Vacation or Photo Expedition? Balancing Photography and Family

If you are like me, any time you take a trip somewhere, you get excited about opportunities to see new things with fresh eyes. Not only do you have some time away from the daily grind, but you have some time away from the familiar, and you can recharge your creative batteries. Every time I travel, I pick my photographic kit–sometimes it is small, sometimes it is ponderous. Sometimes the decisions are easy, sometimes more complicated. When you pick your gear, you must consider the priorities of your trip.

If you’re at all like me, you might have a family. I have a wife and a three year old, and we frequently travel together. Though I both wish they were insane obsessed photographers like myself, they’re not. Isaac is usually more interested in playing in the sand at the beach. No one, understandably, wants to get up with me at sunrise and stand out in the cold, waiting for a camera to finish its exposure, or for the right light.

The thing is, unless you’re independently wealthy, or you want to travel without your family, you have a limited number of trips you can take each year, and a limited amount of time you can take. On these trips, you will always have to balance your photographic priorities with your familial ones if you’re trying combine the two into one trip. It’s important to define your expectations, and make sure you understand the expectations of your traveling companions. Balancing photo time with family time is an essential part of creating both memories and photographs.

So, what to do if you see long exposures, dramatic black and whites, and human interest, while your fellow travelers see relaxation, sleeping in, and hanging out?

Shoot in the Margins – Midday is a bad time to shoot anyway, for the most part. If you wake up to shoot a sunrise while everyone else is sleeping, you’re not disrupting planned trips to the aquarium or a family walk on the beach. You can do your thing on your time, get some photos, and be back in time to make coffee and breakfast for your family. This way, you not only hopefully give yourself a chance to bag some great photos, but you also win bonus points with the family for being thoughtful.

Be Inclusive (don’t be antisocial!) – Involve the people you’re traveling with. Document the trip, catch some candid portraits in good light, show your activities, share your trip. But also know when to put the camera down, when to enjoy the moment and enjoy the memories rather than trying to find the perfect, compelling angle.

Don’t Be Obsessive – I am nuts about photography. I try to shoot every day if I can, and when I can’t I am thinking about photography. Especially when I am traveling, I want to see everything through my lens and explore things as a photographer. For non-photographers, this is really boring. They stand around or sit while you explore forty five different angles to try to best capture the paint peeling off the hull of a fishing boat, or to best show the weathered wood of an old pier. If you want dedicated photo time, build that into your trip, and/or plan it for when others are having downtime. Don’t expect to wander around during golden hour when everyone else is expecting dinner.

If you are planning your trip as family vacation first, photography second, plan your gear accordingly. On a trip to Spain last year, I left the big DSLR kits at home in favor of a Panasonic GF1 and two lenses so that photography wouldn’t be the focus of the trip. I still came home with some great images, and without the hassle of traveling with heavy, bulky gear OR the scorn of my wife.

Plan a Photo Trip with Other Photographers – The best solution is to plan a trip with fellow photographers expressly to take photographs, and to plan a separate trip with your family to have vacation. If you are traveling with other photographers, even photographers with photographic goals different than your own, you are more likely to all be on the same page about mealtimes, shooting times, and rest times. Your companions will be more understanding when you follow a tangent and explore a certain subject. When you go to edit and review your images at the end of the day or the end of a session, you are more likely to have an interested audience with which to share your images. And when you skip dinner because the light is epic, you won’t be sowing the seeds of discord amongst your companions.

What do you do if you can’t afford the time or money to have a photo-specific expedition? As I said at the start, you make sure that everyone’s on the same page. If you really want to have photo time, you need to outline the times for that, and separate out your family time. You can incorporate your photography into your family time also, but be ready to put the camera away. And when it comes time for lunch, or family story time, or tucking your son into bed, put the camera away, and enjoy the moments that are all the more special because they are ephemeral, fleeting, and go unrecorded. I don’t know about you, but while I love photography and looking at photographs, the reason I shoot is to communicate experience, emotion, occasion. It is often more pleasurable to enjoy those moments without 10 elements in 3 groups between you and the sun setting behind the dunes.

And remember: it’s entirely possible to combine it all and get memorable photographs while on a family vacation. You just have to choose your moments, and make the most of them.

Oh, and one last tip: wait to blog about all the great things you’ve learned and the photos you want to share until you get back home, or everyone’s napping! ;-)



One Comment

  1. Sonal on Feb 26, 2017 at 10:25 pm

    Hello Mark,
    Great Blog!
    I’m going to Europe on a vacation with husband and I was in search of hearing exactly what you said. :D

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