photographing a family vacation.

June 14, 2016

tips for photographing a family vacation | reading my tea leaves

I’m not an expert of photography, but over the years I’ve developed a philosophy on picture-taking while on vacation that I thought might be helpful to share.

Over the course of a family vacation, it’s possible to take thousands upon thousands of photographs. And facing that kind of catalog upon your return home can be overwhelming. I’ve come back from many a trip away to find myself daunted by the sheer volume of photographs I’d taken. Upon sitting down to make selections that might end up in a photo album or in a blog post, I’d grow even more disheartened. There’d be hundreds of photographs that I couldn’t use because the lighting was awful or the subject matter boring, or the faces all a blur. For reasons unknown, I’d realize that I’d decided it was a good idea to press the shutter ten times in row in order to capture the nuance of a glass bottle sitting motionless on a shelf, but I’d snapped just one (terrible) shot of a group of a friends around a table.

Last year when we went to Maine, I made a concerted effort to change my approach a bit. Instead of lugging my camera with me everywhere we went, I brought it out only when I knew the lighting or the setting would be conducive to nice shots. I took many action photos of Faye, and fewer action photos of bottles. Heretical as it might seem, I didn’t try to capture everything that happened. There were whole days of our trip that aren’t documented in a single photograph. But the result of putting down the camera occasionally, and being a bit more mindful when I did pull it out, resulted in some of the nicest family vacation photographs that we have.

In case it’s helpful, I’ve compiled a few tips on making the photos that you do take count, and on resisting the urge to document every moment of the livelong day, lest you forget to actually enjoy your time away from for photographing a family vacation | reading my tea leaves

Embrace cloudy days: For picture-taking purposes, they’re bound to produce some of your best shots. On sunny days, embrace the sunshine without the camera. Turn your face to the sky, lounge on the beach, visit scenic overlooks with clear views and marvel at insane brilliance of the world. Pull your camera out on the overcast days when the light is evenly distributed and natural filter will help your photographs come to for photographing a family vacation | reading my tea leaves

Stop lugging your camera around in the middle of the day. Related to the tip above, there are just some times of day that result in nicer photographs than others. Namely, the early morning and late-afternoon (or, depending on the latitude, the early evening). For the most part I don’t bring out my big camera during the middle of the day, even if it means missing out on photos from a spot we might not visit again. The shadows are so harsh under the noonday sun, but mostly I need a break from carrying a heavy camera. As much as I’m a sucker for documentary evidence of a good time, I don’t want to always be doing the documenting. I try to think of my picture-taking as gathering a collection of photographs that will trigger memories, give a sense of our time away, capture the particular moment in which we traveled, but not necessarily to serve as a blow-by-blow of our vacation. 
tips for photographing a family vacation | reading my tea leaves

Follow the action: Rather than commandeer the situation for the sake of a photograph, I try to follow suit. If that means I have more photographs of Faye in the middle of walking away from me than toward me, I’m okay with that. (Metaphor for parenthood, etc.) No one wants a pained photo of forced family fun, and I’d prefer a sweet candid moment any day. These are also the moments when I up my shutter speed and take a quick succession of shots in hopes that one or two might turn for photographing a family vacation | reading my tea leaves
tips for photographing a family vacation | reading my tea leaves

Find a side street: No shade to the hoi polloi, but sometimes it’s nice to have shots of a place minus the crowds. I love to walk on side streets and away from the throngs a bit to capture a quieter side of things without having to stand in the same place for ten minutes waiting for a stranger to walk out of the frame. tips for photographing a family vacation | reading my tea leaves

Hand the camera over to someone else: This post serves as evidence that this is something I’m still working on, but in general I try to make sure that I remember to hand the camera over the James so that I appear in a photograph or two myself. When there’s a friend or family around, switching the camera to automatic and handing her over is always worth for photographing a family vacation | reading my tea leaves

tips for photographing a family vacation | reading my tea leaves

For the curious, a few more details:

+ I shoot with a Canon 7D. The exact camera isn’t still in production, but this one is similar and I mostly use this lens.

+ I use an ONA camera bag insert so I can tote my camera safely in whatever bag we happen to be using (for this trip, it’s been this one).

+ I typically do some minor editing in Photoshop after I take photographs (upping the contrast, altering the exposure, straightening things out) and so I always shoot in RAW so that I can make edits more easily.

+ Of course you don’t need professional equipment to capture lovely family photos—a phone and an editing app like VSCO can also do wonders.

+ I’m woefully behind on my own album making, but I’ve loved using Artifact Uprising to print photographs and compile albums in the past. 

More posts about traveling, right this way.

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  • Reply Meg June 14, 2016 at 7:53 am

    Erin! I love this! There was a time in my life where I was constantly behind my camera. For a time it made perfect sense- I was anxious in a group and being the designated photographer made me feel like I had a reason to be there. As I got a bit ‘older and wiser’ :p I realized by seeing everything through a lens, I wasn’t experiencing it fully. These days we have ‘camera days’ too, and I find it a great way to still get to focus on my photography sometimes, but be in the moment others.

  • Reply Gia June 14, 2016 at 8:03 am

    On vacations, I found myself resentful of carrying my big camera around because its weight and bulk hindered the “doing” of the vacation. In recent years, I came to an almost complete halt in taking ANY photos on vacation, and so I recently traded in my DSLR for a light mirrorless camera. Voila! Problem solved: I can almost forget it is with me until the timing is right.

  • Reply Guylaine June 14, 2016 at 8:11 am

    Thank you for the simple tip that will make it easier to leave the camera behind. We spent 5 months in France with our 3 children last year and I still can’t get rid of the half a million photos that are no good anyhow! I was scared to miss any photo opportunities but this makes it easier to put the camera down and enjoy the moment.

  • Reply Julie June 14, 2016 at 8:25 am

    Interestingly this post could also inspire people who, like me, simply stopped carrying their camera around. Because it’s heavy and bulky. But mainly because I insist on not using the automatic mode, which turns taking one single picture into a very long process, which turns a very nice moment into a snapshop completely devoid of spontaneity. Maybe you – trying to put the camera down to be in the moment – and I – not willing to sacrifice a fraction of that moment for a photo, even one that counts – are standing at opposite ends of a spectrum but we both need to learn the same lessons? In the end it’s just a matter of choosing the right time/mood/place to shoot… or not to shoot. Thanks for sharing these tips! (Now where’s my camera again?)

  • Reply Françoise June 14, 2016 at 9:37 am

    Looks like “la ville close” in Concarneau…

    • Reply Erin Boyle June 14, 2016 at 9:39 am

      it is!

  • Reply Françoise June 14, 2016 at 9:53 am

    Don’t know how far you are from there, but you should check out Penhors and its beach. So many good memories from that place with the kids. We keep going back year after year. Enjoy your vacation!

  • Reply ANGELA June 14, 2016 at 9:58 am


    Espero logres entender mi mensaje… y ¿qué podemos hacer si apenas contamos con la cámara del teléfono o con una cámara semiautomática? hay cámaras que pos su tecnología y diseño dotaran de belleza todas nuestras imágenes insulsas. Pero yo no podría hacerme a una cámara reflex de momento… Cómo puedo obtener bellas imágenes con una cámara más sencilla?

  • Reply Sophia June 14, 2016 at 10:33 am

    These are great tips! I have yet to invest in a “real”camera, so just use my iPhone, and vsco, which isn’t bad! I really like how natural (unfiltered) your instagrams look–do you mind sharing which presets you like to use (or do you not use any at all)?

  • Reply VerbalGoldBlog June 14, 2016 at 11:19 am

    Beautifully captured photos! It looks like such a fun trip

  • Reply Mary Katherine June 14, 2016 at 11:38 am

    So relatable. I too come home from vacation with an overwhelming amount of photos, which means I never go through and edit them or compile them in any way and they just sit on my computer all while I tell myself I’ll get to them “someday”. I also always feel vaguely guilty that I spent more time getting a good photo than enjoying a place. There’s a quote from the Julie Delpy movie “2 Days in Paris” where she says something along the lines of how taking a photo automatically removes you from where you are; you become a spectator, not a participant, in what you’re doing. And God knows social media is not helping with this problem at all.

    All that being said, your photos are lovely. Northern France is perfect for cloudy days. Here’s to more of them 🙂

  • Reply Joyed June 14, 2016 at 12:17 pm

    We took a day trip down to Concarneau summer before last (also Pont Aven!), loved the Harry Potter effect of a different time on each of the tower clock faces plus the sundial lol 😉
    Enjoyed following in the footsteps of Commissaire Dupin, a detective creation by a German author, and eating at his favourite restaurant just across from the ville close, L’Amiral – it seems they finished filming the third Dupin case there this spring!

  • Reply Jackie (York Avenue) June 14, 2016 at 2:55 pm

    I love these tips. I went on a trip recently and I love some of the photos I got, but I was so focused on the scenery and whatnot that I took almost zero pictures of the people I was traveling with. Kind of dumb, looking back! I didn’t really think about it too much until reading this post, but it would be nice to have some candids of everyone. I’m definitely going to implement these ideas on future travels. And your pictures are absolutely gorgeous!

  • Reply Emily June 14, 2016 at 3:25 pm

    I love the idea of using the camera less and being more mindful of your family trip, especially these days as digital makes taking hundreds of pictures all too easy.

  • Reply Tamara June 14, 2016 at 4:27 pm

    This is a wonderful post! I have pretty much the same philosophy for photo taking, both on vacations and in the everyday. My kids are old enough now that they often dictate when I take photos: ‘Mom, take a picture!” And I’m currently shooting on a phone, so that’s cuts way down on the camera lugging, but I often don’t even pull it out unless and I see that shot, the one that captures the feel of the experience and I know it will trigger all the other memories surrounding it that I didn’t photograph.

  • Reply Jen June 15, 2016 at 10:23 pm

    Great tips and pictures! I’ve enjoyed seeing them also on yours and James’ instagrams. Thanks for the recommendation for Ona bags, I’ve been looking for something like that!

  • Reply Raynette June 18, 2016 at 5:35 am

    Is your husband wearing them storq baby bag?

    • Reply Erin Boyle June 18, 2016 at 4:26 pm


  • Reply Kim B. June 19, 2016 at 1:55 pm

    Thanks for this post. We’re going on an 8-person celebration of my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary all together in August — my folks, my brother and his wife and two girls, and my husband and me. I realized as I’ve been planning that part of the gift is the photo book that I’ll put together for them after the trip. But my husband and i are childless, so I’m not used to taking all these people photos on vacation. Thanks for these pointers.

  • Reply Jodi August 2, 2016 at 4:21 am

    Thanks for these tips. I’m used to lugging around my DSLR all the time, and I realized that I rarely use it on sunny days or around midday – so now I’m getting better at being choosy about when I bring it. The toughest thing I deal with as a mother is getting in the pictures. My husband says he likes to “enjoy the moment,” which means he essentially refuses to take pictures unless I beg him. I sometimes think my kids won’t even believe I was there for their childhood, as I’m in so few pictures!

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