticking to predetermined social media norms of posting travel photos.
If your intent is to share your experience of a genuine and interesting vacation with friends and family, give them something unique and fun. Just don’t clog their Facebook feed with your generosity.
Don’t over-edit your pictures. There are thousands of apps and programs that allow you to make your pictures brighter or more dramatic. But if you go too far, it looks like a bizarre illustration rather than reality.
Do post pictures that make people want to travel.
Social media can be inspiring, and posting beautiful
pictures gives people an opportunity to live vicariously through your vacation.
Don’t put yourself in every photograph. No matter how cute you are, sometimes people just want to see the scenery. Keep the selfies in check.
Do carefully curate your pictures before you post them. If you bog people down with too many photos, they won’t bother looking at them.
Don’t post cliché pictures. No one really wants to see another picture of feet by a pool or on the beach. If your sunset pictures resemble thousands of others on Facebook or Instagram, it’s time to think more creatively.
Do look around and take pictures of things that are unusual. Give your friends and family a sense of what’s special about your vacation.
Don’t check into every place you visit. It’s tempting to give people a play-by-play of your vacation, but not all your friends want to know when you’re downing a
28-ounce Long Island Iced Tea at Señor Frogs.
Don’t post pictures of your hotel room. Just don’t.
Do post one photo from one meal only. But only if it was extraordinary.
Don’t brag. Even humble brags are unacceptable. There’s no better way to alienate friends than taking pictures of the most expensive aspects of your trip.
Do put your phone away for a few hours and enjoy your vacation. Forget about social media, forget about do’s and don’ts of posting pictures on social media. Buy a fruity drink, stick your toes in the sand, and don’t take a picture of it.
Christopher Muther can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther