Tips for Photographing Your Next Family Adventure
I wrote the title for this post over a year ago, and now I think I finally have the words for it—and the pictures. Always pictures.
Tip #1: Leave room for error.
We planned this trip with our boys for months. I researched the area, combing through Pinterest articles and YouTube videos for the best places to eat and see, asking friends and family for their tips. I booked the plane tickets, the AirBnB, the minivan rental (which we were excited for, by the way—who have we become? Parents, that’s who.). I planned for the boredom on the plane, the snack attacks, and the weather. With any trip we take though, I try to leave breathing room—down time and room for things to go awry. They did. This tip isn’t so much about photography as it is about life and parenting in general, but I felt it worth mentioning. When taking your camera along, don’t be afraid to photograph the things that aren’t going right: the flight delays, the meltdowns, the traffic....but also don’t feel like you have to document every moment. Do what your energy dictates. I found it more stressful to try pulling out my camera in a crowded airport while trying to keep track of my kids, but I hope to someday get to that place.
Also, remember that you are traveling or adventuring with kids. I expected things to go wrong, but I didn’t fully anticipate the level of apathy they would have for certain things. If you ask them now, they will name highlights of the trip as their favorite part, but I could’ve sworn all they really cared about was finding a playground to climb around on (and trust me, we did that, too).
Tip #2: Remember your why.
As a photographer, I encountered a somewhat new phenomenon: when people heard we were going to Seattle (in the fall) for the first time, many of them said they were excited to see my pictures. I mean, I was excited to take pictures of this new experience, but I didn’t realize others were excited for me. As a result, I needed to set some clear intentions for myself.
When making pictures of my family, I have learned the hard way that I must remember just that: they are for them and for me , not anyone else. If I take them for anyone else (Instagram, Facebook, the unknown them ), the pressure to make amazing, original works of art becomes too heavy and if I let it go too far, the perfectionist side of me doesn’t even want to try. So for me, my why is that that I’m documenting this experience to help my family remember real moments and because I enjoy the creative process of photography. My motivation is not make a picture that will get hundreds of likes. *Not that anyone excited to see pictures is to blame at all—it’s a mind game I play with myself. I’m flattered and grateful that people enjoy seeing pictures of my family and our life.*
Tip #3: Don’t try to document everything and have a game plan.
If you do try to document every single thing, you might burn out quickly and your family certainly will. To combat this, I had a loose idea of the things I wanted to document based on our planned activities. For instance, I knew I wanted pictures at Pike Place, on the ferry, and in the forest. Having an idea ahead of time meant I knew that I could set my camera aside once I got a few pictures at each of those places. Will you miss some cute moments? Maybe. But to me, it’s worth it to be present with my family and not distracted by my camera or, again, making the perfect picture to share on Instagram. You could even be more detailed about the exact shots you want to get and sketch them out ahead of time if that helps you stay focused, just keep tip #1 and #2 in mind. I didn’t sketch it out, but I knew I wanted something like the shots below before we even stepped foot on a ferry.
If you’re taking pictures of a single activity at home, like dying eggs at Easter for example, maybe plan out a couple of different perspectives you want to capture and then once you’ve made those pictures, set the camera aside. (Again, this can all be done mentally or perhaps on the notes app on your phone.)
Tip #4: Make the most of what you’ve got.
I could write a whole blog post on this topic, but I will try to keep it concise. I do have a couple of stories to share, however. Five years ago when our oldest was 10 months old, we planned a trip to the beach with my parents and sister. We were going to leave the day after her high school graduation and drive over together. That trip turned out to be a bit of a doozy with a rocky start, but it was my baby’s first time going to the beach and I was SO excited to document it.
And then I left my camera and our video camera at home.
The perfect storm of being delayed at my office and trying to make it in time for the graduation meant that that bag got left behind in the chaos. I felt sick to my stomach when I realized it. We had no choice but to make the most of what we had, which was our iPhones.
As it turns out, the disastrous things can sometimes be for the best. The trip was highly memorable and I kind of miss that iPhone 5 camera. In fact, from my couch where I’m typing this, I can look at our shelf and see a print from that very trip, of my little family of three on the beach (so young! so different!). The camera I had in hand still accomplished the task of documenting our trip, and dare I say made me a little more present since I had limitations on the capabilities of the equipment?
Ironically enough, just before last year’s trip to the beach, the shutter on my beloved Canon 5d Mark II went out. It’s an old camera so it wasn’t shocking, but I was pretty disappointed that the repairs weren’t finished before we had to leave. This time, I borrowed my sister’s Canon Rebel SL1, which is a pretty compact DSLR. Was the quality of my images as dreamy as they would have been with my more professional camera body? No, they weren’t. Yet again, however, I was reminded of my why: to document our adventures together so we had something tangible to remember them. As it turns out, I kind of enjoyed the more compact camera after a long day at the San Diego Zoo, and I’m happy with the images themselves.
Now, even when I don’t forget my camera, I travel light. This won’t mean a lot to non-photographers, but if you’re a hobbyist, I bring one lens and one body. For our cruise to Canada last year, I brought my 50mm f/1.4 because it’s my lightest and most compact lens. For Seattle, I brought my Sigma Art 35, which is a heavier lens but I knew I wouldn’t be carrying it on my person as much. We also just used our phones to take video clips, which I compiled into a little family film that I’m pleased with. I actually really considered renting a more compact mirrorless camera since I’m wanting to purchase one anyway, but in the end made the most of what I had and I don’t regret that.
All this to say, I’m a big believer that the gear does not the photographer make, so naturally I’m a believer in making the most of the gear you have in order to achieve your purpose.
Tip #5 Print your pictures after the adventure!
This is something I’m not the best in the world at, but I wholeheartedly believe in: don’t let your pictures sit on your phone or hard drive! The whole point of taking the pictures is to remember the activity and while apps can give you yearly reminders of your fun, having a book or a print in hand is much more tangible and enjoyable for the whole family. Not only that, but experts don’t really know the lifespan of digital files. Who really knows how long the cloud will last? Don’t let your precious memories get buried along with the other 5,000 photos in your archive. I could dig up some astounding statistics, but I’ll just leave it at that.
There are so many options for printing your photos—and it can get overwhelming! I wish I had the perfect solution, but I’ve yet to find my absolute favorite. I think this topic deserves its own post, but I will say that Chatbooks and Persnickety Prints are great, user-friendly options. For last year’s family trip, I printed off 4x6 and 2x3 pictures to slip into a 6x8 pocket album. I also made a custom, hardcover Chatbook of our cruise we went on, a copy of which we gifted to my husband’s business partner and his wife (who we traveled with) for Christmas. Even months later they still thanked us for the gift, and our family photo albums/Chatbooks are a special favorite of my three-year-old for story time.
I hope these tips make your next family adventure a little less stressful and a little more fun! As much work as it takes, I’m a firm believer that intentionally creating experiences together helps strengthen families and enriches the minds of our little people. If you have any tips yourself, please share!