Top 5 Photography Tips when traveling with kids

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So, you are a family with active kids (note, I didn’t say naughty) on a long-awaited vacation, dealing with their tiredness, hunger, and a lack of interest in anything without a screen. You have spent decent money and time to get here and may never set foot on these locales ever again in your lifetime and hence, desire to capture it for posterity through photography. You aspire to be a photographer with an artistic bent and not a trigger-happy vacation snap-shooter. How do you balance these competing issues of having a fun family vacation while capturing a few inspiring photographs from the trip.

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Here are some techniques that have worked for us –

  1. Early and Late: Wake up early in the morning and leave for a photography walk before the kids are up and ready for the day. This technique has only one disadvantage – you get to sleep a little less, but its only a little personal sacrifice for a number of advantages. You may get pre-sunrise blue hour, the sunrise itself, or you may encounter some mysterious morning fog. You definitely get the place all to yourself – tourists are off the roads and plazas, and even the locals are rare sightings. You can take your time, compose, and shoot gorgeous images, and by the time you are back home, you are happy to spend the day being a tourist [see Bonus Tip]. As a corollary, you can stay out late once the kids are in the hotel room playing or in bed. But I do find the early morning technique work better, since you are fresh and there is a higher chance of empty streets and plazas to plop your tripod in.

As an example, during the summer months in Rome or Venice, tourists crowd the streets far beyond midnight, but nary a soul in sight at 4.30am. The colored images show the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain at 5.00 am while the duo-chrome images represent the same locations at 7.00 pm in the evening on the same day.

  • Plan well: Spend some time before the trip virtually scouting the places one could photograph from. Check out Flickr or 500px for other photographers’ take on the places you are visiting, and then plan your walking/driving routes and spots using Google Maps and Street View beforehand. Be cognizant of where you have to be and when, then get in and get out before anyone gets bored.
  • Distract them: Have you been walking for a while? Driving for hours? Seeing museums or cathedrals ad nauseam? Suggest an ice cream break. Or a quick detour into a souvenir shop.  Or a lazy lunch at a street-side cafe. One parent can keep them busy, while the other can shoot. You can switch places if both of you are interested.
  • Get them interested: If your kids are big enough – anyone 6 years or older would be appropriate – get them a camera before the vacation begins. It doesn’t matter if the camera is cheap, has ok image quality, or is more gimmick than camera. Enable them to become interested in seeing the place – noticing things in detail, pausing and appreciating. No matter what the output, they will accompany you on every photographic detour, and experience the place well rather than rush through it.
  • Carve out blue hour: This is by far the most controversial item on this list and has started many a family debate and caused a whole lot of stress. The coveted Blue Hour – the best sliver of time during the day that leads to scrumptious photographs with negligible effort. All you need to do is have a tripod or a rock-top, and shoot. Unfortunately, this is also the time when the sun is down, the weather is pleasant, your surroundings look genuinely appealing and therefore, it is the perfect time to experience the place as a tourist. So if you do want to follow this tip, and I highly suggest you do, reach a mutual agreement with your family around this topic before the trip starts.
  • Bonus Tip: Enjoy the Day. Bright sunlight is probably the worst time for photography, so you might as well enjoy the day without thinking about it. You can still take the occasional snapshot, craft family pictures, shoot HDRs to compensate for your lack of inspiration and prominence of bad light, or simply whip out your smartphone and upload. But above all, behave as a tourist and have fun – take the vacation you came here for.

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