All Ages

How to Take the Best Family Vacation Photos

See recent posts by Jeff Bogle

Ahh, the allure of the family vacation photo—blown up big in a thick wooden frame or transformed into a canvas print to hang atop the mantel. The problem is, we all know your teens will moan, toddlers (and spouses) fidget, and babies are almost guaranteed to spit up at the exact moment the shutter goes off. So how can you get that perfect shot?

We have several family photo ideas and tips on how to do just that, from logistics to location, plus infant distraction tactics and groan-worthy dad jokes that’ll have the whole crew smiling wide.

1. Get Everyone in the Shot

How do you get everyone in the shot? I think even Jesus had to prod the painter and wrangle his followers to get each and every apostle into the famous Last Supper portrait. However, this isn’t as complicated a task as it seems.

To get started, frame the shot before you lasso your kids. The less time your children are ‘on set,’ the less they complain and the lower your blood pressure will be. It’s a win-win scenario. Have the scene for your photo selected, the camera lens attached (if using a DSLR), and the shot blocked and framed by asking a few easy-going adults to stand in while you look through the viewfinder or at the phone screen to determine how far away or close the camera needs to be, which focal length lens will work best, and the angle at which you’ll eventually get everyone to line up to in order to get the best light.

2. Use a Tripod

Tripods are cheap, often flexible and/or collapsable for travel, and easily available for whatever device you’ll be using to take your best family vacation photo. If you’re wondering how to take family photos on an iPhone, for example, simply buy an affordable Ubeesize tripod that’s bendable enough to curl around a fencepost or stand up straight on a table, and comes with a remote control. This nifty little clicker will allow you to skip the phone timer trick of running back into the shot.

3. Consider Outsourcing the Job

Don’t want the hassle of getting the perfect shot? You can pay someone else to do the heavy lifting. Sites such as Flytographer will connect you with a professional photographer to make your memories concrete. Rates start at $250 for a 30-minute session in a single location with 15 photos. And while that fee—which may be equivalent to one night at your resort—seems steep, it’s worth it when you factor in the equipment you won’t need to buy or carry with you on vacation, the skills you don’t need to possess or attempt to gain through online tutorials, and the stress taken off your shoulders by a trained, friendly professional.

Related: 11 Best Ways to Preserve Your Family Vacation Photos

Dad and Daughter; Courtesy of Jeff Bogle

4. Choose the Right Location

Location, location, location… always repeated three times, and with good reason when it comes to family vacation photos! Sites such as Trover may help you plant clever family photo ideas in the soil of your mind before you depart for your vacation. But we’ve found the best way to approach choosing a photogenic location for family vacation photos is to keep your eyes open as you drive around the destination, walk around the resort property you’ve booked, and even ask the concierge (they’ll appreciate the unique question!) where are the defining geological features, best views of the surrounding city skyline, landscape, rugged coastline, etc. to stage a family photo.

5. Tell Dad Jokes

The last thing you want to see in a well-planned, well-executed family vacation photo are lifeless, artificial grins. No, no, that won’t do it all! Instead, bust out some of these premium, grade-A dad jokes to make your kids laugh. A dad joke or three is the best way to get everyone looking at the camera lens and smiling big, wide, honest smiles. Here are some fine dad jokes adapted from Chris Illuminati’s collection (many of which he put into his Everything Big Book of Jokes, written under a pen name).

  1. What kind of shoes do ninjas wear? Sneakers.
  2. After we’re done with the photos, anyone want to get some pizza for lunch/dinner? Oh, that reminds me, I’ve got a great pizza joke for you. Actually, nevermind, it’s way too cheesy.
  3. Hey, you guys hear the rumor going around about butter? You know what, actually, I shouldn’t really be spreading it.
  4. Okay, everyone, look at the phone… the one I just nicknamed the “Titanic” so that whenever it’s charging I can say, “the Titanic is syncing!”

In addition to these gems, we recommend the pocket-sized Dad Joke book with 200 zingers at the ready.

6. Avoid Clashing Outfits

They say that “clothes make a man” …and the best family vacation photo.

This doesn’t mean you all have to coordinate outfits (although there’s something to be said for matching Christmas pajamas during a holiday vacation photo). That said, you don’t want to clash either, so talk about it, plan it out, and for goodness sake, son, pick something that doesn’t have holes in it! But mom, please relax if your toddler demands to wear his absolute favorite Spiderman outfit, the one he wears nonstop at home. Remember: a family photo that captures your crew as they are is better than the fabricated version you might be envisioning.

Related: 8 Ways to Make Your Smartphone Do More on Vacation

7. (Try to) Choose the Right Time

When is the best time of day to take a good family vacation photo, you ask? It’s purely situational, based largely on the ages and temperaments of your children. Morning light is lovely, softer than midday usually, but if your kid is simply not having it before noon, the results will be less than stellar and your day will be off to a frustrating start. Those kind of photos just aren’t worth it.

Generally, stay away from any time and location where the sun will be behind you or directly on your happy campers. The harshness of the latter will not only have everyone squinting and complaining, but it’ll also whitewash those wide smiles after you’ve just spit out a few more brilliant dad jokes. The former, while gorgeous to look at as the sun dips, will throw a blanket over your family’s pearly whites and leave you with a murky photo no one will want to hang up or share on social media (unless it’s for a #FamilyPhotoFail challenge).

8. But Skip the Golden Hour for Family Portraits

You’ve probably heard of the “golden hour,” which happens toward the end of the day, in the dying embers before sunset when everything and everyone framed by a camera lens seems to have that Midas touch. It’s glorious and might make for a great family vacation photo, but… probably not. There isn’t an abundance of time to pull off a full family photo in this fleeting light, but for individual kid portraits, it works wonders.

Young Girl in Field of Sunflowers; Courtesy of Jeff Bogle

Here’s my teenager during the golden hour, in a field of massive sunflowers that Van Gogh surely would’ve loved to paint. So skip the golden hour family photo idea to make one-off portraits and/or candids of your individual kids being their best, unique selves in this glorious light.

9. Capture the Baby’s Attention

No food, not yet. You don’t want baby chewing, spilling or spitting up while you take the best family vacation photo to commemorate your trip. Instead, use a toy to distract and delight. Make it something small that matches his or her outfit so that the toy doesn’t stand out in the finished photograph, but will make the tiniest tot if not happy, at least amenable to being held for however long it takes to get the shot! Check out the Gizmovine baby rattle set, with 10 pieces in a variety of soft colors that should blend seamlessly into your family photo.

Related: 9 Best Portable Photo Printers

10. Get Creative

Not every family photo needs to be straight on, in a line, staring at the camera. Honestly, that’s kind of boring. Plus, with digital cameras, you can experiment, take a dozen or a hundred shots, and mess around with angles, perspective and the features of the area around us—whether that’s wildflowers in a national park or circular swings in a pop-up city park.

Family at Yellowstone National Park; Courtesy of Jeff Bogle

Take a look at the shot above. I imagined it while driving through Yellowstone and then coordinated it once I found a safe place to pull over. Using the rule of thirds, I positioned my family in the center of the frame with wildflowers beneath and the steam from geysers reaching the blue sky above. This is how I wanted to remember having them in Yellowstone: contemplative, looking not at me or the camera, but at the natural wonders that exist there. It’s peaceful, meaningful, memorable and unique to us. This ended up being one of my all-time favorite family vacation photos.

Girls on Swings in Boston; Courtesy of Jeff Bogle

The following summer, while on vacation in New England, I saw a set of visually pleasing swings and thought, “those would be cool to photograph!”. Once four together became available, I asked my crew to position themselves and act however they were feeling in the moment—not posed, but instinctual—some were happy, some chill, some afraid of falling off, and some weird (the youngest kid, it’s always the youngest!). And that tells a small portion of the story of this sunny day exploring Boston.

Panoramic Road Trip Photo; Courtesy of Jeff Bogle

Also try to make use of panoramic mode on your phone to capture not only your family, but the majestic surroundings! Here we are in Glacier National Park, posing like the Schulyer Sisters from Hamilton the Musical.

Family in Front of Helicopter; Courtesy of Jeff Bogle

11. Let Accidents Happen

Sometimes the best photos are the ones that are unplanned. Years ago, we asked a tour company employee to take a family photo of us before our Blue Hawaiian Helicopter Tour on the Big Island. It ended up being one of our favorites from the trip. Our outfits, through no coordination at all, actually sort of worked together, too. Happy accidents are the best accidents!

Jeff Bogle lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia with his two teen daughters, two cats, one dog and six (yes, six) guinea pigs. He is an award-winning photographer and respected travel journalist with bylines on Reader’s Digest, Good Housekeeping, PBS, Esquire and more. Jeff (probably) spends too much time in England watching football and far too many hours plotting his family’s future travel adventures. Find Jeff on his own site, Out With the Kids

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