Vacation Photos, Do's and Don'ts

Summer is the time for family vacations. Now that the kids are out of school, we have our schedules open to travel, explore, and yes, get some photos of everyone spending time together. As someone who loves photography, I went through a whole array of trial and error when it comes to vacation photos. From having a frustrated spouse and children, to actually being thanked for capturing our time in photos, I’ve learned some of the best ways to approach vacation picture-taking when it comes to traveling and relaxing as a family.


Photo of my two boys at  Longwood Gardens  in Philadelphia. This shot took about 2 seconds.

Photo of my two boys at Longwood Gardens in Philadelphia. This shot took about 2 seconds.

Go in with a plan for your photos

Before you even go on your trip, consider what you want to do with the photos. Do you want to make an album/photo book? Would you want one absolutely stunning shot blown up large and framed on your wall? Or do you just want a whole bunch of photos to post on Facebook and Instagram? The intent for the images will define how you should approach picture-taking and what equipment you would need. If you just want pics to share on social media, you don’t need to bring the big camera.. but if you want something that’s going to be printed large, you definitely want to pack professional-level equipment for your trip. Taking a few minutes to really set your intention beforehand is super important.

Photo from our family vacation at Acadia National Park in Maine. Sometimes the best way to photograph your kids is by letting them do their thing and following close behind.

Photo from our family vacation at Acadia National Park in Maine. Sometimes the best way to photograph your kids is by letting them do their thing and following close behind.

Choose, iPhone or Big Camera

Deciding which camera to bring with you on vacation will pretty much define the outcome of what your photos will look like. We are so fortunate nowadays to have easy 24/7 access to a fantastic camera as part of our phone. And quite honestly, most of the time you might not need anything else. Lugging a large camera around means you’re going to be limited in certain ways (if you’re going for a long hike or walking around a city, you have to consider the extra weight you’ll be carrying). But having your phone as your primary camera also means you’re limited in the quality of the resulting images. This is where that first point is important, decide what you want to do with your pictures and make sure the equipment you’re bringing will suit that purpose.

Photo of my oldest son at  Longwood Gardens  in Philadelphia. Be sure to diversify scenery photos with close-ups for a good variety of images.

Photo of my oldest son at Longwood Gardens in Philadelphia. Be sure to diversify scenery photos with close-ups for a good variety of images.

Spend time without the camera

Over the years, I started treating taking photos on trips just like I treat client photoshoots. I dedicate a specific time and place for when I will be taking pictures. All other times, I can relax and enjoy the actual vacation. If you have your camera constantly next to you, you will be preoccupied with photography when you should be focusing on spending time with your kids or experiencing the environment around you. There’s a lot to be said for being in the moment and unfortunately trying to be in the moment and taking photos at the same time doesn’t work. So put down your camera, and actually enjoy the scenery!

My little one enjoying the cold water at Acadia National Park in Maine. These documentary-style images are some of my favorite to capture on trips.

My little one enjoying the cold water at Acadia National Park in Maine. These documentary-style images are some of my favorite to capture on trips.

Don’t annoy the family

Be very conscious of every time you ask your family to stop what they’re doing to pose for a photograph. It’s okay to interrupt their enjoyment once in a while, but do it too often and they will turn against you. It’s easier to be less annoying with the picture-taking if you do it without them having to wait for you, pausing their activity, or having to look at the camera and smile. Make sure you’re fully prepared every time you want them to stand in a specific spot for you so they can move on as quickly as possible. If your family is waiting around for you to get your settings right or if you’re moving them for better light, they will get fed up pretty fast. And treat it like a long-term training. It’s much better to let a photo go than force your kids into a state where they hate picture-taking altogether. Once everyone realizes that photos just take a few seconds (which is where you being prepared comes in) they will be a lot more willing to work with you.. and that takes several trips and experiences for everyone to realize. Otherwise, there’s always the documentary approach where you simply capture real life as it happens.. which is one of my favorite ways to photograph my active boys when we’re out and about.

That time we took a 3-year old to Paris. Family trips can be hectic and tiring, but having fun photos to look back on brings back happy memories!

That time we took a 3-year old to Paris. Family trips can be hectic and tiring, but having fun photos to look back on brings back happy memories!

Be intentional

It helps to plan things beforehand, and then communicate that plan to the people involved. When you’re on a family vacation, you have to consider any excursions and plans you’ve already made and how photographing will affect them. Having a camera in front of your face isn’t going to be good for anyone (you definitely won’t get the most enjoyment out of your vacation that way!).. so put that phone away and plan your shots in your head before you even reach for the camera. Determine what you’ll be photographing (yes to kids at the pool, but not the hike), line up your shot (look at the scene with your eyes to figure out the best spot to photograph), and take just a few frames instead of a hundred.

One of the shots my sister took with my camera when we were in Iceland.. she’s not a photographer, but anyone can point the camera and follow simple directions if you set everything up for them.

One of the shots my sister took with my camera when we were in Iceland.. she’s not a photographer, but anyone can point the camera and follow simple directions if you set everything up for them.

Asking a stranger to take your photo

If you actually want a portrait of the whole family or are traveling alone, your best bet is to ask a total stranger to take the photo for you. My recommendation is to look for someone with a DSLR as they are more likely to know what they’re doing (even if you’re having them take a photo on your iPhone). Another tip is to take a few test shots beforehand and make sure everything is the way you want it. When handing your camera to another person, make sure all they need to do is push a button and give specific instructions if they’re required (like, make sure the little dot is on someone’s face, if you’re not using auto-focus).

Disney World vacation photo by Jennifer Pierce Photography: jenniferpiercephotography.com

Disney World vacation photo by Jennifer Pierce Photography: jenniferpiercephotography.com

Hiring a vacation photographer

The last vacation we went on I chose to hire a photographer instead of bringing my own large camera. I knew we didn’t want to spend a lot of time taking pictures and I certainly didn’t want to drag my camera around (having a bag full of stuff for 2 kids is bad enough)… so hiring someone else made the most sense. Finding a good photographer can be tricky as you’re usually relying on a Google search to bring up a list of photographers in the area you’ll be visiting. The fact is, if a great photographer isn’t good at search engine optimization, you might have a really hard time finding them. Try using your keywords “location + family photographer” within the image search section (not just web search) to find photographers who might not come up otherwise. And know what you’re looking for. You will find many different price ranges and service offerings, so knowing exactly what you need is the best way to make the right hire.


Taking photos on vacation could be a lot of fun. Your camera allows you to capture those precious moments and keep them alive long after the trip is over. The most important thing, however, is to actually do something with those images! Make sure to print them, make an album, put one in a frame on your desk, so you can enjoy them time and time again. And I always recommend Artifact Uprising for books and everyday prints, both for quality of printing and ease of use.