Last week my family came home from a 10-day trip to the island of Oahu in Hawaii. It was our first destination vacation since our twins were born (read: our first trip that wasn’t to visit family). After coming home and looking through my images, I came up with some vacation photography tips to help others out. Now please let me point out, these are pointers for VACATION photography… particularly when traveling with kids. This is not about TRAVEL photography… where you are in some exotic location shooting some indigenous tribe in the back country for National Geographic. It is about being able to capture memories of your vacation, while still dealing with exhausted children that haven’t adjusted to the time change.
1. Travel light on gear.
If there’s any advice I have it’s this one… travel with as little gear as possible. I brought with me one camera body, one zoom lens (Tamron 28-75 f2.8) and my flash. That’s it. Now on reflection I may have wanted to bring one slightly longer lens as well, but the reality was we took public transit everywhere, and it was just one more thing I would have had to carry. As it was, I was carrying one of my 5-year old twins about half the time so for me, lighter was better. You can evaluate this depending on your travel situation. I also considered bringing a tripod for those great sunset and low light shots. But I knew the reality was that sunset was when I had to put my three kids to bed and IF I was able to get out to snap some images then I could rest my camera on a wall or something to save myself from dragging a tripod with me. One thing I did bring was TWO camera bags. I had my large JoTotes shoulder bag (the Betsy in teal as seen HERE) that doubled as my purse. I also brought a small padded camera case that just fit my camera with lens. The reason it was handy to have that was for when we went to the beach… I could zip it into that small padded case and throw it in with our beach gear without worrying about it getting broken or full of sand.
2. It’s not just the destination… photograph the travel as well.
This trip was the first time my 5-year old twins had been on an airplane. It was a big deal for them. Besides the fact that I was constantly arbitrating access to the window seat, I wanted to capture some of the excitement of the plane ride. For children, the travel is as exciting as the destination, so whether you’re going by car, train, plane, ferry or Segway… don’t forget to get a few shots in!
3. Capture the little details.
Whenever my kids mentioned that they saw something new or different I took a photo of it. What about new foods that are local to the area that you tried? My kids just HAD to try Hawaiian shaved ice (which, for the record, is just a snow cone) and I wanted to eat some poke (a traditional Hawaiian salad made with marinated raw ahi tuna). What about different flora or fauna? What about signs at the different destinations you visit? One of the things about Hawaii is that most of the time you can’t pronounce place names. For instance, our condo was near Kalakaua Avenue… and pretty much half of the street names start with a “K” and end in five or more vowels. Taking photos of signs will always be helpful in remembering where you visited and how to spell it. It’s those detail shots that help tell the story of your vacation adventure!
4. Double check your aperture!
Of course you are all amazing and awesome photographers that are more on top of their camera settings then I am, but one of the things I had to be always conscious of was my aperture setting. As a portrait photographer I am always trying to shoot as wide open as possible to keep my subject in focus, while still having a small enough depth of field to get some bokeh behind them. That’s not always the case when taking scenic shots. In fact, when you’re shooting scenery, often it’s better to get everything in focus at f22. It’s pretty rare as a portrait photographer that my camera ever sees f22… so I had to super conscious of that.
5. Get in some photos.
The problem with being a photographer is that you’re never in the photos. Please please please… do NOT write yourself out of your family vacation. Your kids are going to want to remember you being there with them on that trip! I don’t care if you don’t like being seen in a bathing suit. Do it for your kids. Because your kids don’t see “Mom who has 20 extra pounds” when they see you in the photo. They see “Mom who I played with on the beach” in the photo. And if the person taking the photo chops your feet off in the frame or can’t read the light right… don’t stress about it. Not all photos need to be art. Some are just meant to capture the memory of being there… like this photo of me and my family!
You can also consider hiring a photographer to take family photos for you while you’re there. My entire extended family came on the trip with us (my parents and my two sisters’ families). Having us all together is a rare event, so we hired Jennifer Brotchie Photography to do a session for us. Yes… it cost us money. Yes… it was a slight hassle to coordinate outfits while on vacation. Yes… getting 13 people to the session location was challenging. But after seeing only one preview image from our session (see below), I absolutely know that it was worth it.
6. Go beyond the posed photo.
Posed photos in front of vacation landmarks are fine and dandy, but don’t forget to get shots of your kids “doing things”. Playing in the sand. Riding the roller coaster. Petting the zebra. Even having a tantrum in the airport.
7. Don’t forget to put your camera down.
What? Put your camera down? Yes. When I first started getting really passionate about photography I lived my life with a camera on my face. Yes… I got a lot of great shots but my husband gently reminded me that the kids desire memories… not just photos. So this trip I tried to be really purposeful about getting some pictures and then putting my camera away so I could enjoy the beach, or take on the hike, or engage with my kids. Yes I missed some shots, but I also gained some great memories my children. So don’t be afraid to put that camera away now and then!