Family Photography Tips

kids dressed in dishdash and keffiyeh in Dubai souk
Written by Kirstie Pelling

Capture the Adventure: Family Photography Tips

Capturing family holidays is all part of the job of being a parent and the options for recording and displaying them these days are endless. So how do you ensure you do it properly? The key, as with most things, is in the planning. Here we talk you through some family photography tips to help you take holiday pics that’s are so good you’ll want to print them and put them up on your wall…

Taking Photographs of Street Art 'Clothed with the sun' by El Mac in Bristol

Taking photographs of kids is an art. Here’s some of our best tips for family photography  

Family Photography Tips: How to remember a great holiday

How do you ensure family memories don’t get lost? How do you record your holidays so your kids will remember then in years to come? In a diary? On Instagram? Stored away in your head and wheeled out forever as family legend? When we first started travelling when the kids were really little, people said not to bother as they wouldn’t remember anything. But each year we took pictures and added our favourite one to our walls. We now have a gallery of canvas prints downstairs from countries as far apart as Italy and New Zealand and every day they make me smile. And every so often the kids will look at one and start a conversation about a moment we’ve had together as a family.

Desert Acrobatics in Dubai Desert -family photography tips

Family photography tips: a desert moment captured

How to take a good family shot

But there’s a lot to think about before you get to the stage of ordering what size of canvas you’d like or chatting about them over dinner. In this post we suggest different types of great family holiday photos you can take, and give some practical tips on how to take them. If you are more interested in buildings, check out our post on how to take good landmark photography.

1 Capture a natural moment

One way to guarantee success is to be a fly on the wall. Capture the kids as they are, not what you want them to be. Let them be messy, happy and unposed and you’ll see real people with all their quirks and personalities in your image. But how to do this? Instead of grabbing a coffee or a sit down while they are playing, stand, crouch, kneel or lie among them. Let them forget you are there and engage in naturalistic action. Be patient and wait for a moment where you can capture the essence of them.

Give them a new toy like a bucket and spade or bat and ball. Teach them a new skill and watch them trying to master it. Or just let them go off and do what they do with you hanging back. I captured the following image just off the coast in the Isles of Scilly, when Hannah was learning how to steer the boat. That day was great for images; I also captured them swimming, and picking up shells on the beach. (As our kids grow older and more self and image aware, it’s harder to catch them relaxed and engaged with the world than it used to be so I had to choose my moment.) If you can bear feeling like paparazzi hiding in the trees then a zoom lens may help home in on their body language and expressions, whether they are concentration, frustration or joy.

Hannah steers the motor boat in the Isles of Scilly

Hannah steers the motor boat in the Isles of Scilly

2 Capture a moment of significance

It’s important to capture significant family moments for posterity. These moments can be either a gift or a poisoned chalice for a photographer depending on how high emotions are running, how many family members are involved and how lively or tired everyone feels. You’ll need to think it through and perhaps do a recce beforehand.

Where is the most photographic background for you to capture this moment on your journey together? Do you want a naturalistic shot or a posed image? How can your setting reflect how you are feeling? How can the people in it engage with the landscape or the props? What time of day is best? We often deliberately begin or end our journeys at lighthouses which suggest the end of land and also the promise of rescue! This image was taken at the end of our long seven week cycle from Land’s End to John O Groats where Cameron became the youngest child to have done it himself by pedal power. It was a huge moment and one we had dreamed about in places along the route as diverse as Edinburgh and Glastonbury.

While the joy was spontaneous, the image still needed fixing up. If the children had been tired and grumpy we may have delayed the end until the next day. The bikes had to be placed in frame as they were a big part of the story and the kids had to be pumped up to cheer. I think the promise of a lemonade and crisps was on offer. Fair exchange I always think. Hannah was just happy that her brothers were happy and had no idea of the significance of it. I love this photo. It still makes me proud to have pedalled.

Family finishes cycling from Lands End to John O Groats

Family finishes cycling from Lands End to John O Groats

3 Catch them in the act

We love to do an action shot in our family. What kid doesn’t love to fly for the camera! We tend to set them up when he have some time on our hands to do it properly. Maybe at a lunch stop or the end of the day. Because they aren’t always straightforward, especially when some amount of skill or luck is involved. Use your imagination on this, use the props in the real world around you and use the action burst setting on your camera unless you have Olympic skills in capturing a split second success. Rocks are great for jumping off, and we have had a lot of fun with hay bales, or stepping stones in rivers. This picture was taken on a volcano in the interior of Iceland near Möðrudalar farm. Cameron went on to be a dancer so I do feel it captures some of his early talents. Other great action photo opportuities include biking, high ropes and climbing. Anything that involved excitement or adventure, no matter how big or small. Set up some action in the garden if you aren’t going anywhere; a water fight, a pillow fight or cart wheeling. See if you can get above or below the subject for some different angles.

Icelandic Interior

The Icelandic Interior is a place like no other

4 Keep a dramatic moment

The easiest way to make a regular shot special is to use the light and drama that are already there. Look around you. Notice what you could use to good effect. Where are the shadows? Where is the sun? How long until it sets for maximum atmosphere? Could you set up the same shot at dawn and then go for a family breakfast afterwards? Could you do the shot in the dark and light it with torches or phones? If the weather is misty could you use that to create atmosphere?

Think about where you stand as a photographer. Do you want to create a silhouette effect? This shot was taken on an everyday walk to Granny’s. But sitting and waiting for the moment the sun went down turned it and then making Hannah a silhouette from an ordinary shot to an aspirational one. The dramatic lighting seems to give her strength and power that a sunshine shot might not have.

Girl plays football on beach at sunset in Arnside, Cumbria

This girl can twirl. At sunset in Arnside, Cumbria

5 Use the natural beauty

Nature is your best friend. Use it. Get up high in the mountains or down low in caves. The light is often better or at least more interesting, the backdrop is more memorable and the shot will be more unusual and impressive. Use the weather. Throw leaves around in autumn, splash in puddles or in the snow in winter. If you don’t have any of these to hand, find a prop you are carrying with you and have a play. Like the photo below. Chuck your hat into the wind if you can’t find a leaf.  This shot was taken in Montenegro at the top of a cable car where there was no shortage of that!

Hats in the air on Savin Kuk Durmitor National Park Slovenia

Hats in the air on Savin Kuk Durmitor National Park Slovenia

6 Make them smile

At the end of the day you can’t really fake a family having fun. So have some. Create a mad picture where you all act out a part or engage with each other in some way. In this picture, again in Montenegro, we decided to create all the letters of the word Montenegro. Can you tell? Cameron thought Stuart was doing  great impression of a demented squirrel. Anyway, we laughed a lot and that’s what I remember when I look at this picture.

Family Cycling on Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

Family Cycling on Bay of Kotor, Montenegro


About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.

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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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