Ten vital tips to give them a different spin

Family vacations. Late night packing, last minute checks, car trips, crowded stations, airport check-in queues, cranky kids. But of course it’s all worth it.

We get to our destination and some days are good, some fall a bit below our expectations, but the overall feeling is that this is a special time and we want to make the most of it.

And we take photos, lots of photos — because of the benefits digital cameras offer. How many files do you bring home? How long does it take you to sort through them? I have vacation pics from five years ago I never got to — guilty as charged!

But most important of all, are those pics really the best memories you could take? Let’s take a merciless look at vacation photos and see how we can do things differently this year.

1. It’s not about the Trevi Fountain

Strategically placing your family in front of the Tour Eiffel or propping up the Tower of Pisa can be fun, but it may not be the best way to remember that day. Think about telling a story, and let go of the idea that those are the shots to bring home. Your family is the story, not the tower, so start to observe situations with fresh eyes.

Your children slurping ice cream while you’re queuing for tickets, getting on a very different underground train or letting loose in a tourist shop on the beachfront looking for interesting marbles — you can use your camera to tell that story and create memories of what really happened. And because you’re not constantly asking them to pose, they’ll be much happier too.

fountain, Nice, children, water, children playing in water
Find a fountain they can play with and let them loose!

2. Watch out for the fight

Just because you’re in a beautiful place doesn’t mean you can take a beautiful image. You know what I’m talking about — kids smiling at you on a Caribbean beach with squinting panda eyes because it’s midday and the shadows are horrible. Learn to use the midday sun, or keep away from it altogether. Find open shade if you want to see their faces, or move back and use the whole beach as your subject and your kids building a sand castle as part of that. Body movements and shapes are good in harsh light, so play with those instead!

3. Don’t forget the details

You’ve been trekking for two hours and you get to the top, and the scenery is breathtaking! But when you plonk your spouse in front of it you can barely make out those hazy mountains because it’s too hot and the sun is in the wrong place. Sound familiar? You take that shot, and when you come home and show it to your friends, it comes with. “it really was amazing, didn’t come out in the photo but it was absolutely beautiful.” followed by large sweeping movements of your hands.

Next time, look around you. Go smaller. There’s a gorgeous forest if you look behind you, a 200-year-old stump with mushrooms growing all over it and wildflowers. Put your spouse in there, take photos of muddy boots and rocks in running streams, along with the ice cold beer with the lodge flags in the background. The mountains behind the flags will still be hazy, but the story will be there.

mountains, snow, horse, couple
You can still get the majesty of the mountains even if the light isn’t brilliant.

4. Don’t forget it’s a journey

Vacations don’t start when you arrive, they start when you leave, or even before that. The time you’re on the road is often quite an eventful part of it, so why not document that?

So many things happen when we travel, and from my first traveling experiences with my parents a lot of my best memories were things we did while on the road. My first flight, a futuristic train ride, long car journeys and all the singing we did, restaurants and service stations with a playground I had fun in. We may not think much of these things, but to our children everything is new, and everything is a wonder. Those are photos worth taking.

5. Put the camera down

Sometimes moments are better lived than documented. Be careful about wanting to photograph everything you see, or you may miss out on the actual experience of it. Believe it or not, your family likes to see your face instead of the minimum/maximum f-stop numbers on your lens, and learning (or re-learning) to see things and just enjoy them as they happen is very refreshing.

Give yourself some time out from behind the lens — even leave the camera at home for one day. You may miss a shot, but you will live that moment in a completely different way.

What are your best tips for vacation photos? Comment below and contribute to the list, and look for part two coming soon.