Photography, in the sense of a visual art is really amazing and challenging. While a painter can paint whatever he wishes to create from images in his mind, a photographer must create art from what exists in his surroundings at that moment in time. Photographers must turn reality into art. Add kids to the mix and life gets interesting.
When photographing my children during our travels, I try to capture things as they are, but in a way that will elicit emotion and conjure memories. Memories are fleeting, especially at a young age. When my children grow up, I want them to see these pictures and remember the time we spent together and the adventures we have had.
In an effort to help others, I’ve created a list of helpful tips to create memorable travel photography for you and your family. There is nothing new or revolutionary in here. I may not be the best photographer in the world, but for friends that have come to me for photography advice, these are my top 12 tips!
1. Keep it Candid
My favorite pictures of my children are probably the ones where they are being themselves and I am able to capture that moment. Sometimes this can be more difficult than it sounds. Finding just the right angle, while your toddler is running a million miles an hour is no easy task. Sometimes it means I’m chasing him down with a camera. My kids are quite used to this and my 9 year old has recently started to shy away from being photographed and I’ve tried my best to keep it minimal with her. Don’t be afraid to capture something negative. While we want to remember the good times, sometimes it’s ok to document that time your child got the stomach flu on a 15 hour flight. Although I’m still not sure I want to remember that one! But it’s real life, and in a few years we’ll all laugh about it!
It’s OK to stage your photo a bit. I know it seems like I’m contradicting myself here, but, while candids are my favorite, sometimes I want a candid shot with all of my children in it. Let’s get real, my little ducks don’t always march in a straight line. They are ALL OVER the place ALL the time! So occasionally I will say, “Hey, guys, go look out that window and tell me what you see.” So they are still doing their kid thing, but I get a shot with all 4 of them in there. Sometimes easier said than done, which is why most of my pictures usually feature only one of my children!
Get fancy and use a Single Lens Reflex Camera (one with interchangeable lenses). Even if it’s an older, less expensive DSLR camera, it really does make a difference! You can find these on amazon and eBay for fairly cheap these days. The camera I use is actually 8 years old. I’m really due for an upgrade, but it still does a great job! If you can’t get your hands on something more high-tech, you know how the saying goes “the best camera is the one you have on you!” Use what you’ve got, you’ll never regret taking pictures of your kids or your travels!
I love shooting with a portrait lens for a dramatic effect, even when traveling. You can check out the best portrait lenses here.
I did eventually get an upgrade and now shoot with the Sony A7rII. I was really nervous about switching systems from Canon to Sony, but I absolutely love it and will never go back. The Sony is a mirrorless camera which means it is smaller, lighter and can shoot on silent, which is great for sneaking pictures of my kids when they’re not interested!
If you’re using a camera with interchangeable lenses, pick a favorite lens and get comfortable with it. There’s nothing more annoying that standing on a boat or a cliff and saying “wait, hold that right there while I change my lens and capture this incredible moment.” Been there…it’s not real fun. My favorite lens for my Canon 40D is the Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 lens. It’s just a basic prime mid-range lens for Canon, but I love shooting with it. I love prime lenses (lenses that don’t zoom in or out). I personally feel like the image quality is clearer, but of course there is always a give and take with whatever lens you choose. But when I’m traveling, I try to stick to one lens so I don’t have to haul my whole kit around every day. That can really get in the way of actually being present during our trip.
Now that I’ve switched to Sony, I also have a new favorite lens. There are lots of great lenses out there for Sony, but I love my Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2. It hardly ever comes off my camera!
5. Open Wide
Be sure you are shooting in manual mode! Please, do not spend money on a DSLR and shoot it in Automatic mode! Don’t waste your money! Here is a great basic beginner tutorial for using your DSLR in manual mode. If you want to isolate the kids in the picture and really make them the stars, open up that aperture! I usually shoot at a 2.0 or 2.2 if I’m close up. If you don’t have a lens that opens that wide, here is a really inexpensive lens that I love and have used for years. And here is one I recently got that is my new favorite. I’m a Canon girl, so I’m sorry I’m not much help for users of other cameras.
This is a great lens for sony users!
6. Baby Got Back
Be sure you are using your back focus button, instead of the shutter button for Auto Focus. It really does make all the difference! Especially when chasing kids around when they are in full motion, because, really, when are they NOT?
7. Light It Up
Turn off that flash and use natural light. I’m not anti flash. Sometimes it’s necessary, but isn’t natural light just so beautiful? My favorite light is open shade. A shaded area, still plenty bright, but not in direct sunlight. Side light coming through a window is also lovely! Use what catches your eye! Also, keep in mind the time of day. Late afternoon light is lovely as well as early morning if you’ve got early risers!
8.Get the Whole Picture
Step back or pull back your frame (zoom out). Especially when traveling, be sure to give your pictures some context. Instead of having a nice close up of your child’s face and looking at it years later and wondering where that was taken, step back and capture their surroundings.
9.Move it to the Left…or Right
Try experimenting with shooting from the height of a child. Sometimes I like to see things as they do. It’s a different world down there! The least interesting shot you will take is probably from where you are standing. Find a unique angle.
Nature photography is beautiful, but I promise, in 10 years, you’ll want a warm body in that picture. This will give it context, just like pulling your frame back will give your location context. Throw a kid in that shot! And try to get in there yourself once in a while!
12.Take it with You
Always bring your camera! But always stay present with your kids. Take a few shots and put it away! Or better yet, hand it to someone else in the family. Pictures are great, but spending quality time with your family is better!I hope this helps! Do you have any other family travel photography tips? What am I missing? If you have any questions, comment below!