9 Tips for Taking Awesome Summer Vacation Photos

Last month, my family set out on our summer vacation. We were lucky to spend two weeks traveling through the Rockies exploring Glacier National Park in Montana and Banff and Jasper National Parks in Alberta, Canada.  My husband and I love photographing our time together so we can look back on it with the kids. This summer, whether you're traveling a great distance or on a staycation, here are some tips to get the most out of your photos. Whether you're using your DSLR, point-and-shoot, or even your iPad, here are nine ideas to think about while documenting your time together.

1. Capture the journey

Looking back on our vacation, I think my kids were a tiny bit more excited about the process of getting to our destination than actually being on vacation. They were thrilled about the idea of getting on a plane. Whether it is a plane or just taking the bus, I love capturing the expressions on their faces.

2. Be different

In a photography class years ago the instructor told us to observe how everyone is taking a photo and then do something else. This can also apply to our own photography as well. In the top photo, I snapped what I normally do – everyone just sitting together on the boat. Then I started to think, what else could I do? The kids were looking out the window so I went outside and took the photo on the bottom.

3. Work with the sun not against it

While on vacation, you aren’t going to stop taking photos because the light isn’t perfect. The light might not be optimal all of the time but it can push us to be creative. When it's really bright out, it's important to be cognizant of where the sun is and how it is affecting people in your photographs. In the two photos below, I didn’t have my flash with me (which could have fixed this problem) but my husband really wanted me to take a picture and in the one on the top he wanted the fall foliage and lake in the background. You can see that the light is coming from the side creates very dark shadows and very bright highlights. Neither photo is very flattering to the people in them.

In the next photo, we were at the beach and the kids were playing around in the sand. Because my son was NOT looking directly at me I didn’t have to worry about the harsh shadows you see in the photos above.

4. Look for open shade

If you are really struggling to get a good photo of your kids, look for open shade. This just means you are looking for some nice even lighting where something is blocking the sun. The sun could be a building, a tree, a car, an overhang, etc. In the photo below, even though it was early in the afternoon and the sun was high in the sky, I put my family in front of trees that blocked the light. If you look at the ground by their feet you can see very few bright spots and none of the bright spots are on their bodies.

On a cloudy or overcast day you don’t have to worry as much about where the sunlight is coming from since it is being diffused. 

5. Move your feet

The way the sunlight is hitting your kids can impact the photo your take. If you are unhappy with how the light looks, just change your position. In the photos below we were on carousel at Storyland. The photos were taken in the same place and all I did was move around for different looks. In the top photo the light is coming from behind my family (backlighting); in the middle photo the light is coming from the front and illuminates my daughter’s face; and in the bottom photo I’m in front of my family with the light coming from the side.

6. Let them be

While on vacation, I have my camera out more than usual. Because of this, I try not to worry so much about everyone looking at me and more about capturing their activities. By not saying, “Hey look at me!” all of the time I’m documenting more of their experiences. I find that my family doesn’t get as apathetic towards the camera and will even start to ask me to take their photograph. 

7. Create a Diptych

A what you say? A diptych is just two objects displayed together. On our most recent trip I took a gondola ride up Sulphur Mountain in Banff, Alberta. My son was enthralled with the ride but without the photo on the bottom you might not understand the context.

8. Don’t forget about the day-to-day

What can seem mundane can be what you remember the most from your trip. Don’t forget to photograph your meals, sleeping arrangements, and just hanging out. On our latest trip, it was the first time we took the kids camping. Even though we were in amazing parks, I wanted the kids to have photographs of being in the tent, making s’mores for the first time, and eating together at the picnic table.

9. Print your trip photos

Once you return home, create a plan for your photographs. Upload your photographs to your computer and then create a backup. Spend some time deciding what you want to print.  There might be one or two photographs that you want to frame in your house or you might spend the time and create an album of your trip.