The Expert Tips That Forever Changed How I Take Vacation Photos

Beyond the technical aspects, it's all about your mindset and approach.

Photo Courtesy of Sylvain Terret; Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist
Photo Courtesy of Sylvain Terret; Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist
Photo Courtesy of Sylvain Terret; Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist

Sylvain Terret doesn’t have a pet name for his 2004 Nissan Patrol Y61, but damn does he love that car. The photographer and avid outdoorsman regularly ventures far into the rugged heights of the French Alps behind the wheel of his trusty gray 4×4 for hiking excursions. He enjoys camping in the high-elevation wilderness using a badass tent accessory that connects to its roof. And, as you’ll quickly discover on his Instagram account, he captures gorgeous portraits of the diesel-powered beauty-often seen with the snow-capped Mont Blanc as the backdrop-on their many adventures. Just like his camera, the car is another extension of himself.

While on a recent trip to Megève, France’s Four Seasons Hotel Megève, I had the honor of off-roading through the beautiful mountainous terrain in Terret’s Patrol as part of a guided photography hike. It was the last day of my trip to the area for the hotel’s “Based on a True Stay” experience, and maybe it was the nostalgic metallic scent of the camping gear and hardware inside, but climbing into the passenger seat while the idling diesel engine rumbled made me downright giddy. We were still on paved roads when I started peppering Terret with questions-about his ride (he’s had it for just over a year now, I learned), but his chosen profession, too.

Photo by Tony Merevick for Thrillist
Photo by Tony Merevick for Thrillist
Photo by Tony Merevick for Thrillist

“I used to draw and paint my inner world, but in photography, it’s the exact opposite-I create images starting from reality,” Terret said. “When I’m taking photography, I feel deeply connected with my environment, and as a mountain lover, being out with my camera, sometimes off the beaten track, it’s like my senses are heightened tenfold. I’m here and now in an intense way.”

Unlike Terret, I’d never hopped into an off-road vehicle and ascended into the mountains to snap some photos, so I was admittedly a little intimidated. What should one look for when surrounded by a stunning landscape with an epic vista in every direction?

“Sometimes I go into the mountains only for hiking-I don’t bring any photo gear, except my phone,” he said. “Other times, I go to take photos and the hike is just a way to reach some places. I’ll choose the time to get the light and weather conditions I’m looking for, even if it’s not the best for hiking. For instance, when the weather turns foggy or rainy, most people don’t go out, but I’ll be somewhere in the mountains with my camera.”

Scroll through Terret’s nature and architecture photography and you’ll see what he means. Walking along a gravel road with the Patrol parked not too far behind us, he laughed when I described his style as “moody.” But he didn’t disagree.

Unfortunately for him, we didn’t have any gloomy mist to work with on that September afternoon in the French Alps. Though from my perspective, we definitely lucked out with the weather. Cold rains the night before frosted the surrounding mountain caps with a snowy glow, and additional drenching storms were just hours away. Of course, most visitors experience Megève, located in the Haute-Savoie region of southeastern France and best accessed via Geneva, under a thick blanket of powder during the winter ski season. But the peace and quiet of the off-season made the visit even more special for me.

Still on foot, we reached a high meadow at the top of a towering hill and paused near a dormant ski lift. Low clouds raced above us, and the afternoon sun projected an ever-turning kaleidoscope of vivid shadows and highlights against the rocky ridges. Looking down into the valley below, Megève showcased its most picturesque angles, as if the fairytale mountain town was posing for a postcard. My first instinct was to whip out my iPhone and drag it through the air for a panorama shot. It turned out nicely, but I noticed Terret was doing the exact opposite. Instead of trying to get an epic hero shot like me, he trained his lens on a tiny farm in the distance, and then, on the tall golden grass blowing in the chilly wind around us. I was clearly missing something.
“I advise to simply not try to capture everything in one shot, because you actually end up seeing everything and nothing at the same time,” he said. “Rather, frame something that resonates with you. It could be part of a mountain, a light and a shadow, a detail in the forest, the shape of clouds, anything that captures your attention.”

“Because of social media, people want to travel to a specific place and capture the exact same photo that went viral, but that doesn’t bring any value,” he continued. “How can you bring something different? A good photo, to me, is a photo that the longer we watch it, the more we love it, and we never get tired of looking at it.”

As Terret pointed out (at times with a flurry of camera clicks in a certain direction), there was a wealth of dramatic alpine scenery transforming in front of us amid the changing light-more than enough to keep our shutters busy as we hiked along, carefully avoiding the many, many cowpies hiding in the overgrown fields.

“Just reconnect with yourself and observe the nature around you,” Terret told me, great advice for a novice with a big camera and even bigger expectations for his travel photography. “Can you see how the light is changing on this part of the mountain? How about the shadows on the rocks? Or this little cabin lost in the wilderness? Look at the ground-there are many beautiful colors, textures, and details everywhere.”

“Is there something you feel connected with?” he added. “Capture it.”
So I did.

I found the shadows, shapes, and textures, including the subtle sparkle of meltwater trickling down the mountainside and shadows forming menacing tentacles across the forest’s expanse. I even came across some alarmingly red mushrooms that practically screamed up from their patch of fallen twigs and pinecones, demanding their close-up. And you can bet your ass that I got a glamor shot or two of Terret’s prized Patrol.

Photo by Tony Merevick for Thrillist
Photo by Tony Merevick for Thrillist
Photo by Tony Merevick for Thrillist

What I ended up with was a series of photos-hundreds that I edited down to dozens-that captured the essence of that autumn afternoon, ultimately linking together to tell the story of our little hike together. Looking back, a big part of my lesson was recognizing that my collection of photos from that day-panos, close-ups, texture shots, plays on shapes, plays on shadows-is far greater than the sum of its parts.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube.

Tony Merevick is the Managing Editor at Thrillist, where he’s served in multiple editor roles on the James Beard Award-winning team since 2015. He’s a journalist, editor, and creative content strategist with more than a decade of experience in digital media, including at top digital publishers Vox Media, Group Nine Media, and BuzzFeed. Over the years, his reporting has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, TimeOut Chicago, the Chicago Free Press, among others, and his coverage of the national LGBTQ+ news beat at BuzzFeed led to a GLAAD Media Award Nomination in 2015. Merevick is the former editor-in-chief and co-founder of LGBTQ+ news startup, Chicago Phoenix. He’s a graduate of the ASME Magazine Internship Program and holds a degree in Journalism from Columbia College Chicago. He loves wine, making homemade pizzas, and trying too hard at Instagram. Read more.


Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.


Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.