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10 Simple tips to improve your family travel photos

Family// Art & Culture// Travel // By Kristin Reinhard // Oct. 30, 2017

Does anyone else get disheartened when they just can't get those holiday photos up to the standard of those amazing holiday photos you now see on the internet?

Simple Family Travel 10 Simple tips to improve your family travel photos

My background is in portrait photography, and I myself can get a little frustrated when my family travel photos are not up to my own high standards. 

But I want to let you in on a little secret. Those photos that we see and yearn to emulate aren’t created by photographers with kids jumping all over them and hanging off their legs. They aren't just a quick snapshot captured quickly walking past a new destination. They are more often than not well planned out photo shoots, taking into account location, lighting, and time of day and are always edited in the same way.  If I could plan it perfectly I’d take all my photos in the first few or the last few hours of the day, and never when the sun is at its highest.

But seriously, can you plan every family outing to fit your ideal photography hours?  Sunrise and sunset are not the most ideal times to take my kids out and about.  If you’re like me, I am mostly out and about in the middle of the day when the light is extremely bright.  We usually wake around 7am, have breakfast, take our time to get ready and then go out exploring for the day. One kid likely then loses their cool around 2pm and we head back to our accommodation for a rest. We may then venture out around 6pm for dinner and back home for sleep at the latest 9pm. And I rarely get uninterrupted photography time. 

So I have two choices:  I could wish away my current phase of life, or I can reframe and look for little hacks that can help my photos earn their place of pride in my holiday albums. I opt for the hacks, and I’m here to teach you how these hacks can help you out as well. (Hint: it’s all about the light).

10 simple tips to improve your family travel photos:

1. Change your schedule

The first suggestion is to change your schedule a bit. Have breakfast out and enjoy the beautiful sunshine. Kids up at the first ray of sunshine? Instead of telling them to be quiet, head out and explore during this period of magical light.

2. Find open shade

Now you can’t move famous monuments into the shade for your photos, but you can move your subjects. Open shade is shade created with the shade of a building, a tree or anything that casts a nice large shadow. If the sun is shining on one side of the church, head to the other side and experiment with where the light is bright. Find a large tree creating some nice shade but make sure you step out from the darkest part of the shade where you can enjoy some beautiful light. The tip is to look for a bit of sparkle in your kids' eyes, if you see it you know you have found some pretty light. If I ever see a nice sparkle in my kids' eyes I stop and take their photo. 

3. Use a polarizing filter

Have you ever noticed that when you are wearing your sunglasses, the blue sky and green colours of the ocean are even more vivid?  You can thank the polarising glass in your sunglasses for creating this effect, and the great news is you can also buy sunglasses for your camera- polarising filters.  

This is a big advantage to having a DSLR camera or a system camera, they enable you to add a polarising filter onto your lens. Polarising filters aren't cheap, and so I don't own many. But I highly encourage you to invest in one.  It’s worth it.

4. Get creative in order to shade your subject

Want to take a photo of a flower in full sun? Why not experiment with using your body, or one of your handy kid helpers to shade your subject. The sun casts terrible shadows when it is high in the sky and so any use of shade can help you out. Try turning on your side with your backpack to create a bigger shadow or stand high above leaning over. 

5.Have the sun behind you

Having the sun behind you is the best way to get the most colour in your photos when shooting during the brightest parts of the day. When you shoot into the sun you not only lose detail but it casts unwanted shadows.  If having the sun behind you doesn’t work, try having the sun to the side instead of behind the subject. 

6. Use the middle of the day as nap time 

If you nap after lunch you can recharge and head out again around 3 pm. Of course, this doesn’t always work, but if you can spend the height of the sun hours indoors recharging, having lunch and napping, you avoid the problem of the sun high in the sky. So it would mean breaking your trips into 2 half day trips. This works best in the height of summer, where the sun sets late. 

7. Shade and sun don’t mix

Ever get frustrated when you take a photo and the background is nicely light but the foreground, your lovely subject, is dark?  That is because your camera has decided on its settings based on the brightest light available. There are two solutions here:

1.  Get the bright light behind the photographer. Turn your subjects around and get that bright light behind the photographer, the light will be flattering for your subjects. See photo in tip 2 for the perfect example of this.

2.  Either get entirely in the shade or entirely in the sunshine. If you can’t get the photo to work in the shade, move into the full sunshine, the photo won't be perfect with some shadows, but it will help to make sure your subject is light in the best light available. 

8. Reset your expectations

What are your real expectations for your travel photos? What do you want to feel when you look back at them? 

I need to ask myself these questions often. It helps me to relax and lower my very high expectations. Sometimes the purpose of the photo is for it to be hung on a wall or to decorate a blog post. But more often than not, my day to day photography is for our memories only. They don’t have to be of print quality or win any national geographic travel photography prize. 

Why I take photos may not be the reason you take photos. So ask yourself before you start judging your own photos too harshly. 

9. Prioritise kid free photography time 

I like to have my kids in our family photos, but sometimes I want a more cooperative subject who won't complain about having their photo taken. So if I want to be able to take uninterrupted photos, I need to schedule it in. Get up early, head out when the kids are in bed, swap an hour of free time with your partner. 

I did this on a recent trip to Italy where I got up on the last morning for sunrise and was greeted with a beautiful scene. Made me ask myself why I hadn't thought of doing it before!

10. Don’t use a flash

I almost never use a flash. Yes, I have the bonus of having equipment that enables me to shoot in low light, but even when using my iPhone I never turn the flash on. A flash, when not used correctly, doesn't provide the most flattering light. 

An extra tip: wish for a cloudy day! Yes, you heard me right!  The clouds will act like a filter over the sun and can help get rid of those harsh shadows. But of course, that is a little out of our control. 

I hope that these tips will help you to not only take better photos but also enjoy your photos a bit more. I encourage you to take more photos with a bit of a more positive outlook and lose the frustration of not keeping up with the “jones”. 

Do you have some favorite photography tips? Share them with us in the comments section below!

This article first appeared on Simple Family Travel.

Kristin Reinhard, originally from Australia, has called Canton Zug home for the past 16 years. She lives by the motto “less stuff, more life” and created the blog Simple Family Travel to document travel tips for in and around Switzerland, simple life hacks, and life lessons learned. Full of great tips for anyone whose goal is more quality family time.


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