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Have you ever had the feeling your family vacation photos don’t end up the way you pictured them in your head (a lot of the times because the kids don’t cooperate)? They don’t represent the way your family felt at the moment or tell the story in the right way? Or do you want to improve your family travel photography to show it off on Instagram or Facebook as we do 😉?
Taking amazing shots doesn’t have to be difficult. In this article, I’ll give you a lot of simple tips and tricks to up your game and take those family travel pictures you always dreamed of!
You don’t even need a fancy camera for most of them, the tips are always applicable!
To me, beautiful pictures are art. They tell a story, take you into the moment. They are the most precious souvenirs I take back home. Travel and photography are my passions, which is also the reason why I turned it into my business. I hope all of our photos will be amazing memories for our kids and ourselves, and that they will inspire other families to go out and explore with their own kids.
A family vacation is, first of all, a time to be together, be in the moment with your kids and partner. If you are like me, however, you also want beautiful shots that reflect the way you felt about your trip.
I once started without any knowledge about photography, picturing in my head all the stunning photos I would take during our trips and would frame onto our wall afterwards. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened. I didn’t do it the right way to really let my pictures and family shine. I’m still not a professional, but over the years I learned a lot and gained much experience. Especially since we started to travel full time with our kids.
Read more: Our travel stories
And now it’s time to share all of my tips with you guys, so you can take the best pictures ever on your next family trip!
Which gear to use for your family travel photography?
The question most people ask us on our Instagram is which camera or lens we use during our travels.
Whatever you choose, don’t forget you’re travelling with kids. Think about your holiday, the trips your planning, the activities you will do. And of course, the kids you will bring along 😉. You don’t want to travel with gear that is too heavy or takes up too much room in your backpack. Try to pack light. Sometimes it’s a difficult balance between the weight of your bag and the level of quality you want to achieve with your photography.
Let’s dive into it.
1. Choose the right camera
First of all, a good picture doesn’t only rely on a professional camera. For an amazing shot, you both need the vision, experience and the material. If you have a DSLR camera but don’t know how to handle it, it’s useless. You don’t have to spend a huge amount of money to take great family travel pictures. Once you get experienced though, you’ll slowly start to dream about the more expensive gear.
The tips in this article are useful for whichever phone or camera you use.
I have taken some great shots with my iPhone 7plus. If photography isn’t really your thing or maybe something you only practice occasionally, you might want to invest in a smartphone with an excellent camera. Top of the notch at the moment is the iPhone XS and iPhone 11 Pro, the Huawei P30 Pro and the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G.
That being said, once you get the hang of it, you’ll soon meet the limitations of smartphones. For example, low light performance and the possibilities for editing are really limited. I can highly recommend you to buy a DSLR or mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses if you want to shine in the family travel photography. You won’t regret it!
Make sure you learn how to work with your camera. Don’t shoot in automatic. Take a basic photography course and learn to shoot in manual.
Master the triangle of ISO, aperture (F) and shutter time (S). It’s not that hard, you just need to practice a lot!
For travel, the mirrorless cameras are a fantastic alternative to the classic DSLR. They also have high quality and interchangeable lenses. But they don’t have a mirror, which means they are smaller (ideal for a travel backpack) and make less noise. Great for taking candid shots of your kids without them noticing.
My favourite mirrorless camera for smaller budgets is the Sony A6000, which we have. In my opinion, it is one of the cameras that offer the best value for money and is a great starters camera! You could also look into its successors such as the Sony A6300 and Sony A6500.
2. Take the right lens along
Another big thing to consider is which lens to use for family travel photography on your mirrorless or DSLR camera. Personally, I love family travel pictures where my kids or family are in focus and the background is blurry (which you achieve by opening up the aperture and having a lower f-number). Either that or a stunning wide-angle landscape picture with or without my family in it, where everything is in focus.
When travelling, you don’t have the luxury to take many different lenses, mainly because you also have to carry all that stuff for your kids. That, and your children won’t have the patience to wait until you have changed your lens for the perfect shot. So the difficult thing to decide is which lenses to bring that will cover most of your wishes.
One of my favourite lenses is a prime lens. You can’t zoom so you will have to use your feet to go closer or further away. But the image quality is often better, they are small (ideal for travel) and are quite affordable, even if you want to have a low aperture such as f1,8 (which will give you that amazing blurry background).
I have to admit, for budget reasons, I often take pictures with my basic kit lens too, which is the Sony FE 16-50 mm f3,5 – 5,6. It does what it has to, but not more than that. The real lens that can’t miss in your travel bag, is a zoom lens in the 20 – 70 mm range. This will give you all the possibilities you want for family travel photography without having to change your lenses all the time. There are different kinds, but the one on my list is the Sony FE 24-70mm f2,8, which is quite costly but the best lens on the market in its range.
3. Invest in some photography accessories
If you have any money left 😉, some accessories are really handy or even unmissable if you want to make amazing family travel pictures.
First of all, the tripod. You may have noticed we often take pictures with all four of us. Although I love the pictures of my kids, the pictures that go on our wall are often those with the four of us.
I could ask a random person to take the shot, but more often than not, the picture doesn’t turn out the way I want it. We either have no feet, aren’t close enough in the shot or even worse, aren’t in focus.
The tripods we recommend for your camera and have ourselves are the Manfrotto Compact Light Tripods. Another great accessory is a Gorilla Tripod, either for your camera or smartphone. With its flexible legs, you can put it up anywhere!
How recognisable is this to you? You set up your camera on self-timer, press the button, have to run towards your family and a nice stranger is standing there having fun. Buy a remote, and you won’t have that problem anymore. Works great too if you want your kids to be more natural because they forget you are actually taking pictures. Every brand has its own specific remotes so research which one is best for your camera.
4. Practice with your camera before you go
You are ready to get more serious about your family travel photography and you have bought yourself a DSLR or mirrorless camera. And there you are, at this iconic place, the kids are all lined up and the magic doesn’t happen. You take a picture and it doesn’t come out the way you want it. So you start adjusting some settings, but by then the moment has passed. You have one annoyed partner and the kids are on the loose.
The solution: practice, practice, practice!
Trust me, I’ve been there 😂! I only started shooting with my DSLR a couple of years ago and had to learn a lot. I am not even a professional right now, but I did gain a lot of experience. If you really want to master your camera, take a small course on how to use it. Or watch lots of Youtube videos. Because who wants to read the manual after all 😉.
A great other tip is to use a cheat sheet, which contains the best settings for different kinds of situations. In the beginning, you will need it, but after a while, you’ll get so familiar with your camera and certain situations it will all come naturally.
5. Look for inspiration for your family vacation pictures
Although I do believe in impulsive and in-the-moment shots, I always do research about a place before we head off to explore. It inspires me and gives me tips on great spots I might otherwise miss. And because you travel with kids, you don’t have the luxury like other photographers to take a shot over and over again or walk around for hours until you find the perfect angle.
I mainly use Pinterest and Instagram to find my inspiration for a destination.
On Instagram, go to the search option and either look for the location or use hashtags in the top section (not most recent).
Hashtags that always work well are the official hashtags of a tourism board, often starting with #visit, for example, #visitscotland. The more specific your search, the better the examples will be. If you are in Kuala Lumpur, you could search for #kualalumpur, but you will get better results for #petronastowers or #batucaves which are specific highlights.
Read more: 50 travel families to follow on Instagram
These family travel pictures, for example, were created based on the inspiration I gained from Instagram. The left one is the Burg Eltz castle in Germany. We stayed in Cochem, but without Instagram, I would have never known this castle existed and was so close by. The drone shot on the right also was inspired by some other shots I saw on Instagram.
On Pinterest, type ‘Best Instagram spots in your destination‘, ‘Most Instagrammable spots in your destination‘ or ‘Best photo spots in your destination‘. Browse for a while and you’ll most definitely find a lot of ideas.
Just one short note, this inspiration will give you ideas or a different perspective to a certain destination. Maybe show you some hidden spots you otherwise wouldn’t have found. But please, also go away from the typical Instagrammable places. Go wander and discover your own magical spots when you’re there! Don’t forget to just enjoy the moment and capture your kids while they are having fun.
6. Communicate the idea with your family
You’ve done your research, have some stunning pictures in your head, but forgot to tell the rest of the family about it. The result: a cranky husband because he thinks it’s time to go or kids who don’t want to cooperate anymore. Or even worse, you were planning to go to a spot by sunset and it doesn’t fit in the family planning anymore.
The solution: talk to each other! I used to make those mistakes too, but now I show my inspiration to the rest of my family. Which often inspires them too or at least they see what the goal is. And they clearly know that after those shots, it’s time again for some regular old school family fun! Can’t promise I’ll put away the camera then though, cause I also like those candid shots of my kids having fun!
If you want a shot of yourself with the kids, help your partner. Take a few test shots to show what you want, how it should be framed, what the whole idea is. And most of all be patient! Your partner will learn too, but you can’t expect him/her to immediately have the same vision or know all the tricks.
7. Frame your picture correctly
One of the basic principles of photography composition is the rule of thirds.
The basic principle is you divide a picture in three, both horizontally and vertically. This will create 4 lines and 4 intersection points. The general rule is you don’t centre your main subject in a picture, but you place it on one of those intersection points. If you couldn’t frame it correctly when taking the shot, no worries. It’s something you also can adjust afterwards by cropping your picture in the right way during editing.
It will make your pictures much more interesting and appealing to the eye! This doesn’t mean you always have to apply this rule (for example in a shot where symmetry is important), but most of the times your picture will be more balanced that way. It has to do with the natural way the eye and a brain look to a photo.
Another thing that makes a composition interesting is to choose symmetry, lines or frames. By using train tracks, symmetric lines in buildings, doors, windows, … you’ll create a whole other dimension to your picture.
And then there is one more thing. You can go portrait such as a close-up or waist up. Or you take a wide shot with attention to the background. But if you go wide, don’t lose parts of the body such as hands or feet. You can always crop afterwards, but if you forgot to take the feet in the original picture, they are lost. Another reason why I don’t like to ask strangers to take pictures of us.
8. Be selective
Be very critical when it comes to deciding what should be in your shot and what should be excluded. For example, you can take an amazing shot with the perfect background but that red trash can or ugly car takes away all the intention. Maybe if you move a bit to the right when taking the picture, it’s not in the frame anymore and you have the perfect shot!
Think about the story you want to tell with your family vacation pictures! You might want to show how beautiful the scenery is, with your family enjoying it. Here you have to choose for a wide-angle shot. Or you want to tell how much fun your kids are having. Then you should choose a close-up and don’t let the surroundings distract from this lovely moment. Try to think about what your story is and which elements therefor need to be in your picture.
9. Use different perspectives and angles
To make your family travel pictures interesting, try different things. Go level with your kids to really capture the moment. Try a top-down perspective or go low and shoot up. People have often been laughing because I’m laying flat down in the dirt capturing my kids.
By using different perspectives and angles, you’ll draw people into your picture. Because that’s what amazing photography is about. You want to recreate the moment and the atmosphere for people looking to your picture. Pass on the magic you felt there!
Be creative, try something else!
Try to play with your camera settings, for example, choose a long shutter speed if you want movement in your shot.
A big thing in photography is shooting pictures in the perfect light. For me, this is one of the most difficult things in family travel photography. Chasing the perfect light is so much easier for solo or couple travellers!
10. Use the golden hour
You’ve probably heard about it before, the golden hour. It’s that timing right after sunrise or before sunset when the light is magical. The perfect timing to shoot family travel pictures. The light is soft, there are no harsh shadows and you’ll have beautiful colours.
But oh that’s right! We have kids 😉!
The annoying part is that sunrise often is quite late, so by the time the lightning is perfect, the kids are cranky or even in bed already. The solution: shoot during wintertime, travel to countries around the equator such as South East Asia or get up early.
11. Get up early
Most kids are up early anyway, so why not take advantage of that and go out. During and immediately after sunrise, the lightning is beautiful. Although it’s not realistic to want this every morning, plan to get up early on two or more occasions when you are travelling.
Another benefit is you’ll avoid the crowds in popular places or big cities! Which is great for your pictures but also so much easier to control the kids and let them play.
12. Find the shade during the day
There’s a lot you can do in the editing phase, but one of the most difficult things to correct is family travel pictures taken in direct sunlight with extreme harsh shadows and bright areas. Try to look for shadow during the day. Go under some trees, look for the shade of a building. Not only will your kids thank you, but you’ll also get much better results.
Taking the picture
13. Take candid or in-the-moment shots
Although I love those shots of my kids looking at some amazing view or building, the most beautiful family vacation pictures are often candid shots. The photos where they don’t realize they are being captured and they are just enjoying the moment, having fun or learning something new. It’s the expression in their faces that you’ll want to remember as much as the things you see. For this kind of pictures, I love to take close-ups.
Candid pictures are honest, they show how your kids really are. Don’t be afraid to even picture them when they’re having a hard time, feel sad or angry. You want to remember your holiday as it was, also those moments that were less relaxing or fun.
Another thing is to be ready! I’ve missed some amazing candid shots just because I forgot to bring my camera or thought I wouldn’t take any pictures at that moment. Your camera should be within easy reach. Great help here is a strap that goes over your shoulder. You can walk around like that, move it away when you need to help or carry the kids, but have it within reach at all times.
By using the burst modus or continuous shooting, your chances of taking the perfect facial expression will definitely improve! And they can be a great way to create a gif video afterwards.
A great tip when shooting kids is to use the back focus button instead of the shutter autofocus. By holding that button, you can lock your focus, which is great when you want to shoot kids running around!
14. Don’t be afraid to stage or coach the kids
I know, I just said you should take candid pictures of the kids but there’s no harm in staging a shot once and a while. You probably have the perfect picture in your head, so tell the kids where to stand, what to do. Otherwise, they will be running around and be everywhere except where you want them to be.
If you want to make it feel more natural, let them run towards you or away from you, make them look to each other or away from the camera, take a shot of them enjoying the views. And I always love jumping pictures as well. It’s a lot of fun to get everyone to jump at the exact same moment. The burst or continuous shooting comes in handy again here.
15. Make the kids cooperate
First of all, don’t ask your kids to pose or cooperate with you the whole day. Let them be kids, they want to play, run around and just not be doing what you ask all day long. Try to limit the moments you take family vacation pictures where they have to cooperate.
Ok, I’ll admit, I bribe my kids too. With candy or a lollipop, the promise of a refreshing pool or a nice playground. Always works 😉.
I don’t like it when the kids put up their fake smiles. So I either tell them a joke or get in the shot myself and start to tickle them. If they don’t feel like having taken their pictures at that moment, I let them look at the view while I capture their backs. Ask them to tell you what they see.
Get in the shot
16. Use a remote and tripod for your family travel pictures
Pictures of my kids… I have hundreds. What am I saying… Thousands! But at a certain point, I realized I didn’t have a lot of pictures with all four of us besides the occasional selfie. Or even just with one of us and the kids. After all, we are on this trip together. So I started to take more shots of our entire family. Trust me, those are often the pictures that make it to our wall.
As from now, a tripod is an essential part of our photography gear. We never go anywhere without it. The great thing is you don’t have to ask a stranger to take a picture, which often doesn’t turn out how you want it anyway. When you choose a tripod, make sure it isn’t too heavy, but strong enough to carry your camera.
Although there is some charm in using the self-timer and running back to your family to get there just in time for the shot (or not 😅), you might want to consider to use a remote as we said before. The remote will most definitely make life easier and the great thing is kids often forget they are being captured that way.
17. Don’t be embarrassed
I took us some time (especially Jurgen, the dad in this family) to get over the embarrassment of openly setting up tripods, posing, taking time for pictures while other people are watching or waiting. In the beginning, we felt really awkward, which often translated into the pictures as well.
But you’ll get used to it. Now, we often have people copying us after we’ve been taking pictures. So maybe they are not laughing at you but admire you for your great idea!
18. Try something different than the typical ‘let’s all smile in the camera’ picture
Don’t get me wrong, those shots are lovely. And you definitely need to take some of those. But try to be a bit more original with your family travel photography!
Walk up towards the camera, be silly, throw yourself in a pile (preferably with daddy on the bottom 😂), look to each other, tickle the kids, walk away from the camera, jump, get a drone shot, …
The more creative you get with your family travel pictures, the more fun you’ll have!
Be creative in your family travel photography
19. Find the light
Every photographer knows how important this is. You have to find the light!
If you don’t have an external flash (which most travellers don’t as it is again a lot of extra weight), try to avoid using your flash. It will make your family travel pictures look unnatural.
Instead, find the light in your surroundings. Look for the sun peeping through the trees or a window. Try to play with the light by shooting right into the sun for silhouettes, create sun flares by putting the sun right at the edge of your frame, … Don’t forget to change the settings of your camera if you’re taking pictures of the sun, such as the ISO (low), aperture (high f-number) and shutter speed (1/125 and up).
Like we said before, try to avoid harsh shadows by taking pictures in the shadow when the sun is up high. The better your lens or camera, the easier you can take pictures in low-light situations. You’d be amazed at how bright they can get after editing them.
20. Think about what you wear
I have to admit I will sometimes prepare the clothes we are wearing before we head out to explore.
I either try to match all of our clothes, colourwise, to make sure we don’t get a cacophony.
Or I make sure the kids are wearing colours that go well with the surroundings. Sometimes I’ll choose soft colours, but mostly I go with colours that pop.
It makes family vacation pictures far more interesting when you wear bright clothes. For example in a landscape picture, wearing a colourful coat such as red or yellow will make you stand out.
21. Try underwater or drone photography
If you really want to be creative in your family travel photography, try to use an underwater camera or drone.
We bought our drone before we left for full-time travel and it has been amazing to take family pictures from a whole different perspective. The drone we use is the DJI Mavic Pro, but we’d love to upgrade to the DJI Mavic 2 Pro. In our opinion, these are the best travel drones, compact, stable and stunning quality.
As far as underwater photography is concerned, I am not an expert at the moment, but I’m planning on becoming one 😉. I love the endless possibilities, the way you can put things in another perspective and the beauty of underwater conditions.
You could buy a case for your regular camera. In my opinion, however, this is for professionals or if you really want to excel in underwater photography. One of the best budget-friendly solutions would be a GoPro Hero 8 (with extra underwater case). It’s small, easy to handle and has amazing quality!
22. Let the kids take a picture
Our girls both love to take over the camera or run around with their own. I guess they want to be like mom 😉. Let them! They might surprise you with their unique point of view. If they can practice, they will learn how to take good pictures. Might come in handy when you want a shot of the two of you!
Both of our kids had a Nikon Coolpix W100 which is also waterproof. Another great one is the Olympus Tough TG-6 Waterproof Camera or even the mirrorless Sony A6000 if they are getting more older and serious about it.
Read more: Best travel gifts for kids
Edit your family travel pictures
23. Use an editing app or software to take your photography to the next level
Although a lot needs to happen at the moment you are taking pictures such as the composition and getting your kids to cooperate, it’s amazing how much you can do afterwards. I’ve really discovered the game of editing for my family travel photography. The better the quality of your camera, the more is possible, especially when it comes to lifting up the darks.
I prefer Adobe Lightroom for my editing. In my opinion, it’s still the most complete software. You’ll have to practice a bit in the beginning to use it, but once you get the hang of it the possibilities are endless. If you really want to get better at editing, Lightroom is definitely the way to go. They also have a free app for smartphones.
Even by doing some quick changes to the colours, highlights and shadows you can improve your family travel picture a lot. One advice is to practice, practice, practice. There are tons of tutorials, YouTube videos and courses out there to learn all the tips and tricks.
If you don’t want to get into Lightroom, there are some great apps out there to easily edit your pictures on your phone. Examples are Snapseed, VSCO, Prisma Photo editor, …
24. Crop and frame your picture correctly
One of the things that really bother me when I see other family vacation pictures, is when the horizon isn’t levelled out. It’s really simple to adjust this and can be done in every app or even right on your phone. A quick win to make your picture more attractive and look professional.
Like we said before, don’t forget to crop your photo according to the rules of good composition as well. Think about the rule of thirds, symmetry, lines, …
25. Edit differently depending on the goal
Everybody needs to find their own style. I started with overediting a bit too much, now I prefer the richer colours and leave the shadows darker. Don’t try to overdo it, keep it natural.
It also depends on the goal. I sometimes edit differently for Instagram, for a picture that I want to be framed on my wall, for our blog, …
Try to find your own style!
I hope these 25 tips will help you to take your family travel photography to the next level. They are quite easy applicable. You’ll be surprised how much better your family vacation pictures can look.
But most of all, have fun! You’re on this family trip because you want to have quality time with your kids and partner. You want to explore, learn new things, see new cultures or just relax.
Have fun taking these family travel pictures, have fun as a family trying to be creative. Don’t make the family travel photography something that annoys the rest of the family because they just want to enjoy their trip.
Let us know in comments what you think about this article or if you want to add something else. And save it on Pinterest for later!