When Dan and I first started traveling, selfies weren’t really a thing. I mean, you could hold a camera out, but it was significantly more difficult. Still, we didn’t really need any family photo tips because the quality of that little camera was so terrible that it didn’t really matter, anyway – ha!
We’ve since gotten a bit better at photography, but tips for good family photos are very different from taking a good landscape photo. When you add kids into the mix, it gets trickier and often more fun!
Here are some of our best family photo tips while traveling, whether you’re using a smartphone or big lens. I hope they’re helpful for getting great family photos while traveling!
This post on travel family photo tips contains affiliate links, but all opinions are 100% my own. That means I earn a small commission if you purchase through my link, but doesn’t change your price.
Family Photo Tips For Travel: Getting Great Family Vacation Photos
Set Expectations, Do It First, Make It Quick
There’s a reason this one is first – because it might be the most important! I don’t ever want to take away from an experience by focusing too much on getting a photo. I used to think taking photos first would detract from the experience. But I’ve found that for our family, it usually works better to take the photo first. We do a few quick shots, and then the kids can play and explore. I always give them a heads up when I want to take a family shot so they know what to expect. And when I say I’ll take 2 minutes or 5 minutes or whatever for family shots, I try my best to stick to that.
My kids are usually in a more cheerful and less tired mood at the start of an outing, so we can get a couple of shots quickly without taking away from the experience. Plus, they know that if they cooperate, then the photos will take less time and they have more time to play. I’ll usually continue to take a few shots after – either of the surroundings or candids of them playing. So they’re aware that if we take a family shot quickly, then the rest of the time is theirs.
Have 3-5 Standard “Poses”
When we first started taking more family photos while traveling, I found that it took at least 75% of the time just to set everyone up for the shot. Kids would argue over who to stand next to, that someone was blocking them, or that so-and-so was breathing on their neck. So annoying and time-consuming.
So I started choosing just a few “standard” shots that our family would do. Not only did it help our photos feel more consistent and connected, but it majorly cut down on the amount of time it took to get everyone set up. I could quickly say which position I wanted everyone in, and we generally knew where to go.
Learn The Basics of Composition
This post does a great job at detailing some of the basics of composition. I’m a firm believer that you can take a fantastic shot with a smartphone and a terrible shot with a fancy camera. Composition is essential no matter what gear you use to shoot!
The rule of thirds is one of the most basic and important. While it’s tempting to place your family smack in the middle of your shot, consider moving off to the side a bit. Or is there a way to frame your family photo? Are there any leading lines in your environment to direct attention to you?
Experiment with Different Zoom Lengths
Sometimes it’s fun to get a wide angle so you can imagine the whole scene. And sometimes it’s nice to get a closer up view of the people. Or maybe you want your bodies closer to the camera, or perhaps you’d like the background to appear larger. Feel free to experiment to see what you like best!
Wear Colors That Contrast with Your Surroundings
While that beige sweater may feel cozy and warm at home, it will disappear if you do a lot of beach shots with the sand. Or that multicolored maxi dress? May feel painful to look at against brightly colored buildings. Think about the kind of surroundings in which you’ll be shooting, and try to come up with a few general outfits that look good there.
Remember that this doesn’t need to be complicated, and you don’t need a ton of outfits! We have some standard jackets (women’s, men’s, kids) that we almost always pack for travel. They’re brightly colored and lightweight, and generally pop against a lot of backgrounds. Easy, inexpensive, and functional!
Avoid “Witching” Times
Is it lunchtime or naptime and your toddler is melting down? Probably not the best time for a family shot. Sometimes those times are unavoidable, but try to if you can. Of course, this can get tricky with family vacation photos when everyone may be off their schedules. (Here are 10 tips for getting over jet lag with kids.) But try to have a quick snack beforehand and don’t push kids too much.
Carry The Right Gear
We didn’t have a tripod for years. We almost always asked strangers to take photos for us (I have a whole post with tips on getting strangers to take good family photos!), with the occasional selfie or propping up the camera.
And then we got a lightweight travel tripod and it made photo taking SO much easier. While we do still occasionally ask strangers to take a family photo for us, it’s rare, because it’s so much easier to get the shot we want with a tripod. The tripod is also essential for nighttime photography or for capturing beautiful waves of water movement.
I shoot with this camera (and usually with this lens), and I can take the photo remotely with the app on my phone. It is SO MUCH easier than doing the 10-second timer and running back and forth a million times! This camera remote also does the trick.
I also always like having a couple of extra batteries on hand. (For a phone, I ALWAYS carry an external charger – I super love this extra lightweight and small one, or this one that is slightly bigger is so powerful. I use it all the time, even at home!).
Kids love to move their bodies. They like to dance and jump and kick and twirl. There’s no need for them to be perfectly still – let them move their bodies. Try to see if you can all jump at the same time. Spin your child in a circle. Have everyone run toward (or away from) the camera. Try tossing a kid in the air (but be careful!!).
If you’re shooting on manual, just make sure to keep your shutter speed to at least 1/400 or faster to avoid blur (unless you want to capture blur, which can be fun! Here’s a great post on capture blur).
No Need to Wait For The Perfect Moment
While adults may be able to spend hours waiting for the perfect light and creating the perfect pose, it’s unlikely that kids will. There are a few very rare occasions when we’ve gotten up early for sunset, but it’s super unusual. Sunset are more common, but happen far more frequently in the winter than in the summer. While that light might be perfect during those times, it won’t be perfect for my kids and for our family. It’s not worth it to me to get the perfect photo by ruining a whole day of our family vacation with grumpy moods.
Perhaps your kids are early risers and sunrise works well. That’s great! Or maybe you don’t mind sitting around reading a book while you wait for the right moment for crowds to dissipate. Whatever works for your family is just fine. Just know what you can happily tolerate and stick to that, and don’t let anyone tell you that you “have” to wait for a specific time to get a great photo. Focus on the right time to have fun and connect as a family instead.
One unique thing with travel family photo tips versus regular travel photo tips is that families often have big height differentials! As you set up your scene, take that into account – where will a head stick out? Do you need to pick up a toddler so she or he isn’t too low?
For our family, we’ve found that it often works best to have the grown ups in the middle. That way, we don’t have a bunch of empty space above (shorter) kids heads in the middle of the photo, and it creates a nice pyramid shape to the outside. We also like experimenting with people in height order. But sometimes we do the opposite, and that’s okay, too! Take some time to look at past photographs or other ones that you see from friends and figure out your preferences.
Show Connection & Have Fun
Remember, you want travel family photo tips because you actually LIKE your family and want to document those experiences together. You don’t want to document stiff robots who look like they’ve never met!
Be silly, have fun, and enjoy one another. I guarantee you’ll treasure pictures where you look happy and like you’re having fun way more than those with just the best smiles and lighting in the world.
Here are a few ideas for creating intimacy and connection.
- Hug or kiss
- Point out things that you notice, or have your child point something out
- Tell jokes
- Play a joke on a grown up (or a kid who won’t be upset by it)
- Toss in the air
- Turn a child upside down
- Run toward something (the camera, the beach, each other)
- Do cartwheels
- Throw snow in the air or at each other
- Play tag
- To get a baby to look at the camera, try tossing a small stone or other small object in that direction
Let The Kids Take A Turn
I’m always amazed at how much more interested and cooperative my kids are with taking a family photo when I let them also take one by themselves. They feel so responsible and love seeing their work. Always place the camera strap around their necks, and help them as needed. Since I usually use my longer (and heavier) lens, I sometimes help my 6 year old hold it up (but my 10 and 8 year olds can use it on their own).
And especially while traveling, there are so many interesting things to see and remember. Letting your child capture one is great for helping them feel interested in the photo process and is one of my best travel photo tips!
While it’s wonderful to get those epic family shots, you’ll also want to remember those little details – chubby fingers pointing at a crab, hair flowing back as a kiddo gazes up to the top of cathedral spires. Notice those little moments of wonder and try to capture a few of them, while reveling in enjoying the rest.
Look Away From The Camera
If you really want to get a shot and the kids are just not having it, one of my favorite travel family photo tips is to have everyone look the other direction while hugging or holding hands. It’s a fun shot and it doesn’t matter if you have sad faces!
Play With Light
Sometimes you want light shining on you, while other times a shadow may create interest. Or you can try shooting into the sun for some gorgeous light streaks! Try different times of day and see what you like for your personal style.
Shoot From Different Directions
Instead of turning your bodies different directions from the camera, try turning the camera! Shoot your kids from up above, or lay down on the ground and shoot up. Crouch down to your kids’ eye level. Snap photos while twirling around. Turn the camera vertical. See the world through your lens from all kinds of different angles!
Capture Their Personalities Through Candids
While it’s definitely nice to get a solid photo of everyone smiling, it’s also really nice to capture your kids’ personalities during family travel photos. Does your child think it’s hilarious when you stick straws in your mouth like a walrus? Does your child suck her or his thumb? Does your child hate hiking and sit down and refuse to move? Or maybe your child really loves bugs and is is always kneeling down to look for them.
Think of what makes your child unique or what their special interests are, and try to work those into your family photos while traveling. They’ll likely do those things naturally, so be ready with the camera to capture some of those moments while they’re happening. And then put the camera down after a few shots so you can go and join them!
Don’t Worry About Perfection
While it’s nice to get everyone smiling and happy, you’ll likely look back on some of the crazy photos and smile nostalgically, or at least laugh. Similarly to capturing their personalities, the pictures are often better when you capture true emotions. Sometimes having a kid looking off to the side at an animal or someone making a grumpy face because their sibling just fell on them is exactly what will evoke fun and authentic memories of your trip.
Edit Your Photos
There’s no need to spend a million hours editing, but a few light edits can make a world of difference. I always edit in Lightroom. I tried a million presets and hated them all, and came up with a pretty solid editing process that works for me.
But then I finally found the Jess Kettle presets and I LOVE them so much. They’re all I use because they look very similar to my own natural edits but just better. I love that they’re one click and make my photos look so much nicer.
View Your Physical and Digital Pictures
So often, I take a million pictures and we end up not spending much time actually reviewing them. That sort of defeats the whole purpose of creating photos to help us relive those wonderful memories!
I find that when we take time to sit down and actually review the photos, it not only is so enjoyable to relive the memories, but it also helps us appreciate actually taking those photos. So the next time we’re out exploring, we feel more inclined to take a few quick ones, too. And be sure to print your photos (I do all my prints and photo books here)!! I also love inserting a few photos into a family video for a trip. (This family video course is inexpensive and so so helpful – you can use the code PREETHI for $5 off!)
We also really love having our photos cycle through on our Google Home hub. Our kids think it’s so fun to see all our photos, new and old!
Know When To Be Done
Remember that the photos aren’t the memories themselves; they’re just there to document the memories. So don’t spend so much time shooting that you forget to actually enjoy and appreciate the experience. I try to limit my shooting to about 5% of our total time somewhere. That way, I have 95% of the time to actually BE with my family and create those wonderful travel memories. Be happy with what you’ve captured, and be willing to put the camera down.
I hope these tips for getting good family photos while on vacation are helpful! I’d love to hear something that has helped you in the comments!
IF YOU LIKED THIS POST ABOUT VISITING GRAND CANYON IN WINTER, YOU MIGHT LIKE THESE POSTS, TOO:
- Zion National Park Winter Visit
- Ultimate Guide to Yosemite with Kids
- Yellowstone Itinerary with Kids
I have wondered how you capture all these family photos from the day I started following you. Despite this fabulous post I’m still amazed by your skills! I struggle to feel like I’m taking away from the experience too much, but after reading this and thinking about it I realize, it may be an ask from the future but it’s a gift to the future. Because my children really cherish the photo books we make and the memories those pictures bring back. I’ve started to say, “Let’s get a picture so we can put it in your photo book and you can remember this day forever!” It’s surprising how often that’s enough to change the mood. Love this, and you. You’re an inspiration!
Oh you’re sweet. I’m so happy this has helped you a bit, and thank you so much for reading!!
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