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How to Take Great Vacation Pictures: 7 Tips for Families

A mother (left) lifts her expressive arms as a father (right) holds up their child in front of a wooded area.A mother (left) lifts her expressive arms as a father (right) holds up their child in front of a wooded area.
Sara Martin headshot.

Whether you’re traveling with a cell phone, a point-and-shoot or a high-end DSLR on your next family vacation, you can return home with all of your amazing family memories beautifully captured and ready to relive for years to come. (And maybe even your next Christmas card or holiday framer?)

Children pay outdoors whilst chasing bubbles.
Photo provided with permission by Sara Martin and courtesy of: Wander + Wish Photo Co.

As a wedding and family photographer of 12+ years, I know a thing or two about taking photos, whether it’s rain, shine, indoors, outdoors and all sorts of in-betweens. When it comes to capturing your family’s memories on your own, here are a few fundamental family photography tips that’ll help you love the end results regardless of which camera is doing the work on your vacation.

1. Charge your battery & check your storage

A couple stands outdoors holding embracing each other surrounded by a lush environment.
Photo provided with permission by Sara Martin and courtesy of: Wander + Wish Photo Co.

Be sure to charge your battery fully and double-check you have enough memory storage to last the duration of the trip. It’s both heartbreaking and frustrating to grab your camera just in time to snap that perfect pic only to realize your battery is dead or your memory card is full.

Pack both phone and battery chargers, plus extra memory cards, in easy-to-access places, especially if you forgot to charge up before leaving home. Ideally, check your camera each morning while on vacation to make sure you have enough juice before heading out the door. Maybe even consider a portable charger phone case, like a Mophie or Casely, if you plan on being out and about all day.

2. Clean your lens

A woman stands out in the crystal blue ocean water.
Photo provided with permission by Sara Martin and courtesy of: Wander + Wish Photo Co.

This is sometimes easier to remember with bigger cameras that can come with lens caps, but it’s incredibly important for point-and-shoot cameras and cell phones as well.

It’s likely that your phone has been in pockets, bags and laid down on all surfaces imaginable, so a quick wipe with a microfiber cloth (or even the hem of your cotton shirt if nothing else is available) will help keep spots and blurs off your photos.

3. Think about lighting

A mother holds her infant daughter in front of a grassy path and birch trees.
Photo provided with permission by Sara Martin and courtesy of: Wander + Wish Photo Co.

Lighting is super important. When taking photos of people, the most flattering light is diffused and even. (Diffused just means light that’s not direct. It’s that softer, more “scattered” light that’ll give you a better chance of avoiding harsh shadows and glares from intense sources of light.)

A good rule of thumb is that the best light for your group pic is the hour after sunrise or before sunset. Now, I know the idea of getting up at sunrise on vacation for a photo op might sound like the opposite of fun for most, but remember that before sunset is just as good.

Also, overcast or cloudy days can offer great even light. Here’s a side-by-side example of the same family photographed in uneven (mix of harsh sun and shadows) and even light so you can see what I mean.

Left: A family stands in an environment that has naturally darker lighting conditions. Right: The same family now stands in a new location with better natural lighting conditions.
Photo provided with permission by Sara Martin and courtesy of: Wander + Wish Photo Co.

4. Candid moments matter

Sara's husband is running up a covered staircase at the airport carrying his luggage and smiling.
Photo provided with permission by Sara Martin and courtesy of: Wander + Wish Photo Co.

Oftentimes it’s the photos where everyone’s looking at the camera or fun action shots (like grandpa on a boogie board!) that monopolize your vacation photo gallery.

But some of the best memories are had during those in-between moments when the people you love are truly just being themselves. Examples might include your child sleeping after playing in the sun all day or your partner reading a book in the garden.

I often grab my camera in the airport before we even leave just for that purpose. After all, that snap of my newly reunited sisters hugging, or the unexpected capture of my boyfriend running up the gangway, might end up being my favorite photograph. Try keeping your eyes open for those special moments, in between all of those “say cheese!” shots.

5. Capture your favorite surroundings

Two rows of trees line a grassy area.
Photo provided with permission by Sara Martin and courtesy of: Wander + Wish Photo Co.

Not all of your travel photos will be group shots, or even have people in them. And while I highly recommend trying to get at least one great shot of the whole family or group that’s traveling together at some point on the trip, don’t forget to snap some scenic shots of your destination, too.

It’s amazing how the view from your hotel room balcony or a quick snap of your favorite swimming spot can take you right back to how relaxed or excited you felt on vacation. These images are fantastic for adding interest, variety and color to photo album spreads and can even make great prints for your home, too.

6. Print your photos

A mother (left) lifts her expressive arms as a father (right) holds up their child in front of a wooded area.
Photo provided with permission by Sara Martin and courtesy of: Wander + Wish Photo Co.

Speaking of prints, in this day and age of digital photography, please don’t forget to print your photos! Having them in the cloud or saved on your computer is good, but having physical prints to display in your home or photo albums to thumb through is so important.

So many amazing family memories get stuck in the hundreds (or thousands) of camera roll scrolls, and taking the time to put them on display “in real life” is an easy way to make you smile daily.

Remember, the prints from a cell phone photo are limited in size capability due to resolution constraints, but you should still be able to easily make 4x6 or 5x7 prints. You can always try to tweak and sharpen them with a variety of apps and printing tools, too.

7. Get in front of the camera

A father stands in front of a green door posing excitedly while his daughter takes his photograph.
Photo provided with permission by Sara Martin and courtesy of: Wander + Wish Photo Co.

Last, but definitely not least, make sure that you’re in some photos, too! Yes, I’m talking to you—the family member who loves to take pictures, but you rarely ever appear in them.

If there are employees or resort team members around, or if you’ve befriended another family on your trip, ask them to snap a few shots so you can be in them. If you’re traveling with children, this might be a great opportunity to teach them how to use the camera. Let them take your photo, get snapshots of each other and take pics of the property, so you can see how the world looks through their eyes.

Or even just perch your camera and give your camera’s timer feature a try! It’s hit or miss, but a well-placed self-timer family shot is always an option that’s often forgotten.

Two men throw a frisbee at each other while a dog runs in-between the two of them on a grassy area near a creek.
Photo provided with permission by Sara Martin and courtesy of: Wander + Wish Photo Co.

No matter what type of camera you have with you on vacation, checking off these quick boxes can make a world of difference in the photos you bring back. You don’t have to be a professional to produce images that’ll stand the test of time.

So, go ahead. Charge, clean, point, click, capture—and make—some new family memories!


Our guest bloggers are compensated for their writing contributions and honest opinions.

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Sara Martin headshot.