5 Tips for Amazing Family Vacation Photos

One of the benefits of owning a photography business is that I get to document my families life with really pretty images.  While there are times that I end up just taking my phone along because I don’t feel like packing up the DSLR, there are also occasions that call for the big guns.  Our trip to Ocean Shores with my family last summer was one of those occasions.  Growing up I have fond memories of my extended family there.  We would play at the beach, swim in the pool across the street and sit around the smoke filled fire for hours on end.  This year we all headed down there to celebrate some family birthdays.  The biggest change is that all the cousins, who are now adults with children of their own, were in charge of all the events and entertaining the kids.  It was legacy being passed down and I didn’t want to miss a single minute of this time so full of rich memories!

As we head into the long summer days I wanted to share a couple tips to help you prepare and take amazing images of your next family trip.

  1. Choose your gear wisely:  Not all family trips are created the same.  Evaluate what your needs might be and pack accordingly.  Some family hiking trips simply call for a point and shoot, or just your phone. And thats perfect…some of my favorite and most meaningful images were taken on my phone!  I would feel hesitant to bring my DSLR on a trip where it would be exposed to the elements or unable to be in a locked area if I were to leave the site.  This trip for me was more “glamping” than camping, so we had trailers and a secure cabin structure. This meant that when my camera wasn’t being used it was tucked safely away.  I also had my Kelly Moore camera bag to help protect my lenses and camera body.  The last thing I considered before packing my camera was which lenses I’d need. Anticipate what you might want to take photos of; often one lens accomplishes what you need.  Often a 35mm or a 50mm prime lens will do the trick, each of those focal lengths are wonderful for storytelling.  For this trip I brought my camera body, a Sigma 85 and a Sigma 50 ART lens.
  2. Know your light, and when is the best light for story telling: Part of developing your eye as a photographer is learning to look for the light.  Once you see it you can never “unsee” gorgeous light, you look for it everywhere. When you see it you learn to jump on those opportunities for photos. Remember to put the sun behind your subject and expose your image for the focal point of your image is correctly lit.  For me this means exposing for the face, hands, feet, or other detail that is intriguing to tell the story.  Another trick I learned is put your subject in front of the sun, and also keep the sun directly out of the frame.  This create amazing “rim light” that highlights your subjects.  Often morning or evening light is the ideal for photos; mid afternoon sun can be harsh and unforgiving however if leveraged correctly and produce some amazing images.  (Shameless plug here: if you are in the PNW and are looking to learn more about shooting in mid-day sun check out the Made to Create Basics Shooting in Full Sun class happening in July)
  3. Anticipate moments: With kids, half the battle is getting them to stop, look and smile when a camera is around.  Sometimes, with the right bribe, you can nail that perfect vacation image but its never a guarantee. “Overposing” your family members can take the joy right out of what may have been a moment that originally was full of life.  Learning to anticipate the right moments, moving to where the light is best and having the camera ready creates natural, unposed and deeply meaningful images. Taking the camera out during short bursts where you know that moments will be happening and put it away during the quiet times. When children are occupied, curious or entertained you get to just sit back and capture the joy. And the moments were the kids are just being kids are priceless. Another huge part of capturing the small moments is shooting the details.  For trips where my camera comes along I take 15 to 20 minutes walking around the site and narrow in on little details that help fill in the story.  This could be a towel blowing in the wind, a cousin sitting drinking her coffee, leftover lunch dishes and a wide angle catching the whole campsite.
  4. Stay safe: This might seem like a no brainer but I’ve heard of too many people not being careful of what they are doing.  Your safety (and that of your loved ones) always trumps the amazing shot.  If you are on a quiet street, keep an eye and ear out for cars.  Watch where you are placing your feet, especially on potentially slick surfaces. Oh.  And sunscreen, remember that too!
  5. Know when to put your camera away and soak in the moments with you family: Having amazing photos of your vacation is always wonderful, but please, please, PLEASE take the time to focus on what is the most important. I get sucked into the pull of taking photos, putting the image before the relationship.  But after thinking about for a while I realized that I want to be in the memories, not just have a photo of them. Several years ago I challenged myself to shoot film for personal projects and shooting film has helped me so much with slowing down and evaluating the “why” behind each frame.  I take fewer photos now, but the ones that I do take are dripping with meaning. I couldn’t be more thankful for the time that I’ve got with my family; I hope I never take that time for granted.

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