Capturing Great Family Vacation Photos

August 11, 2016

You’ve planned your family vacation for weeks, months or even longer. You’ve put in a lot of work deciding where you’re staying, what you’re going to eat, and what you’ll do for entertainment. Now you want to make sure you capture the special moments you’ve worked so hard to create.

A family vacation is one of those special events throughout the year that you’ll want to remember. It’s a good idea to plan ahead, so you’re prepared to photograph the moments you want to cherish. Here are a few things to think about from packing to unpacking.

Keep it simple

Don’t stress about bringing every camera and lens you own. When packing your gear you’ll want to consider the type of pictures you want to capture. You’ll want a lens with a wider angle to encompass beautiful landscapes and architecture. If you are shooting from a distance, such as wildlife or portraits, you may need a longer lens. A versatile zoom lens could be your perfect solution for photographing both.

I love my EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens as a nice walk around lens that’s great when I want to quickly photograph a landscape, or zoom in for a beautiful portrait. Also, don’t sell your kit lens short. The Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 USM IS is a versatile lens, especially great for outdoor vacations where you don’t need a lot of low-light capability.

If you’re like me and still can’t resist bringing an extra lens or two (or three) you can always pack heavier for the initial trip but only bring one or two lenses on you at a time.

Use a convenient camera bag

There are so many varieties of camera bags out there and it can take a little bit to find out which one works for you. When a lot of hiking or walking is involved in your vacation, a backpack style bag may be preferred for comfortability.

Keeping your camera easily accessible is a big part in making sure you are capturing the fun. Another way to keep your camera handy is to carry it with a long, comfortable camera strap. This is great in situations where you’ll be in one place for a while, such as a slow ride, a meal, or other entertainment without too much movement. Just be careful if you’re moving around a lot or carrying your children so your kids and camera don’t collide.

Bring lots of extra storage

Enjoy your trip and take a lot of photos. Don’t worry about deleting the extras right now; just enjoy capturing the experience with your family. In order to do this freely, you’ll want to make sure you have lots of memory to save those moments, especially if you’re shooting in RAW. Instead of carrying around one large card, get a few smaller sizes. Memory cards fail and it would be devastating to lose all of the photos that were stored on a single card.

Check your card collection before you head out. Back up any photos you hadn’t saved already, then format the cards before your trip. That little step in preparation will save a lot of hassle later when you’re trying to capture a moment and don’t have time to stop to free up some space.

Be charged

Have your cards formatted and your camera bag packed. Make sure your camera battery is charged and you have an extra. Depending on how long your trip is, you may want to bring your battery charger so you can always have one powering up while you’re using the other. Remember your lens caps and cleaning cloths too!

Set some shot goals

Vacations are a good time to break out of your mold, slow down and experiment. You can try new effects or rules of composition. If you’ve always wanted to shoot underwater, dabble in street photography or landscapes, or if you finally want to give manual shooting a try, now’s a great opportunity. You’re going to be taking a lot of photos anyway.

Try to pick just a couple of new techniques so as to not overwhelm yourself or get frustrated if results aren’t as great as you were hoping. Remember your main goal is to record memories of your family having a fun vacation. Now is the time to start thinking about the moments on your vacation you’ll want to record.

Tell a story

Taking your photos in a sequence can help tell a story. Wide shots help set the scene. Closer shots capture more emotion. Having several angles of the same scene, or a beginning, middle and end to the action will not only help you remember the moment better, it’ll set up a beautiful storyboard for a photo album or a wall collage later.

If your camera offers a low speed continuous mode as well as high speed continuous you may want to play around with those settings. Continuous shooting allows you to hold down the shutter and snap multiple photos in a row. In high speed continuous shooting mode, you’re able to get more photos faster and more likely to get the shot you want.

No adventure is too small

Look for opportunities to capture your vacation memories. If you visit grandma’s house every year, find ways to photograph that are fun. You can start a new tradition of photographing your family in the same spot and same pose each year to see the obvious changes when you look back at them. Or use it as a challenge to find new ways to photograph the same things.

Don’t shy away from photographing adventures that aren’t new to you. No adventure or memory is too small to save.

For group shots, use an aperture that will keep everyone in focus. A good rule of thumb is to use an f-stop to match the number of people in the shot. So if you have three people in the group start at f/3, four people f/4 and so on.

Kids are fast, watch your shutter speed

Whether your kids are running from place to place or splashing in a pool, you’ll want to crank up that shutter speed to freeze them in action or else all you’ll get is a lot of blur.

I like to keep my shutter speed at about 1/800 or higher, especially when dealing with splashing. That should freeze the motion, even down to the splattering water droplets and delighted faces.

Capture the details up close

Now’s a great time to bust out that macro lens and record some of those vacation details. When you’re in a new place, photographing the beauty in the simplest things is an adventure in itself. With a macro lens like the EF 100mm f/2.8L USM you can keep enough of a shooting distance as to not scare little creatures away but still get those magical details. It’s a great tool to photograph tiny features that you’d otherwise miss.

Don’t limit yourself to just plants and critters. The grooves of a seashell, or the weave of a hammock on the beach are beautiful details that document your trip.

Don’t forget faces

When you’re traveling and exploring new places and photographing the landscapes or location in front of you, you might forget the most important subject: the people you’re with.

There will always be more theme park characters to photograph, but the look on your child’s face as she walked by is priceless and once-in-a-lifetime. That’s the photo that will bring the emotions back years from now.

To capture the best reaction shots in your children’s faces, open your aperture wide open or close to it. This will create a beautiful blur around them and draw all of the focus to their excited faces. The EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens zoomed in or the EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens.

Get in the photo

The last thing you want is to look back at your vacation photos and realize you’re not in a single one. Pass the camera off 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. They will have fun taking pictures or setting up a mini-session for you!

Candids are great

When you’re on vacation it’s so easy to fall into the habit of positioning your kids in front of a landmark and prompting them to say "cheese." Try to break out of that habit and look for candid moments. Keep your camera ready so you can snap as soon as the fun erupts. If your family gets self-conscious in front of the camera just tell them to pretend you’re not there, or keep watching as they play and grow more comfortable and natural in front of the camera.

Enjoy your vacation

I know I said it’s important to keep your camera easily accessible, but it’s also important to savor the moment and enjoy the trip. Soak in the experience every now and then without looking through a lens or having a camera in your hands. After you’re refreshed a bit you’ll be able to go at it again, maybe even with new ideas and inspiration.

Keep editing to a minimum – batch edit

When you return home and you’re ready to look through hundreds or even thousands of photos it’s important to be pretty liberal when deciding what you want to keep. If it’s not an immediate “YES!” it’s a no. You don’t need 12 photos of the same scene. Pick one or two of your favorites and move on to the next batch. Your pictures will be more impactful if you pick your favorites versus keeping hundreds of photos you may never look through again.

When it comes to editing, keep it simple, and run them through a batch edit to convert to JPEG if you shoot in RAW. The quicker you get through them the quicker you can enjoy them before you begin getting ready for your next vacation.

Make something

Don’t let those vacation photos sit on your computer where no one can enjoy them. Make something out of them. Form a video slideshow or a photo book; or enlarge, print and hang your favorites around your home. There are several online services to help you design a free photo book. You just pay to have it printed and shipped to you. Look for coupons because you can find deep discounts or even promotions to print for free.

Final thoughts

Family vacations may come once a year or once every few years. No matter how often you and your loved ones take trips together it’s important to capture those special moments. Your whole family will be able to look back and cherish them for years to come.

The CDLC contributors are compensated spokespersons and actual users of the Canon products that they promote.

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Additional Resources

  • Check out Jennifer Borget's Canon Online Learning Course: Simple Tips for Photographing Children

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