The #1 Thing – Better Family Photography

This is the second post in the Better Family Photography series.

One of the things that I wish I had known about travel photography from the beginning is that the best photos have a strong element of humanity in them. Whether it is someone holding something in their hands, or the smile on an older gentleman’s face, the sights you see will look better on film if they take you to a specific memory, not a general place. I’m not saying that you should avoid taking a picture of the Eiffel Tower when you go to Paris, but maybe your approach should be to include the Eiffel Tower as an element in a picture where someone or something else is the subject.

The need for an element of humanity is amplified in family photography when you are traveling with your family because the memories you want to capture involve people that you love. I have a very specific example in mind to illustrate the importance of including your family members as the focal points of your photography, and it involves two little girls that are very much interested in the art of photography. Let me set the scene for you:

Surrounded in tall buildings on every side for many kilometers there is a medium sized park in the center of Athens. It is the only place in this otherwise cement jungle where you can find giant trees, exotic animals, and hanging gardens. It offers shade to the weary, a place to run free for the children, and an amazing opportunity to photograph nature. This is one of my favorite places in the entire city, and my kids love the awe and stark contrast to the surrounding city.

We were there doing a family shoot for some friends, and I was struck by how green everything was. After using my handy dandy light meter (get yours here for FREE) as a starting point for my settings, I started to photograph these beautiful green leaves that the sun was illuminating from above. My first shot was a success, but I decided to take one more just in case. Later on when I was going through my images on the computer, I noticed that the second picture had two little intruders that snuck in the frame. You can see the difference below.

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The second picture, by far, is my favorite. Yes, the tree in the first picture is beautiful. I was able to accurately photograph the aspect of the sunlight pouring through the leaves, just like I wanted. But something is missing! A memory of my family enjoying the garden! The second picture captures both aspects perfectly. Yes, the girls are out of focus, but that is ok. The people in your photograph do not always have to be the main focus. I could have also just as easily adjusted the f-stop and compensated with the ISO and shutter speed so they would all be in focus. But I love that they are out of focus because it reminds me that they snuck in the shot. I also want to point out that this photo is in no way altered from the original photo I took to encourage those of you without Photoshop or Lightroom. You can still get amazing photos without post processing.

family photography tutorial travel 3

This photo is a perfect representation of how family photography can capture vacation and travel moments in a more meaningful way. My amazing husband took this one. The girls are overlooking a small bridge that they fell in love with. You can see the sense of wonder on their faces, it gives you a secret glimpse into their relationship with each other, and it also includes the setting, which makes this photo into a memory. We were visiting the gardens. Here is a picture set in the gardens that says so much more than, “Here we are, visiting the gardens.” And that is your goal when you photograph your family on vacation. That is what I love so much about photography. It captures one image, a moment that is still in time, and it tells a story without words.

There is also a difference between candid photos (where the subject appears natural) and posed photos where the subject is looking at the camera. Both are good, so take both. Here is an example of a posed photo of the girls. Notice how the story it tells is much different than the candid photo.

family photography tutorial travel 1

My goal isn’t to make you feel like you have to be a creative genius to take good pictures of your kids. But I am trying to get you to think about photography a little differently. I hope you are enjoying this series as much as I am, and I can’t wait to see some of your photos!!

Happy Travels,

Kristin Spencer

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