Living in the moment – photographing a family vacation

Last weekend our family took our annual “mommy’s busy season is coming” vacation to the beach. As you can imagine once this time of year is upon us I am working 7 days a week straight through until Thanksgiving. As an entrepreneur I understand the philosophy of short term sacrifice for long term gain … but that is sometimes hard to tell your children when you are working on a Sunday. In order to get the “family buy-in” to my busy season we book-end this crazy time with two family trips. The beach at the beginning and Mickey Mouse at the end! What kid wouldn’t get on board for that?

Clients often say to me, “Oh you must have the best photographs from your family vacations. You must share your secrets!” Here is the funny thing … do I have amazing family vacation photographs? Yes … for me I do … but would they win any awards, probably not. In fact most of them aren’t even really Instagram worthy. I know … you are sitting back in your chair right now aghast at this news. Jeanine? Seriously? You have the big camera! You know how to take the most amazing images!

This is all true … but the camera symbolizes to my family the 4-letter word – WORK. When I pick up my camera, my 10 year old rolls her eyes at me and says “oh mommy is working again” …

My #1 secret to vacation photography is therefore very simple …


That is right. Put down the camera and actually create memories with your family and children. Setting up the perfect Instagram photograph isn’t always what is best for your children or the time you are spending together. Jumping in the waves, splashing water, picking up shells, jumping in the deep end, building sand castles, playing putt-putt … these are the moments that will linger in the memories of your children. These livable moments are the stories your family will tell of vacations in years past.

I don’t want to be the mom who never puts down her camera or phone to play with her kids.

That being said … you know I won’t be on vacation and take ZERO photographs! HAHAHA … I am pretty quick with my camera and set aside specific times where I will take photographs of the kids and family. For every trip I usually have my one photograph that I will fight tooth and nail to have the “perfect image”. Other than that … we are enjoying our time together with enough images taken to make our scrapbooks and have something to look back at and remember the times we have spent together and the fun we have had! After all, that is what creating the images are all about.

For the times I am photographing on vacation here are my top tips to capture the memories you don’t want to forget … (with a few sample images from recent vacations)

  1. Photograph with your end game in mind. Will you be creating a vacation scrapbook? Are you looking for a few images to put in a frame to hang on your wall? Will you create a keepsake box? Knowing what you will create will help you decide how many and of what to take photographs of.
  2. Take photographs that tell the story of the location. Wherever your travels take you, be sure to take a few images of the scenery, buildings, locations, signs, monuments, etc. When you create your vacation scrapbook these images help remind you of the details of where you went (plus you don’t need anyone smiling at you to take them! so they don’t count against your photography time!)
    Vacation Photography
    Chicago skyline from Summer 2017
    Vacation Photography
    Baseball and Beer! They go hand and hand.
    Vacation Photography
    Sunrise on the beach. How else would I remember James waking up me every morning at 5:30am?

    Vacation Photography

  3. Make the photographs of your children fun and interactive. Trust me … no kid wants to be told to “stand over here and say CHEESE for mommy!” If you make the photography seem boring or stressful, then of course your children will HATE when you bring out the camera. Instead come up with fun and silly things for you and your children to do when taking photographs. Climb up on things, eat silly food, make crazy faces, dance, be goofy, chase birds!
    Vacation Photography Vacation PhotographyVacation Photography
  4. Be THAT tourist. Yes. I give you permission to be cheesy and take the silly tourist photographs. Not only are they fun, but they do make for some great photographic memories.
    Vacation Photography
  5. Make sure EVERYONE gets in at least one or two photographs. I know this is hard, but it is really important to capture EVERYONE together in a photograph at some point during your vacation. This can be a silly family selfie or go ahead and tap that person on the shoulder at the tourist spot and ask if they will take your photograph. I have never met someone who has said no. Most people will smile, say yes and then ask you to return the favor! You need a few memories of everyone on the trip!!
    Vacation Photography Vacation Photography
  6. Photograph what makes your kids happy! This is their vacation too! So while you may think the perfect photograph at the beach is your children holding hands walking and picking up shells, maybe they just aren’t in to that! Don’t document false memories. Be true to the moments that are happening and capture those 🙂 For our trip to the beach this past weekend I will always remember Eryn falling in love with surfing the waves and James chasing after pigeons screaming DUCKS! Vacation Photography

Some final thoughts … vacation time with my family and friends are extremely important to me. I love retelling the stories of our trips and hearing the way Eryn tells the stories as well. If you think of your trips as “stories in the making” it will help guide you through the photography. You will know the moments worth fighting to photograph and those worth putting the camera down and just enjoying.

I hope these thoughts help you the next time you go on vacation!



Please Share! We love when you do!

Follow by Email

Jeanine McLeod Professional PortraitJeanine McLeod is the owner of Cloud 9 Studios, a Florida based photography studio located just north of Tampa in Wesley Chapel. They specialize in family, children and baby photography and love helping families celebrate their love of family with fun, fresh and beautiful portraits.