As the summer travel season is upon us I know many photographers who feel stressed at the idea of carrying around their kids, ALL of said kids’ accessories, AND their camera gear when on vacation.
So, they opt to only take their phone along for snapshots to make life simpler.
Later they regret the many missed photographic opportunities for unique art from their trip, often saddened by the inability to enlarge their phone photos for the wall. Or, they may feel like they can only manage their smartphone for typical posed photos during the inevitable stress of family travel.
I’m here to tell you that you CAN carry your dSLR with you on vacation with your family – and enjoy it!
I have lived overseas for more than five years with kids, and traveled on both short and long haul trips with infants, toddlers, and school-age children by boat, plane, car, and train, all with my dSLR, and I’m so glad that I did. Yes, sometimes my back ached from the weight, but I never regret the high-quality photographs that we create, true to my vision and vacation experience.
My photography journey has also transformed during my time abroad, growing from a passive hobby to a true love (or obsession perhaps) of the art. I now have confidence and feel like an expert (personally named of course) at combining photography with family travel.
You too can travel with your dSLR and family while capturing creative photographic memories, having fun, and not overwhelming your family.
1. Go light on camera gear.
I love the sharpness of my prime lenses just as much as the next photographer but nothing beats taking one camera body and lens on a trip. To lighten my load, I carry my Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 24-70 f/2.8 II.
I know what you’re thinking, that gear is not light. But with this combination I am able to have variety in my images: a wide angle to include lots of environment and a telephoto for portraits as well as capturing my children when they are running free. Plus, I don’t need to worry about extra equipment in my bag, leaving gear in the hotel or a hot car, or what lens is the best choice for any given situation. I am prepared to quickly take any photo, and I only carry a lens pen, extra memory cards, and a battery and am good to go!
In addition, I also try not to carry too much stuff around for my kids. I have my girls carry their own small purse so that I’m not lugging around their small toys as well as my camera. This teaches them responsibility and also lightens my load while keeping them entertained during moments of rest and childhood boredom (like every restaurant we’ve ever entered!).
2. Make carrying your camera simple, comfortable, and safe.
When we go on vacation, a true vacation (not a working one!!), I love to only take along my camera/lens, charger, and memory cards. I leave my laptop and external hard drive at home to shed the extra pounds in my carry on and anxiety on my mind. I stress about leaving my computer in hotels even when there is a safe so I’m more relaxed leaving it at home.
I also fear damaged files and lost memory cards so I shoot onto two memory cards (this is a great feature of my camera) and then when the cards are full I separate them into different waterproof bags and separate pieces of luggage in case of loss, theft, or damage. If this is not an option for you, you can backup your images to a portable drive or a second card as you go by using a library or hotel computer or your tablet if you have adequate memory.
All photographers dream about the perfect camera bag and I have scoured the Internet high and low, like many of you, looking for the best solution for myself. Currently, what I have found that I love is an inconspicuous bag. So, my bag is not a camera bag at all.
I found a great lightweight but stylish backpack that has top and side access. I keep a padded camera insert in the bag and can access my camera body from the side without having to remove all of the kid-related items, including the extra children’s emergency clothes, restaurant activities, and snacks. This way I have a purse and a camera bag simultaneously! I love this setup (sadly my bag is no longer available for purchase or I would link to it for you!). I also carry a small plastic bag in case of rain, which I can use to protect my gear while out shooting or while storing it in my backpack if in a downpour.
A comfortable camera strap is also a must. I shoot on the go, capturing candid moments between my children and husband all day during our adventures. These moments would be missed if I needed to pull my camera from my bag before shooting. So, I wear my camera across my body throughout the day while we explore, storing it only when necessary. Currently, I have a neoprene camera strap which provides lots of cushion for the heavy weight of my kit. There are also slash proof camera straps which are a great option if you are going to a destination with high rates of theft, to feel more secure keeping your camera out of your bag.
Also, don’t forget to verify that your gear is insured in case of theft, loss, or damage. This way you can shoot freely and know that your gear is covered.
3. You don’t have to edit and post to social media as you go.
Editing photos and posting to social media are not requirements of a vacation. I have found some personal stress relieved by leaving my editing tools at home while on vacation.
I’ve become more present with my family in the relaxing hours of the trip, and have even been able to read some books for fun! Sure, I don’t get real time travel or restaurant recommendations from friends on social media, but I the upside is that I feel an added sense of security by not posting our locations in real time.
If you did want to edit and post a few images while on vacation, there are many WiFi enabled cameras and memory cards on the market that would allow you to edit and post from your phone or tablet while traveling. This could be a great compromise to leaving your computer at home!
Now, I can hear what you’re thinking, you’re having a small panic attack about the number of images that one must work through when returning home from vacation. And, yes, I experience a bit of an overload but I have started to use Adobe Lightroom Mobile to cull a large amount of images and this has sped up my workflow a ton. I now can cull images while in line at the grocery store! I also do not edit all of our images, but just a select few from each day on my first editing pass.
4. Research your top locations ahead of time, but be open to new ones as well.
With a bit of pre-trip online research combining photography and your destination, you may find unique locations for some fun exploring combined with photography. This may then help you to find the best time of day for photography in each location.
While traveling with kids though, remember that they are often exhausted and may not be following that same schedule as the best light. So be prepared to capture that location when you find it and be open to shooting in new locations that you stumble upon. A little side alley on a wrong turn in the big city may give you your favorite image from a trip.
5. Tell the whole story from beginning to end.
I personally struggle a bit while traveling and wanting to tell the full story. Every day. Like a day in the life (DITL) but for every day of our trip.
For myself, though, I know that this is just TOO much and would be incredibly overwhelming when it comes time to cull, edit, and print our vacation images. If you can do this, I applaud you! Instead of shooting a DITL each day, I choose to tell the full story of the trip, from beginning to end.
This includes actual travel images, which are truthfully some of my favorites. Much to my husband’s chagrin, I love to photograph my kids in the airport and getting on the plane or train. The leading lines and framing experienced when boarding a plane are just too awesome for me to pass up. And the exhausted weary traveler on their way home is a great end of the vacation story.
6. Don’t fret over missed shots.
When we travel our everyday pace is pretty quick. I have made a conscious choice to let go of feeling sad over missed shots or forcing my family to do something for a photo when they’re not interested.
7. Ensure that photography is fun, not stressful!
Family vacations are stressful enough for parents without adding photography to the mix but if you have lightened your gear and found a good solution for safe storage and ease of carrying your equipment, you should be able to make the photo aspect of your trip fun and a way to fill your creative soul while on an amazing journey with your family.
Don’t forget that it’s ok to put your camera down and enjoy the moment as well!
Family travel photography is a marathon that combines lifestyle and documentary photography. It requires quick thinking and shooting, flexibility, and a happy, non-stressed photographer. This can be tough to accomplish while juggling a toddler’s nap schedule on the road but by following some of these tips you can come home with cherished everyday travel images as well as beautiful wall gallery and portfolio-worthy shots.
By ensuring that you have a charged spare battery and extra memory cards, you will always be prepared. Make it easy on yourself – be safe, comfortable, explore, tell your family’s vacation story, take an editing vacation, and don’t stress about photography (there’s enough to stress about while traveling…like accidentally boarding the wrong train and not realizing it until you are underway… yes, this did happen to us!). Most importantly, enjoy your trip!