Make Family Vacation Shots a Snap

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
The Magnificent Seven

Make Family Vacation Shots a Snap
By Bob Krist

For some families, taking vacation photos is a painful duty, like taking the kids for flu shots or having a root canal. Following are a few suggestions to take the sting out of shooting holiday snaps.

Let 'em be
Not every picture needs to be a family lineup in front of a famous viewpoint or monument. Posing kids can be frustrating; I have three sons and at least one of them is always sticking his tongue out or making horns behind someone's head. Instead, let the kids get involved in an activity--pitching a tent, feeding the birds, building a sandcastle--and photograph them doing it. My favorite tool for doing this is a telephoto lens, because I'm able to step back a bit and allow the kids some breathing room so they forget that Dad is snapping away. Most point-and-shoot cameras with zoom lenses have at least a short telephoto (80-110mm). If you own an SLR and can set the lens's aperture, choose a wide one (f2.8 or f4) to soften potentially distracting backgrounds.

Lower yourself
One of the quickest and easiest ways to improve your kid pictures is to shoot from their eye level rather than yours. You'd be surprised how different the world looks from a five-year-old's perspective. A low angle makes for much more intimate pictures, because it's easier to fill the frame with your offspring and make them look like real big shots instead of Munchkins.

Use them for scale
Many of our pictures of the vast landscapes in national parks suffer from a lack of scale. Without a reference of known size, such as a human figure, it's hard to tell just how big and magnificent those trees and mountains really are. I never hesitate to send my kids packing down a trail to get them hiking past a hoodoo or a giant sequoia. It gives them something to do to burn off some energy, and it gives me a little of the needed human touch in the landscape.

Shoot early and late
Most great landscape photography is done in the early morning and late afternoon, when the shadows are long and the light warm and golden. A pre-breakfast one-on-one photo hike is a perfect opportunity to spend some quiet quality time with one of your children. Your pictures will be some of the best you've ever taken, and who knows--you might even awaken a love of photography in your youngster.

Flash 'em
If you're going to do the group shot in front of the monument, do it right! Most cameras have a setting for fill-in flash, and you should use it. The little burst of flash adds sparkle and color to your group and prevents them from being silhouetted against brighter backgrounds.

Foolproof poses
Family photos don't necessarily have to look like police lineups. The trick is to break up the levels so everyone isn't standing shoulder-to-shoulder, firing-squad style. There's an old Kodak rule of thumb that works well: Set up your pose so that the lines between your subjects' heads form triangle shapes. There are a million ways to do this; use benches, rocks, tree stumps, etc. to seat some of your subjects, have some crouch down, mix up the heights, make them build a human get the picture.

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