Family vacation is one of the most important moments in the year that you want to remember with photographs.
It’s a great time to document your family story because you are all together, you have fun, you visit new places, and you have time. Preserving those memories is a great thing for the older and younger kids too, to know what they were a part of! And how fun is it to look at the photo album and retrieve the good memories throughout the year! But if you want to get some good snapshots, ones that you will love to go back to, you need to think a little bit in advance and prepare (besides the packing, booking, traveling and so on!).
Being French, we go back to France every summer for several weeks. We don’t stay more than one week in the same location so I try every year to make the most of our trip and to be prepared for some great images. I have learned a few things along the road that I wanted to share to help you before your next vacation, whether it be a weekend, a week, or more!
1. K.I.S.S. (Keep It Super Simple)
I like to travel light. I don’t own many bodies or lenses but I like to minimize my gear. Packing space is often limited, especially when you travel overseas and even more with kids. I only take my Canon Mark II body and one lens. I decided I wanted to keep my “big” camera with me instead of a lighter one because I want to use the shots later in the year and I need good quality (even though I know I will shoot only personal stuff).
This year I brought my new Sigma 35mm f/1.4 that I got a few days before flying. I wanted to test it and experiment on things. I like to challenge myself and I am a prime lens lover, that’s why I like to pack light. But you can pick a more versatile lens like the 24-70, or you can bring a point and shoot camera only, a film camera, etc.
I also take two batteries, the charger (and a travel adapter), three 8GB memory cards and one 16GB (because I knew I’d shoot videos and wanted some space), a laptop to edit on the go, an iPad, and my iPhone of course! I shoot in RAW and edit in Lightroom 5; I create a new catalog in Lightroom on my laptop and once back home, I import that catalog on my home computer with all my edits. Et voila!)
2. Which camera bag?
Because I kept it super simple with only one camera and one lens, everything fit into my Lowepro sling bag. It is lightweight with a lot of pockets and it’s good for traveling here and there; I keep my camera with me all the time during travels for safety. When I am on site, I have a waterproof camera coat that protects my camera perfectly! You can also buy rain protection for your camera if you want to shoot in the rain.
3. Be prepared.
You are on vacation to relax and have a good time but if you are anything like me, you want to record those moments when the kids are playing freely in the sand or when gorgeous light is peeking through the leaves. That’s why my camera is always handy and charged.
4. Tell a story.
You want to record the travel: the car drive, the airport, the plane, the flight, the train, when you arrive and unpack. But also the culture if you are in a foreign country, the architecture, the food, and the streets. We went to Morocco some time ago and I liked to capture the details and the specifics. Plus, it gives the viewer the impression that he was there, too. Generally, I like to remember how it feels to be there (warm, windy, humid, noisy, quiet) and I try to include that in my imagery. If you visit some very touristy sites, try to find a new point of view, a new angle (avoid the Trocadéro to get a shot of the Eiffel tower). Shoot from above or from the ground.
5. Big and little adventures.
Shoot the experiences your family is having! You are going to do some new things and it’s always fun to record the family reactions in front of a huge canyon, a river, a new city or while interacting with other kids. Even if you stay at the same place every year, the kids are growing and they’ll have new excitements or maybe they’ll reach new milestones like that first dive in the lake!
6. Get closer, get far.
Get shots of the location and the scenery of where you stayed but don’t neglect some detail shots too.
7. Update the portraits.
Maybe it’s a good time to update the portraits of your family, your in-laws, and/or your friends. If you have people you only see once a year, perhaps you want to take a good headshot of them or a photograph while they interact with your kids. Try to do some posed portraits and some candids.
8. Set some goals.
Vacations are a good time to experiment and slow down. You can try new rules of composition, new effects. Wanted to shoot with that prism? With your smartphone? Underwater? A new genre like street photography or landscapes? In full sun? In manual? Go on and give it a try! But don’t get overwhelmed and frustrated because the photos are not as great as you wished. Pick one or two things you want to work on and focus on that.
9. Snapshots are OK.
Your main goal is to record your family having fun on vacation so don’t be too strict and keep your expectations low. If you prefer to shoot in aperture or shutter priority mode, fine!
10. BE in the photos too!
Pass the camera off once or twice so you’ll be in the photo album, too. You can ask a stranger or your spouse but if your kids are old enough, you can pass the camera to them, too. They will have fun taking pictures or setting up a mini-session for you!
11. Leave your camera in your room.
Okay, I know I said to always have your camera handy but you can also let it go and savor the moment, too. Sometimes you learn a lot more by just watching. You pay attention to the light, the connection, or the stories… Plus your family will appreciate not having a big camera on their face all. the. time!
12. Plan some time for you.
You can ask your partner to watch the kids for a couple of hours so you can do your thing. You can plan a little photo session with some friends of yours to try a new idea or just wander into the city. This year, we spent a month in Paris and I knew I wanted to photograph some of my friends there so I sent some emails and “booked” some sessions. My daughter was often tagging along but I got some great shots because they were laughing with her! Don’t forget to return the favor to your partner during the trip though!
13. Get up early/stay up late.
You can find an extra hour or two by getting up before everybody and enjoy the sunrise, or the sunset when the kids are in bed! I had a magical moment in the Outer Banks, NC, when I woke up to the sounds of the waves and decided to see the sun rising: when I got to the beach, 2 dolphins were swimming right in front of me! Even though I am not a morning person, I am glad I pulled myself out of bed that morning.
14. Shoot on purpose.
If you want to make a photo album when you get back, think of how you want it to be. You need a mix of everything (and lots of pictures!) so shoot accordingly (cf. #4).
15. Less is more.
Unless you started to edit while vacationing, now that you are back home, you have hundreds (or thousands) of pictures to go through. Once again, Keep it Super Simple: YES or NO! All the pictures you took are not all keepers and you don’t need 10 pictures of the same event; one or two will suffice to remember the moment. So be brutal: keep it or trash it! Your pictures will be even more powerful if you pick your favorites rather than hundred of pictures. And you’ll have less images to edit. Win-win!
16. Keep the editing really low and batch edit.
If some of the photos are really good then you can spend a little more time processing them but the goal is to work quickly on them so you can enjoy them before the next vacation!
17. Make something.
Make something with all those pictures: a book, some prints, a slideshow… or at least, share some with families and friends by email. In the past, I’ve used My Publisher and Blurb for year-books and I liked the quality and diversity of the photo layouts for Blurb. There are always some coupons and discounts of some kind so wait for those and you can even order several as gifts or for your kids. The little square books by Artifact Uprising are great, too. They also have softcover photo books for Instagram images that I really want to try – and they seem so easy to make! Also, check Prinstagram out: they have plenty of fun solutions to print out your pictures (Instagram or not) including posters, magnets, 4×4 prints, mini prints, and tiny books.
18. Be social.
Post your pics on the Clickin Moms forum!!