Bettijo here… I wanted to preface this family vacation photos post by telling you a little about Erika. She regularly contributes to Paging Supermom but also blogs on her site Yellow Pear Photography. My husband and I just took our first trip to Europe — it was amazing! Right before we left, I saw this post that Erika had submitted with her travel photo tips. Erika is a photographer that I really admire (seriously check out her Instagram feed), so I was excited to get her advice on family travel photos before we left on our big vacation. When packing for my trip, I had debated if I was going to take my “big camera” or just use my iPhone. I wasn’t sure, and Erika answered that questions as well. So without further adieu, here are Erika’s family vacation photos tips for busy moms.
I love to travel, and I equally love to take pictures. I also have five kids. So combining and balancing those three factors can be challenging. Along the way, I have come up with a few strategies that work really well for my family vacation photos. Today I’m sharing my tips to help you with photographing your family’s adventures.
Invest in a Quality Lens
It seems like a lot of people have digital SLR cameras now (like the Canon Rebel), which is great, but the kit lens (usually 18-55mm) that likely came with your camera can be very limiting. A good 50mm 1.4 lens isn’t too expensive and will really take your photography to the next level, and even a 50mm 1.8 lens, which is just about $100 will be a huge improvement. Neither of these 50mm lenses have zoom, but high-quality zooms are crazy expensive and heavy. With the fixed 50mm you will have to zoom with your feet, but this won’t be a problem for most photo situations while traveling, and you will get excellent photo quality in return. The big bonus of this lens is that it can shoot at a really low aperture which will give you some really great bokeh (out of focus background) and depth of field, more on that in a minute. There is a small learning curve when shooting with such a low depth of field. It can be tricky to get the focus right where you want it. Try to practice a bit with your lens before your vacation — watch your focus points and hold still while shooting.
There’s a reason why a lot of people call their DSLR the “big camera” — the camera’s body is bigger than most point-and-shoot cameras and certainly larger than your cell phone. Add in a couple of lenses, maybe a flash and you’ve got quite a lot of luggage. Nobody wants to be hauling all that around on vacation. Yet I totally understand the desire to capture great family vacation photos with your DSLR. I have found that I can cover a lot of different situations with my DSLR camera with just the lightweight 50mm 1.4 lens and my iPhone. I use the iPhone for wide-angle shots that I can’t fully capture with a 50mm, like city landscapes and architecture in tight places, selfies, photos of food, and any situation where I don’t have time to dig out the big camera — or it doesn’t seem appropriate. I use my DSLR for people/portraits, pretty detail shots, candids, and any photo I want to have more control over and to really pop with extra depth of field and bokeh. By the way, if you don’t have a DSLR, or even if you do, you’re going to love the new Portrait Mode on iPhone 7 plus. It’s still a bit buggy, but the depth effect is pretty promising as it delivers that dreamy depth of field that has only been available with the low-aperture lenses.
I use a camera bag insert, which allows me to turn any backpack or purse into a camera bag. I love carrying only one bag and keeping my equipment protected at the same time. When packing, don’t forget your battery charger/extra batteries and extra memory cards.
Get out of Automatic Mode
Even if you’re not ready to go full manual, try a “modified” manual mode, but be sure to practice before your trip. For most beginning photographers, all those buttons, dials and photographic terminology can be daunting. One of the first things I teach people, who are wanting to branch out and learn their camera, is to switch to Aperture Priority mode. It is signified by the letters “Av” or just “A” on most DSLR camera dials (see photo below). Even some point-and-shoot cameras allow you to have more manual control — look for “Aperture Priority” in your camera’s user manual. Set the aperture almost as low as it can go. I like to shoot at around 1.8-2.4 for most things like people, details and food to get that awesome creamy, dreamy, out-of-focus background and bokeh. There are only a few situations where this low aperture setting won’t be ideal — mainly action shots and landscapes. Until you get more advanced with photography, you can always switch back to auto or use one of the specialized auto modes for “Landscape” (signified by a mountain) or “Action” (signified by a running person).
Now back to shooting in Aperture Priority mode: once you have your camera set to Av and the aperture set to 1.8-2.4, it’s sensor will pick the appropriate shutter speed to get what it determines to be the best exposure. Typically the camera does a pretty good job; however, sometimes it will get confused with a bright background and a subject in the shade, leaving you with an underexposed photo. Here’s where you take charge. Your main goal is for the subject to be properly exposed, even if that means overexposing the background. To take charge of the exposure, find the exposure compensation controls in your camera (consult the manual), bump up the exposure one or two notches, and take the photo again until it looks better. If your subject is blown out and has lost important details, simply bring the exposure down. This part is definitely what you’ll want to practice ahead of time. Shooting with aperture priority mode is not the most technical way to do it, but it allows you to be a little more in charge of how you want your photo to turn out. It will give you practice seeing how changing the aperture affects to focus, without having to do the more complex job of picking aperture AND shutter speed manually. Even as a professional, the Av mode is typically how I shoot while on vacation with my family — with all that’s going on, it’s one less thing for me to worry about.
Light is Everything
Pretty light is what all photographers are looking for. The search for light can be especially frustrating while traveling. You may not always have the best light when you want to take a particular photo. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought, “If we were only here at sunset…” I am rarely on a strictly photography vacation, so coming back at golden hour isn’t always possible. You can still make the best of what light you do have by manipulating the light to your advantage. Try to avoid taking photos of people, details or food in straight, harsh sunlight (especially that straight-up, noon sun). Find a spot of shade or make shade with your body or a jacket. There is almost always shade, you just have to look for it and take a few extra minutes to walk over to it. You can also turn yourself to put the sun to the back and a little to the side of the subject. Shooting backlit can sometimes be tricky but it creates some stellar photos when you get it right. Remember to position the light behind AND to the side of the subject otherwise the photo will be washed out. Be aware of the light and how it is adding or distracting from your subject. Practice with different light before your trip so you are a little more prepared when you are out having fun.
Remember the Details
A family vacation is usually full of memories, and your camera is one of your best tools to preserve them. Try to include a variety of shots, for example: your hotel room, restaurants, food, flowers, pretty scenery and people. To help you capture more of the in-the-moment feel of places try shooting from various angles. Take a photo looking down, get low to the ground and take photo, focus close on a flower or step back for the whole picture. Also remember to get in the photos yourself! You or your children will regret it later if you’re missing from all the family vacation photos. Make it a point to ask someone to take a photo of you in different situations.