Even as a photographer, taking photos of my family while traveling/adventuring/sightseeing can be particularly challenging. Honestly, in the best of circumstances, it is difficult to get my own kids (and husband) to cooperate with me for photos. That goes double when everyone is excited, semi-travel worn, and just wants to see and do rather than indulge me in my quest to document our family time.
If you’ve been following my friend Tavia from Big Brave Nomad, you will notice that she has really become skilled at documenting her travels with her rambunctious toddlers...sometimes while traveling SOLO and not having any help. I’m just in awe of how she makes it work, and so I’ve asked her to share with us her best tips for getting great family photos while on vacation. Take it away Tavia!
Have you ever held your DSLR camera in your hand and thought, “This thing must be broken.”? I have. I perpetually thought my camera was broken because every photo came out blurry or focused on the wrong subject. I would pull photos up on my computer and they would be dark and gloomy. This camera was a real piece of crap, i thought. I decided I wanted to sell it, so my husband got online and sold it. In early 2016 my husband bought me a Sony A6000 to help me capture awesome photos of my family for our family travel blog. He wanted me to have something lightweight and small for capturing our family in the moment. We brought it on one trip and I swore it too was broken. This is when my husband looked at me and said, “Are you sure it’s the camera? Or maybe you just don’t know how to use it.”
Fast forward about a year and a half. Fast forward through 2 international 2+ week trips and not bringing my camera or bringing it and leaving it in my bag. Fast forward through hundreds (literally) of lost photo opportunities...I saw my birth photographer (turned friend), Natalie, post that she was hosting a “Mom’s Photography Class” and I knew I needed to take it. I procrastinated until there was only one seat left before I committed. Finally, I bought my seat for the class. And. It. Changed. Everything. For the first time, I was able to use my camera. I started understanding how to shoot in manual mode, how to change the aperture, how to choose where I wanted the camera to focus, and I finally learned that my camera was not broken...it was me.
So, I’m thrilled to share with you from a real mom (non-photographer) perspective, how to take better photos of your kids while on vacation. But if you REALLY want your photos to improve, invest in one of Natalie’s Mom Workshops. As I said before, learning from her was the real turning point for me.
PART 1: Planning Your Shots
Find the good light
Light can make or break your photo. The best photos I have ever taken on vacation are outside in the “golden hour” (the hour before dusk and the hour after dawn) or inside near a naturally lit window. The more natural light, the better. I like to have the sun off to the side where the sun comes in at an angle or I like to put it right behind the subject.
Reduce background clutter
I never like photos with a ton of people in them. There is something so dreamy about a photo of someone alone at a popular spot. But how do you eliminate the people you ask? Get creative. Sometimes you can angle a kid, get a little closer to them and have the background seemingly empty. Sometimes you have to get up higher or lower. For instance, this photo is of my son at peak time in Magic Kingdom directly in front of the Castle. I set him up with his candle, then laid on the ground in front of him. I pointed the camera upwards toward his face, ensuring the castle was nicely framed to the side of him. There are other people, but the camera angle makes my son stand out more and gives the impression that he is enjoying his birthday alone.
Patience is a virtue
Crowds are going to ebb and flow. You may walk into an attraction and see mass amounts of people, but hang around and wait, it will lull. Use those moments to hang with the family, choose your camera settings, or plan your next stop or what you’re having for lunch. When the lull happens, hop into action and steal the glory of uncluttered backgrounds! In this example, I snagged a photo of my son napping in front of the Duomo in his stroller. He is seemingly there by himself, but there are actually hundreds of people there. I just moved around and waited until it was clear and snapped away.
PART 2: Getting Kids to Cooperate
My kids are toddlers, so getting them both to smile or participate is a hilarious concept. I always carry a bag of gummy bears or lollipops that I bring out when it’s time for photos. My kids will sit still if they are getting treats. If sweets aren’t your thing, try fruit or string cheese or something your kid loves. If I forget my candy, I promise them ice cream (and follow through so they know I’m not lying the next time).
Turn them away from the camera
Some of my best and favorite photos are of my kids from behind. I do this a lot because it is very hard to get both of my kids to look at the camera. When we travel, I am normally taking a photo to show my kids were actually somewhere cool, so getting a stiff photo of them smiling is not as interesting to me as having a photo of them engaged in their surroundings. I turn them away from me and snap several pictures while they sit still eating a sucker...seemingly taking in the view.
Redirect their attention
One skill we learn early on in parenting is redirection. When they don’t want to participate or I am crunched for time, I distract my kids. How? I ask them to “find a bird” or “look at the spider on my head!” or anything that will briefly get them to think and look for something. Even if they aren’t smiling perfectly, the photo typically comes out nicely and they genuinely look excited.
Don’t force it
I would be lying if I told you I never got frustrated with the kids (or my husband) for not participating for photos. I do. However, these days I am less frustrated because I am not wasting time trying to figure out my camera and can just keep snapping away. I love the less posed and more natural photos, so I often just let my kids move around like they would anyway. This normally results in photos I love. It captures them just the way they are; wild and free.
PART 3: Invest in Your Memories
Get in the picture too.
You deserve to be IN your family photos too. Take the time before your trip to learn how to use your self-timer (and interval timer) and get comfortable asking strangers to snap your photo. Believe it or not, I do this with our real camera all the time. What’s the worst that could happen? They take a bad photo? Oh well. But what if they take an awesome one? To the left are examples of strangers coming through in a pinch and where our self-timer was the real MVP.
Buy in a REAL camera
Your iPhone is great and portrait mode is pretty cool, but nothing beats high-resolution photography that can be printed and framed. Capturing the moment and being able to enhance the photo without losing quality is imperative. I personally love the Sony A6000 and Natalie swears by her Fuji X-T3. They are both incredible mirrorless DSLRs that are very small, light and have interchangeable lenses. AND many such cameras have a WiFi feature that will let you send pictures straight from the camera to your phone, so you don’t have to wait to get to a computer to share them.
Take a Mom Workshop
Your camera is not broken. It’s you. You need to learn how to use your camera, so you can actually USE your camera. Natalie’s workshop not only made taking photos of my wild kids easier, but it also helped me to bring home way more usable photos for my blog. My photos were finally in focus, finally bright and airy, finally what I envisioned when I took them. I am able to use photos with no or only slight edits. I used to take thousands and maybe bring home 10-15 photos I actually liked or could use, but now I am taking hundreds and bringing home hundreds that I love and use. It has changed everything for me on the photography front. I am more relaxed, more confident and best of all, I am capturing my family’s adventures with real high-resolution photos.
If you aren’t local or just can’t make it to the next in person workshop, Natalie is launching a web based, e-course version of her mom workshop. She teaches in a way that is easy to understand and her instructions are easy to follow. She provides hands-on exercises to help you get familiar with using your camera in manual mode AND you get access to her private Facebook group where you can ask questions and get feedback from Natalie and her community. I mean really, what are you waiting for?
Travel is my passion and my obsession. I refuse to lose another amazing photo by not knowing how to use my camera or by rushing through the moment. Travel needs to be savored both in real time and in photos. Give your family something they can look back on and relive all those amazing places. Invest in yourself, invest in your family, invest in your photos!
Fly Brave, Travel Often, See Everything,