A couple years ago, we spent the summer in Europe. We took a LOT of photos. Like, somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,000. That is…not insignificant. Through a lot of trial and error, we discovered some family photo tips while traveling, and asking a stranger to take a family photo.
Which Camera Equipment We Use for Family Travel
Quite a few of the photos we took were with our whole family, because if we managed to keep all of us alive until that point in the trip, you better believe we were going to document it.
We don’t have a ton of fancy camera equipment, but we like our camera and it worked great for our purposes. We shoot with a Nikon D5300, which is a good amateur body. I like that it has location settings on it, so it will tag photos to a certain city. After, we upload all our photos to Google Photos, so it’s nice that we can search based on location later.
I prefer two main lenses – the 24‑70mm F/2.8 and the 35mm F/1.8G. Before our big Europe trip, I shot almost exclusively with the latter. It’s a terrific little lens (especially for shooting my kids), is portable, and has great texture. I love seeing through it very similarly to how we view the world through our eyes.
For our Europe trip, though, I knew I’d be shooting a lot of big cathedrals and wide landscapes, so I wanted a lens that would capture more within the frame. It was definitely an investment, but I managed to find a barely used one on eBay for an amazing deal from a Nikon Authorized Seller. So we went for it and I’m SO glad. It was an amazing lens to carry around and was the one I chose 90% of the time on our trip. It’s just a really fantastic travel lens.
Seeing a big long lens on a camera is really intimidating to a lot of people, though. So while you can often find someone willing to take a shot with your smartphone camera, it’s a bit more of a challenge to find a willing helper to take one a DSLR. And that’s not even considering how the photo will actually turn out!
What Family Photo Tips We Learned from Traveling
I’m certainly no photography expert, but especially since we didn’t carry a tripod to shoot our own photos (no room on that trip since we packed so light!), we did learn a few things from regularly asking for help with photos. (We’ve since purchased this lightweight tripod, which we LOVE!)
After asking approximately 8 million strangers to take photos for us, here are 10 family photo tips I’ve picked up along the way when asking a stranger to take a photo. Plus, I have some bonus tips specific to using a DSLR at the end!
10 Tips for Asking Strangers to Take a Family Photo: Family Photo Tips
1) SET YOUR FAMILY PHOTO UP IN ADVANCE
Before you even consider asking for help, be sure to all the settings ready to go so that the person helping out just needs to point and shoot. Figure out your exact spot and get the rest of your family positioned. Wait for a good moment with (hopefully) thin crowds. Try not to hand over your camera right as a big tour group comes and stands right behind you.
And one really important part of setup – hand over the camera in the same direction you want them to shoot (vertically or horizontally)!
2) LOOK FOR A PHOTOGRAPHER
If you see someone clutching an ancient flip phone, they’re probably not the best bet for taking a photo. Glance around for someone who looks like they know what they’re doing, preferably someone with a DLSR. If you’re using a smart phone, find someone who looks savvy with the “tap” on a smart phone screen to brighten things up. If using a DSLR, look to see if you see someone who’s taking time to compose a shot with theirs.
3) STAND TO THE SIDE of the spot where you want them to stand
For the longest time, I would stand in the exact spot from which I wanted them to shoot, expecting them to move over once I handed over the camera. Even when I said, “You can stand right about here,” they didn’t seem to get the message, and ended up just to the side of where I wanted them. Sometimes, it doesn’t really matter, but sometimes you really want something centered. It’s easiest to stand just to the side of where you want them to be, so the shooter is positioned in the correct spot right from the start.
4) SHOW THEM A SAMPLE SHOT
When we were at the Arc de Triomphe, we asked a lady if she could take a photo of our family. The Eiffel Tower was in the background; it was going to be magical. We handed over the camera (just the smartphone! Not even the big camera!), she snapped, then handed it back. She apologized, “I couldn’t get the Eiffel Tower in it, but I got all of you!” *facepalm*
One of THE most helpful things you can do is to show them a practice shot. Instead of trying to explain how you want the photo framed, just take a picture of the rest of your family and show it to them! I find people tend to do much better when they can see exactly what you want in the frame. After all, a picture is worth 1,000 words!
Have you ever had a stranger take a photo right when you’re moving your hair out of your mouth or your toddler is falling over to the side or one kid is punching another? Me, neither.
Really, though. Count. It will help them, it will help you, it will help your kids. Counting is your friend.
6) KEEP THINGS SIMPLE
You know how hard it is for you to shoot in low light the way you want it? It’s even harder for a stranger. Try to keep things simple – don’t expect them to hold perfectly still at dusk, or capture everyone jumping at the same time. Don’t ask them to lie on the ground to get a shot. Be happy with what you get. 😉
7) Ask them to take A LOT OF PICTURES
I can’t tell you how many times we’ve asked someone to take a photo, and they take ONE. One in which one kid is inevitably licking another. One in which the baby is pulling my hair and I’m mid-scream. It’s easier to just tell them to take as many as they want. You can always delete later.
8) ASK FOR A REDO
Most people we’ve asked will ask you to take a look to see if the photo is okay. I used to say, “Oh, I’m sure it’s fine!” and not bother looking, only to realize later it was…definitely not fine. Usually people are more than happy to take another!
I’ll usually say something like, “Oh, do you mind getting more of the building to this side of the photo in?” Or, “Do you mind shooting up a little higher so there’s less ground in front of us?” It’s usually easier to adjust with someone who’s already taken one rather than starting over.
9) FIND SOMEONE ELSE
But if it’s really so far off that there’s no hope, just find someone else! We’ll usually wait until the first person walks off, then just ask another. Try, try again.
10) Either way, BE GRACIOUS
No one owes you a photo. Ask politely, thank them if they say yes (and don’t be offended if they say no), and offer to take one for them, too. And pat yourself on the back knowing that THEIR family photo won’t have any heads cut off.
And here are a few bonus family photo tips specific to beginners shooting with a DSLR!
1) USE A MEDIUM APERTURE
It’s tempting to set your lens to that F/1.8 to get gorgeous bokeh. But it’s trick to get it in focus for a group shot. It also makes it more likely that the person shooting will focus on the wrong thing and everyone will be blurry. It’s much easier to get it right if you set to an F/5.6 or even F/4 or so.
You may lose a bit of background blur, but by narrowing your aperture (in other words, raising the f-stop number), you’ll make it much easier for the person who’s never held a camera before to get your family in focus (way more important, in my book).
2) CONSIDER APERTURE PRIORITY MODE
On that note, you may want to consider taking your camera off of full manual and switching instead to aperture priority mode. That way, if the light shifts a bit, you won’t need to keep running up and adjusting, and it makes it a bit easier for the person shooting.
3) USE A HIGHER SHUTTER SPEED
Even if you’re shooting in manual, set your camera to a higher shutter speed than if you were shooting on your own. This will help compensate for a bit of hand shake!
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DON’T NEED FAMILY PHOTO TIPS QUITE YET? PIN THIS POST FOR LATER!