Candid moments at Pinehurst Resort

19 Tips to Take Amazing Family Vacation Photos

Picture the scene: you’re on vacation with your adorable little family and upon arrival you can’t wait to snap a family picture! But sadly, it fails. The sun is in one kid’s eyes, another is annoyed, the third is trying to climb on everything in sight, and then…your battery dies. We’ve all been there, right?


I’m definitely not a professional photographer, but I have come a long way in a short time. With the help of a ton of YouTube videos and amazing photography friends I can help you make your family vacation photos go from blah to heck yeah! Are you in?


Whether you’re traveling to an exotic location or your neighborhood park, there are so many precious memories worth capturing of your children. Read on to hear how you too can amp up your family photography skills and create stunning, frame-worthy pictures from your next family vacation!

Candid moments at Pinehurst Resort

Getting Started

1. Know your equipment : Whether you’re shooting with an iPhone or DSLR, take time to learn the ins and outs of your gear. Before even opening my Canon Rebel T6 last Christmas, I sought out a local photographer and scheduled a meeting to learn all of its functions and how to use them appropriately. I promise you, it’s worth it.


Practicing my skills with a local photographer friend [photo cred: Mick Schulte]

2. For an iPhone a few quick tips: a) Use ‘burst mode’ to capture tiny minions who refuse to sit still. Burst mode takes ten photos per second for as long as you hold down the shutter button. Minimal blur and guaranteed to get a few candid action shots. b) Set the focus and exposure (brightness). You can easily do this by simply tapping the area on the screen where you want sharp focus (your subject), and then swipe up or down to adjust the brightness.


3. For DSLR: a) I usually use Av mode. When photographing kids, the scene is constantly changing and I don’t have time to make all the manual adjustments. Av mode prioritizes depth of field (i.e. what’s in focus) and auto-corrects the shutter speed based on the existing lighting conditions. I simply have to choose if I want only my subject in focus or the whole landscape and the camera does the rest for me. b) Similar to ‘burst mode’ on an iPhone, I also shoot in continuous mode on my DSLR.


Preparing for your shoot

4. Make a list and check it twice: Before you embark on your adventure, double check that you have all of the necessary gear. This list may look something like: charged battery, camera lenses, lens cloths (a must!), spare SD card, and perhaps a tripod or selfie-stick if you’re feeling fancy. I’ve been caught without a charged battery before – don’t be like me!


All gear on deck and ready for a family day on the golf course!

5. Have a plan: Use hashtags or Google to search your vacation destination to find inspiration for travel pictures.


After researching the resort, I had to get a picture of the Splash Pad!

6. Golden Hour: You want the best lighting? Dusk is the answer. An hour before sunset the light is more ‘golden’ and makes everything glow. The first hour after sunrise is also nice because the light is even and soft.


**pro-tip: download the Golden Hour app to find out the best times to shoot based on your location


The lighting mid-day can be super harsh, especially if you’re in a sunny location with minimal cloud cover. This will cause your subjects faces to be shadowed more severely. If you must shoot mid-day I would recommend landscape shots where a person is not the focus.


Look how beautiful that soft lighting is!

On- location

7. Scope out the area: OK, so you’re comfortable with your equipment, you’ve packed all your gear, have a list of all the shots you want to take, and now you’ve arrived on location! Take a few minutes to scope out the area and get ideas for a few shots.


Looking back at the clubhouse I knew this was a shot I had to get

8. Shoot everything! Personally, I prefer candid photos and enjoy catching the kids in their natural environment. Yes, staged photos have a time and a place, but these candid moments really capture their personality and are a great way to tell the entire story.


I love this shot and the natural expression on her face

9. Get creative: Need ideas for your family pictures? Switch up your poses! Try positioning your kids on your shoulders, piggyback, swinging, or holding hands. Once you find a style or pose you like, run with it! Props are always a fun addition to any shot and can make it feel less awkward. And as you shoot more and more your kids will become more comfortable with the camera.


Using a decorative bike as a fun prop!


An action shot + the backpack carrier for an interesting photo-op


Tips + Tricks

10. My BFF, the self-timer: Not only does this come in handy for snapping stellar selfies, but it is also helpful when holding a wriggly toddler on your hip. It will give you a few extra seconds to balance the phone better in your hand.


Selfie game is strong y’all

11. Orientation: Recently, I’ve been shooting in both portrait and landscape orientations, giving myself two options from each scene. Try it out! Portrait is ideal for Instagram as it takes up most of the screen and is more likely to grab the attention of your audience. Whereas landscape is best suited for blog posts, photo-books, or on your living room mantle!


Portrait Orientation (focus on the subject)


Landscape Orientation (includes more of the surroundings)

11. Move around : Don’t be afraid to move left, right, down, or even stand on a chair to get a different or interesting perspective. And when shooting kids, get low! Position yourself to be nose level with your child.


Try an aerial view for a unique perspective [photo cred: Mick Schulte]

12. Chose a simple background : Try to find a background that is void of distractions as you want the focus to be on your subject. This may mean waking up at the crack of dawn (and catch that first light, right?!) to avoid crowds at popular tourist attractions.


Way too much going on in the background is distracting from the subject

13. Some days it just doesn’t work out : You have the perfect shot in your head and despite your valiant efforts, it doesn’t happen. You can’t get the lighting right, there’s a huge crowd, or it just doesn’t look as picturesque as you drew it up. Whatever the case, move on and forget it!


So many shadows this was impossible to edit

Step up your game

14. Rule of thirds: This is a common photography rule of thumb and means that if you divide the image into thirds, your subject would be placed on one of those lines, or ideally at an intersecting point of those lines.


See how Aviana aligns perfectly with the left 1/3 of the grid


15. Horizon lines: The next faux pas of photography, uneven horizon lines! Lines that are horizontal in nature, should also be horizontal in your pictures. This simple tweak will help you avoid beginner photography mistakes and boost your photos credibility in an instant. Use the grid on your iPhone (as mentioned in tip #2), or when editing in Lightroom you can use the angle tool to correct a tilted horizon line!


Boom! Straight horizon line!

16. Think about clothing: What you wear can heavily influence the image. When photographing at incredible destinations with your family as the subject, you don’t want to merely blend in, nor do you want to take away from the already beautiful location. The key is to find bold, neutral colors that stand out but don’t distract. Rushing out the door with kiddos doesn’t always allow for coordinated color schemes, BUT if you can roughly plan your outfits it’ll make your photos that much nicer!


**pro-tip: select colors that contrast your environment, for example, wear red when shooting in a forest or bright colors for snow scenes.


Color-coordinating outfits that also pop out against the neutral background [photo cred: Mick Schulte]

17. Presets + Lightroom: When I found my go-to preset, I felt like I had re-invented sliced bread. And then, when I learned how to edit in Lightroom, I literally felt unstoppable! Lightroom is an editing software that allows you to ‘rescue’ a photo and recreate some of the lighting or colors that may not have been captured by the camera. There are endless YouTube videos that provide tutorials for novices to the most advanced users. I highly recommend one or both of these and I promise it will take your photos to an entirely new level! (See before / after below!)





18. Take your camera everywhere and just practice shooting! Going to the park? Take your camera! Taking a stroll through the neighborhood? Take your camera! Beach bound? Yup, you guessed it. Take your camera! An okay shot is far better than no shot at all! As the great Wayne Gretzky once said, ‘you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.’ With time, practice, and a healthy dose of patience, you too WILL feel more comfortable, confident, and faster in taking amazing family vacation pictures!


Absolutely love shots from behind when no one is looking

**Note: For me, photography has become a fun, creative outlet to capture these incredible moments. This list is not meant to be stressful or overwhelming, because let’s be real, parenting is hard enough! Do I remember to do all of these things all of the time? I wish! I encourage you to focus on a few key points at a time, and before you know it, you’ll be taking less awkward or poor quality family vacation photos. I promise!


Want to shop the gear I use, here it is! Use the click links below:

Canon Rebel T6 (comes with 2 lenses and a camera bag)

Canon 50mm f /1.8 lens (for portraits)

Manfrotto Compact Aluminum Tripod with bag


I hope this was helpful! If so, drop a comment below or message me directly as I plan to roll out more photography and editing tutorials in the future! What were your top takeaways? I’d love to hear (and see your amazing family vacation photos)!


XO, Steph


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