Photographing your family road trip adventure

Oh, the family road trip. Do you love it? Or do you hate it? Is there ever an in-between?

We’ve taken a road trip with our 2 girls each year for the past 4 years. And while I wasn’t so keen on the idea before, I’ve actually started to look forward to them! I pack a bazillion snacks, load up enough activities for a week, make sure we’ve downloaded movies, and we head out on our adventure.

Is it easy? Oh no! There’s always a bit of whining about “Are we there yet?!” At some point I tell my husband it’s MY turn to drive so that he can be the one who has to turn around and tend to the kids’ needs before I get a permanent kink in my neck.

As we travel, I document all of it – the good and the bad. My kids are small enough still that I’m not confident they’ll remember these trips. I work hard on using my camera to keep a visual diary for them. When we get home I always make a slideshow from our time away and the whole family loves watching it.

These ideas will help you tell a more complete story of your vacation when you set out on your next family adventure.

Embrace roadside stops (even if they are ugly)

In my part of the world, roadside stops are often not known for their beauty. They aren’t bad necessarily, just boring. They are certainly not what would immediately come to mind when you think of beautiful photos.

I am telling you to grab your camera anyway! See what beauty you can find during a bathroom break. We always let the girls run around for about 10 minutes and I will click off a few frames, searching for that something special in whatever place we find ourselves.

Pro tip: Think of this as a creativity exercise. How many stunning images can you make out of a seriously ugly location?

Think about unique ways to show where you are

Because I always make a slideshow of our vacation, I keep in mind my transition shots as we travel. What images am I going to need to help the slideshow make sense and tell a good narrative?

Even if you don’t do a slideshow, these types of images are really helpful to add into albums and photo books as they give context without having to add text. Although they might not be the most amazing photos of your trip, they’re really helpful when the memories aren’t as fresh in your mind.

I try to get shots of major road signs, park entrance signs, campsites, museums, and attractions. You could absolutely just point your camera out the car window and take a quick snap of a sign, but try to think outside the box. How can you get the info you need but also make the image slightly more interesting?

Related: Easy travel photography tips

Pro tip: Don’t forget the maps! Maps (paper maps if you still use them or your phone map app) are a great way to show where you are and how far you have to go. 

Photograph the food

I swear, my kids look forward to road trips for the food alone! They know they’re going to get gas station snacks and convenience snacks that we don’t usually eat at home.

Because we often camp and have picnics on our trips, I also like to make sure that I document how cooking looks different than it does at home. We don’t often eat PB&J in hot dog buns off the tailgate when we are home!

If we’re in a restaurant or hotel eating a meal I always try to get at least one shot of that, too. Try to utilize the light you have available to you to make images that feel different than your usual in-home shots.

I’m used to my windows at home and the direction the light flows into the rooms. Being in a hotel or a tent can really make me feel inspired to use light differently!

Pro tip: If you’re worried about being too noticeable in a restaurant, flip your camera to live-view and put it on the table. Your nearby diners probably won’t even notice you have a camera and you’ll also be able to get a cool shot with a different perspective. 

Don’t forget what’s inside the car

Garage light gets a lot of hype (and I do love it), but car light wins in my books. I absolutely love shooting inside our car and am constantly trying to find new angles in that cramped little space.

Think about shooting through the headrests, from the outside in, using the mirrors, using the interior lights at night, and kneeling on the front seat and looking down.

Capture the chaos that is your car after 7 hours on a highway! Because one day, when your kids have grown, it won’t look like this.

Pro tip: If you are dealing with difficult light inside the car that you’re not liking, keep the shot in mind and revisit it as soon as your go around a bend or make a turn and the light changes. 

Capture the kids sleeping and waking-up away from home

I’ve become obsessed with taking photos of my kids sleeping when they are away from home. They’re often squished together or snuggled deep within their sleeping bags, which is so different from their own rooms and beds at home.

Related: 5 Tips for photographing your sleeping child

Plus, I’m often waking up in the same room as them when we are traveling. It’s easy to just put my camera on the nightstand at bed time and then it’s right there in the morning. And again, if you make slideshows or albums of your trip, waking up shots are an excellent way to transition and clearly show you’re starting a new day.

Pro tip: Before you go to bed, think about your composition and settings. That way, when you’re bleary eyed and trying to grab a shot before your kid bounds of bed towards you, you’re ready to go.  

Don’t forget there are beautiful things other than your family

I have a tendency to get stuck on focusing only on my family and their reactions, experiences, and relationships. So each time we travel, I work hard on remembering to capture the beauty outside of my family, too.

Being away from home is a great opportunity to work on your macro, still life, and landscape photography. When I need a little ‘me’ time on a trip I always grab my camera and head off for a few minutes to see what I can find. You can do this at a road stop, in a museum, outside of a restaurant (leave the rest of your family inside!), or at your hotel/campground.

Pro tip: As you’re on your journey, think about how you could tell the story of your trip only through the details. If you took away all the images of your family, would the remaining images make sense?

You were on the trip too!

Finally, I truly believe one of the most important things to document is that YOU were on the trip with your family. I have hundreds of photos from trips that I have organized, packed for, spent hours in close quarters with my family. And yet, you wouldn’t even know I was there. That’s not fair to me or my kids.

Dial in your settings and hand your camera off to your spouse or kids. Use your tripod. Set the camera on the hood of your car or dash board and use your remote. You can even take some phone selfies to make sure you get in the picture!

Most importantly, let go of perfection with these images. They won’t be perfect and your spouse might not take the photo exactly how you want, but that’s ok! That’s not the point, anyway.

Pro tip: Many cameras have an interval timer setting where you can set it down and let it shoot all on it’s own. Enjoy the time with your kids and forget that the camera is even there.

Road trips have their own special challenges but they are always the best kinds of adventures. So bring your camera along and capture it all. The open road awaits you!

Do you want to be better at capturing all of your family’s adventures?

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About the Author:

Photography is my therapy and my love language; it's not just something I do, but is something I feel. I'm a hoarder of memories and a visual storyteller. I’m a firm believer that these truly are the times of your life. Whatever place you’re in and whatever point you’re at. You’re here…it’s yours….claim. I'm based out of Edmonton, Alberta and offer in-home newborn and family photo sessions as Fiddle Leaf Photography.

One Comment

  1. Christopher Hall Nov 10 2018 at 11:16 pm - Reply

    I always want to do a series of road trip photos. Sometimes I even think of taking a road trip just so I can take photos.

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