Let’s face it: it can be hard to pursue a hobby when you’re in the throes of raising children of a certain age (newborn to school-age). Photography is no exception. Add to that the challenges of traveling with children and travel photography starts to look like an impossible task. I’ve met so many people who told me that they gave up on photography because of these very hurdles. I picked up photography when I bought a DSLR to take better photos of my newborn and so I’ve been in the thick of it since then. I don’t even know what it’s like to take photos any other way. In this article, I would like to share some of the ways in which I’ve been able to overcome the aforementioned challenges, while sharing photos from a recent family trip to Italy.
- Have a Supportive Partner. The first point – and I can’t stress this enough – is to make sure you have a supportive partner. Every time you take photos, you are disengaging from the family which means someone else has to pick up the slack. If you don’t have that, well, I don’t know what to tell you other than considering pursuing something that is more family-friendly, like, say, cooking. If you haven’t committed to anyone yet, then you may still have a chance to get this part right. To be truly safe, I would suggest adding a clause to their vows to the affect of “in sickness and in health, and even when you totally ignore me on our dream vacation because you are busy taking photos…”
- Shoot at Sunrise. Now, on to more practical matters. We all know that sunset/sunrise are often the best times for photography. And while sunset during travel is usually reserved for family time, sunrise is not. Sneaking out while everyone sleeps affords an opportunity to get some slow, deliberate captures in great light.
- Find a Golden Lens. This will usually be a zoom. Make sure it is compact and light. I love to shoot with primes but the hassle of carrying all that gear and changing lenses in the field is just not practical when weight and time is of the essence. The Nikkor 24-120 f/4G VR has worked well for me in this regard. Sometimes, just to change things up, or when the situation requires, I opt for the Nikkor 70-200 f/4G VR. Both are lightweight and very compact options for travel photography.
- Keep it Light. Forget the tripod, dial up that ISO and learn how to de-noise. I know we all want to capture the cleanest and sharpest images possible, but often the choice is between a tripod bag and a diaper bag and, well, enough said. I mentioned the golden lens earlier. It helps tremendously if it has a wide aperture and supports some sort of image stabilization.
- Go with a High Resolution Sensor. If possible, use a camera with a high resolution sensor. It is hard to nail that composition when that toddler is dragging you by the shirt towards the Gelato cart. It will give you more opportunity to address framing issues in post-processing.
- Use a Camera Clip. This one has been a game changer for me. I use Peak Design. I know there are other options out there. Wearing the camera on my belt frees up my upper body for all the various functions parenting requires. I’ve even been able to take some photos while wearing a baby carrier (don’t forget to dial-up that VR). None of the three image below would have been possible had I been wearing my camera around my neck.
- Keep Your Priorities Straight. Family first, tourism second, photography third. If you are visiting a beautiful landmark, make sure you take it all in with the family and then, when an opportunity presents, fire off a few shots. This is easier said than done and I know I have my struggles in the area when my first instinct is to capture the scene before I do the rest. Sometime, that actually is the better approach because once the photography is out of the way, it is easier to focus on everything else.
- Stock Up on Memory Cards and Don’t be Afraid to Bracket. When you’re rushed, bumping up the sample size is usually the best way to get the statistics to align in your favor. When you don’t have the time to really dig into that histogram or image preview to see whether you nailed the shot or not, bracketing increases your odds of capturing something that is workable.
- Sharpen Up Post-Processing Skills. Working on those post-processing skills will allow you to compensate for the various compromises you’d have made on the field, especially when shooting the harsh mid-day sun or under overcast conditions.
- Keep Camera Gear Clean. Clean your camera gear, including the sensor, before you leave for your trip. It may be hard to take care of things once you’re out there. In addition, you will waste a lot of time that you don’t have, trying to remove those dust specks in post-processing.
- Don’t Make the Perfect the Enemy of the Good. The truth is, I miss 90% of the shots that I would actually like to capture simply because I can’t. How many times have I passed on that amazing sunset because it’s dinner time with family or that incredible vista because it would make the drive longer and therefore more difficult for the family. But the 10% that I do get, using the techniques mentioned here, are usually good enough to keep me interested and keep my creative juices flowing.
Family, travel and photography are all sources of joy that can, at times, be in tension with one other. With the proper compromises, it is possible for all three to align for that joy to multiply and for one to achieve the best of all worlds. I hope that the tips I have shared here will help others to realize some of that magical feeling.
Excellent article with some practical advice for my lifestyle. I can definitely relate to the camera clip. I used a op-tech reporter strap before getting a capture clip recently and both allowed me quickly whip out the camera to get the shot that my family would never have the patience to endure had I had the camera burried in my backpack. Side access bags help to for times when you need to be more agile but still get to your gear quickly. I do a lot of hiking and this was key. Thanks!
You forgot one major element – the KIDS! they can be a great subject for photography (at a certain moment…)
Nice to read but I think lightweight is very relative. A D810 + 24-120mm + 70-200mm F/4 is very heavy for holydays (I presume people also want to enjoy shopping, walking around, visiting musea etc.). I would prefer something like a M4/3 or Nikon APS-C. The light conditions on a holydaytrip are usually good so full frame is not a must and 16 or 24MP is a lot already. An other thing is you want to be a bit “stealth”. I traveled in Asia (tropical cinditions) and just a D750 + 24-120mm was heavy and too conspicious.
I’m surprised Talha, you have a few points I didn’t think about (belt clip, bracket on the fly – I always think of that as a tripod activity)- thank you for the article. Lovely shots too!
I have to say, if this is your 10%, I can’t even begin to imagine what the remaining 90% would look like!
I personally have no plans whatsoever for kids but I see much of my father in your article, he loved to take photographs quite a bit but he would thankfully always have his priorities straight. Breathtaking pics and sound advice.
I’ll also be that pedantic person and point out that it’s Sassopiatto, with two t’s :) If you pass through Tuscany once again I’d also highly advise visiting Volterra, Monteriggioni and the Abbey of San Galgano (then again, it’d take a year to visit and photograph all worthy places in Tuscany alone). Cheers!
You are too kind, Tomas.
Thanks for pointing the correct spelling, I’m a pedant myself, so I appreciate it.
I’ve had the privilege of spending some time in Tuscany and particularly around Siena. I’m quite familiar with Val d’Orcia, Val d’Elsa and Crete Senesi.
Very good photography. And I appreciate your concern for family, kids and family life. Well done and keep it up. Post us your more winning photos
Some of those pictures remind me of the few hours I got to spend in Sienna. As a father to a preschool aged kid, I definitely understand this article quite well. Having a supportive spouse or travel partner is absolutely essential. I think there has to be some level of compromise, too, of being OK not getting the shot or not getting every shot.
I will add a note to those parents who have children with more-than-typical needs… You can still do photography, too, but you have to accept that you won’t travel as much and you won’t have as much time to shoot as you’d like. In the end, it should be about enjoying where you are and not what you can’t do.
I concur that “it should be about enjoying where you are and not what you can’t do”. Looking back I treasure the moment I spent with my family and that become even more important as they kids leave home. The best ones are those family photos at beautiful locations and that will always stay with us. In addition, there are opportunities where I can spend a few early morning hours of working with the sunrise and wildlife before the family wake up (providing the drive is short). I am grateful to have a supporting spouse that had made these moments so much more memorable.
Thanks a lot for your wonderful content! I truly enjoyed it. I surely will bookmark your blog.Have an awesome day!
Great article Talha. I can very well relate to the difficulties you’ve mentioned. Perhaps I should have taken up cooking.
I have the same question as Marcin regarding the depth of field. f/4, 110 mm and everything decently sharp? How in the name of God did you achieve that?
Haha, thanks Gurunath. Stick it out. I like both but photography is way more fun IMO.
See my response to Marcin for the DoF.
Sound advice, Talha, and wonderful travel photography. Even though my kids are fast approaching adulthood, the challenge is more or less the same ;-)
I have one technical question–I’ve noticed that you typically take your landscape photos at the f/8.0 aperture setting yet you achieve plenty of depth of field even in shots with both close foreground and distant background (with the exception of the “fence photo”). How do you manage to do it without closing down the lens to, say, f/11 or even f/16? Do you stack multiple shots focused in different areas?
If you see a shot at f/8.0 with foreground elements that’s sharp end-to-end, I probably did focus stacking. I think there’s only one such shot in this series which is the one with the flowers in the foreground. That’s the rare occasion I was able to shoot with the tripod. All the other shots at that aperture are sharp simply because the subject is far. The thing with a lot of these shots is that often it’s hard to sense the scale.
Thanks for your reply, Talha. I’m looking forward to your new work on Flickr!