How to Take Great Family Vacation Photos

What comes to mind when you think about your next family vacation? Fun? Excitement? Adventure? Now, look back at the photos you took during your last vacation. Do your images evoke the same feelings? Do your photos tell the story of your experience? Or, is something missing? While there are no real secrets to vacation photography, today, we’ll uncover some tips that should make this year’s family vacation photos come alive. 

1. Start at Home

Vacation photos don’t have to be limited to photos taken “on vacation.” Before you leave home, think about the story you want your photos to tell.  Just as you’ll want to remember the look on your child’s face when they see the ocean for the first time, try also capturing all the excitement of packing suitcases, waiting for dad to pack up the car while eating a snack, or checking in at the airport. You don’t need a ton of these types of photos, but a few key shots will capture the beginning of your vacation story.

2. Always Carry Your Camera

Hotel Ride

Seriously, carry it everywhere. The worst shots are the shots that weren’t taken, and while it’s a good idea to give your camera a break every once in a while, we don’t recommend putting it too far out of reach. Anything and everything is fair game when it comes to vacation photography. The hotel, the elevator, luggage dollies, restaurants, even signs. Capture it all. 

3. Capture Your Family, Not Just the Destination

Scenery and monument shots are interesting, but are these the photos that will make you laugh and cry when you’re looking through your vacation photos years from now? It can be tempting and even fun to photograph a new location. It’s even more tempting when iconic character such as Mickey Mouse go floating by. However, the photo of Mickey (or flower or monument) won’t be nearly as special to you as the shot of your child’s expression when it happens. Take photos of your family actively making memories, not just the destination.

On a similar note, you’ll probably want to capture at least one family photo while on vacation. Remember that perfectly posed family photos are overrated. Sure, we all want that picture-perfect moment where the entire family is looking at the camera with a smile on their face. However, don’t stress too much if it doesn’t happen or if your child has too much energy to stand completely still. If you do want to photograph your family in front of your travel destination, move at least 5 feet away (or further depending on the size of the building) from the building, instead of standing right on top of it. Focus on your family and let the building fade into the background. You’ll remember being on location without it taking over the shot.

4. Avoid Cliches

MK_20130913_IMG_7402

On a similar note, resist the urge to pose your family for cliched shots. Go ahead and take a shot of your kids in front of the monument (Cinderella’s Castle, etc). Then try to create a unique composition that you haven’t seen before of every other person who has been to that destination before.

5. Don’t Be Too Self-Conscious in Public Places

It can be intimidating to photograph your family in public. Don’t worry about what strangers may be thinking as you contort yourself into crazy positions to get the shot. Just focus on capturing those beautiful memories. 

6. Catch the Quiet Moments

Vacations tend to be jammed back and full of action, but at the end of the day, most children (and adults) are ready for a little quiet time. Take advantage of the rare moments of silence when your kids become oblivious to the camera. Capture them laying in bed looking over their new toy or staring over the balcony while they watch the sun set. 

7. Give Everyone A Camera

Just because you’re a self-proclaimed momtographer, doesn’t mean you should have all the fun! By giving everyone in your family a camera, not only will you ensure your kids don’t get bored, but you’ll also be able to see a different version of the story you’ve been capturing. And these additional cameras don’t have to be anything too fancy. A simple disposable camera or inexpensive digital camera will be sufficient. You’ll be surprised at how many great photos will come from your children’s or husband’s eyes.

8. Get In The Photo

Pass the Camera

One of the advantages of giving everyone a camera is that you increase your chances of being in a few vacation photos. You can also try finding another mom with a camera and trade services. She can photograph your family and you can return the favor. Look for people who have similar cameras to ensure that your photo will be in focus. 

9. Consider Your Composition

Don’t forget basic composition while you’re on vacation. Each time you look through your viewfinder (or LCD monitor), pay attention to what you’re capturing before you click the shutter.Then, take several shots from multiple perspectives. Here’s a few other ideas:

Fill the Frame

Hawaii2011-3

Be sure to take a wide angle shot of your destination. Then, use your feet to move closer to your subject. Allow your children’s faces to fill the frame, rather than letting them get lost in the scenery. Unless the sky or something in the foreground is begging to be photographed, move closer. 

Clear the Clutter

Hawaii2011-2

It’s sometimes difficult to avoid people in your photos, especially when you’re on vacation. However, try your best to avoid distractions in the background like tree limbs that appear to be sticking out of your husband’s head or a nasty trash can. Chances are that if you move a little to the right or left, that the distraction will be completely out of the frame. 

Rule of Thirds

Hawaii2013-3

Challenge yourself NOT to take photos in which your subject is in the dead center of your frame. Mix up your shots by composing them to the left or right of the frame and fill the rest of your shot with a beautiful backdrop.

Go Vertical

Go Vertical

Don’t forget that you can turn your camera to the side for a vertical shot.

10. Ready, Set, ACTION!

Whether you’re riding from the airport to your hotel, or chasing your kids as they run down the beach, vacations are full of action and motion. Therefore, pay careful attention to your shutter speed. To avoid a blurry shot and camera shake, keep your shutter speed at at least 1/200. You can also set your camera to high speed continuous or action mode. This allows your camera to take multiple frames per second and will give you a better chance of getting the shot you want.

11. Pay Attention to the Light

May 2009 Beach_20090504_IMG_4871

On any other day, you might be willing to wait until the sun is being cooperative before shooting. During vacation, you don’t have that luxury. You also don’t have the same control over your light or access to all of your equipment. Whether it’s high sun or lights out, there will always be photos worth taking. Therefore, it’s even more important to pay attention to the way the light is falling and use it to your advantage. And, if possible, try to avoid using your flash. Don’t be afraid to experiment with higher ISOs (ISO 800 or higher) for night shots or low-light situations. You may have a little noise in your photos, but it’ll look much better than using flash.

12. The Right Equipment, the Right Bag

Depending on how long you’ve been a momtographer, you may have quite a bit of equipment. Choosing what equipment to bring can be a challenge. At a minimum, bring a good zoom lens with a wide focal range, extra batteries (as well as the charger) and extra memory cards. You might also enjoy having your favorite portrait lens for close up shots. Either way, be sure to pack your equipment in a proper bag. We like the Snugglens Digital SLR camera and diaper combo bag because it has room for all of your mommy and photography needs, with cushy dividers to protect your camera from any accidents.

For more info, check out this post on Traveling with Your Camera Gear


One last tip: to avoid condensation, allow your camera gear to warm up gradually before exposing it to the heat (meaning don’t immediately take off the lens cap as soon as you walk outside). And, if you plan to be outside for long periods of time, be sure to keep it covered when it’s not in use. This will help extend the life of your camera.  All that said, have fun on your vacation this summer!

Photo Credits: Ashley Sisk, The Art of Making a Baby, The Whimsical Photographer, and Dreams to Do

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Ashley Sisk

Ashley lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children and Kitty Paw. She's a work-from-home mom with a natural light photography business and a passion for sharing everything she knows. Since leaving the corporate world, she now spends her time chasing her preschooler, nursing her new baby, writing and finding ways to enjoy life. You can find her on Facebook, Google + or on her website.

Leave a comment