Bring home vacation photos you’re actually in!

How to take your own vacation photos

Mother helps daughter balance on a body board in a pool while on vacation

Guide to better vacation photos (that you’re actually in)

A few years ago, a colleague of mine was showing us photos from their trip. Everything was so beautiful, the landscapes, buildings, museums, they had documented it all. Then, a second coworker chimed in with “ok, but were you actually there?” He had come home without a single photo of himself on vacation!

Get in your vacation photos!

As a new mom, I was having a similar problem. My babies had photos for days of their adventures but really, I have no proof they weren’t just exploring the world without me. I wanted to show them that I was there too. So I learned how to get out from behind the camera and into the frame with them. Here are 5 ways for you to do the same.

Woman gets close to an Elephant in Bali
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How to take photos of yourself on vacation

Ask a friend or family member to take your photo while traveling

First option: Asking a traveling companion to take your photo…. we are starting with the simplest one. If I’m not traveling alone, I am constantly asking my husband to take my photo with the kids. Of course, I’m always sneaking photos of him too.

Father walks towards the setting sun in an Indian Tea plantation

Pros: You trust the person using your phone/camera, they probably already know how to use it, convenience. Cons: you can’t get everyone in the photo, your traveling partner might get annoyed (my husband is super supportive… of ME behind the camera).

Ask a stranger to take your photo

Option two: Ask a stranger. Even though it remains my least favorite option, we’ve had some nice photos taken by strangers. Look for someone carrying a camera. Even if you are using your phone, someone carrying a camera probably has more experience composing a good photo. They’re also pretty unlikely to run off with your camera since they already have one around their necks. Other people unlikely to run off with your camera are parents traveling with children, it’s not like they’re going to leave their kids behind to steal a camera. But please, only ask parents whose young children are chilled out (preferably sleeping) and secured in a stroller. I absolutely hate when I am holding the hands of two toddlers and someone asks me to take their photos.

Maybe it’s just me, but I always feel super awkward asking someone to take our photo. Sometimes I offer to take a couples/family photo first before asking them to take ours. Ask them to take 3 or 4 photos for greater odds of getting a keeper. Explain how to use your camera, where to stand (you’ll need to frame the shot yourself first) and ask them to get low and angle the camera up slightly.

Mother poses with twin toddlers in Milan. Photo was captured by a stranger.
An imperfect photo is better than none at all. Vacation photos help preserve the memory of your trip. Show your kids you were there too and get in the frame

Pros: Everyone can get in the photo, fast and convenient, great for crowded areas. Cons: You have to talk to people – ugh, handing expensive things to strangers, sometimes ALL the photos end up blurry or they’re not perfectly framed. For example, the photo above would have been improved by a step to the right (that’s my fault for forgetting to tell them where to stand), better focus, and the camera is angled up a bit more to get the top of the building. I’m probably getting into perfectionist territory here because it’s a great photo. Thank you, stranger.

Use a camera timer or a remote

Option three: DIY with timers and remotes. This is my favorite way to get family photos.

Mother walks along shoreline at sunset with twin toddlers in Hawaii
For this image, I placed the camera on a tripod and used the timer setting.

Some cameras have Bluetooth compatibility and corresponding apps. That means you can use your phone as a live view remote. Perfect for making sure you’re not blocking the scenery. It’s pretty awesome and gives you the most control over the shot but does have drawbacks which is why I always travel with my handy remote.

Timers are nice because there isn’t a range, you have both hands free, you can stand anywhere and can go places where you can’t take a remote – like into a pool or ocean. It’s nice to be able to just set it and forget it and play around with your kids, you can get great photos with authentic interactions. With timers though, sometimes I don’t get a single good shot – often because my kids try to steal the camera. Case in point:

In the beginning, it’s a numbers game, especially when tiny humans are involved.

Vacation Photos Camera setup

Tripods and other options

Use a standard or flexible tripod to set up your device or find a safe spot to set your camera down. I use either this standard tripod or the JOBY Gorillapod for my DSLR (buy one model higher than recommended by the weight of your camera). If you have a lighter camera or are using your phone there are a lot more affordable options. 

The ground is an often overlooked option. If you go that route, prop the lens up – so the camera is angled upward with something – sunglasses work great. In crowded areas, it’s best to stick with a tripod that will be clearly visible to passersby’s. Finally, I also place my camera on an empty stroller seat pretty often.

Mother sits with toddlers in Hawaii
For this one, I propped my camera on a rock and used a remote – you can see I am holding it in my free hand.

Once you have the camera all set up you can either set the timer or use your remote trigger. The remote usually gets you better shots but you need a compatible camera (one with Bluetooth), need to be somewhat close in and sometimes the remote shows in the photo. Remotes are a fun way for kids to get involved as well.

If you are new to using timers or remotes, there might be a learning curve. I suggest buying the remote a week or so before your trip and practicing at home. A convenient place is in a bedroom, most people have a dresser across from the bed so you can set your camera on that while you read stories or jump on the bed with your kids. After you have that mastered head outside to learn about camera placement, tripod setup, remote range, etc.

Mother practices with the remote on a bed prior to a family vacation
Practice Makes perfect. Get ready for your vacation with a bit of practice in the comfort of your home.

Pros: Self-reliant, can get the whole travel squad in the frame, the most control over the photo. Cons: takes time to set up, not great for crowded areas, extra equipment required.

Hire a professional Vacation photographer

Option 4: Hire a pro. Everyone is a photographer these days, but not everyone is a great photographer. If you want truly great vacation photos and don’t have the time or energy to practice and learn, a professional is a way to go. Even if you do take amazing photos there are still advantages to hiring it out. Resorts often have someone on staff and can arrange it all for you. If you have the time however you’ll often get better rates with someone local. One option available in most countries is Flytographer. They specialize in vacation photos so are sure to know a few great spots. If you are taking the trip of a lifetime, making your memories last is often worth the splurge.

Pros: Professional, display-worthy photos, local photographers usually know the best spots. Cons: Added (sometimes significant) Expense

Travel selfies

There is a fifth option which is, of course, selfies – but most of you already know all about those. Using a selfie stick can make a dramatic difference, without one, it can be difficult to get the background scenery in. I have recently fallen in absolute love with using my GoPro to take selfies with my kids. Sometimes they are a bit distorted due to the super-wide-angle but an extendable grip helps out with that too. As an added benefit, both my Cell Phone and my GoPro are water resistant/proof so that allows me to get shots in places where my camera can’t go.

Mother and toddler son pose in front of the Taj Mahal while on a family vacation.
Shot with a GoPro and a selfie stick.

Bonus composition tip: I have a friend who picked up her life, moved to Switzerland and became a day trader just like that. She goes on amazing adventures all over Europe but her photos used to all look the same. Why? In every photo, she would stand in the center of the frame, close to the camera, and smile directly into the lens. Don’t do that, at least not ALL the time. For starters, it usually blocks the monument or whatever view you’re trying to showcase. Take a few steps back (or use a wide angle lens) so that it looks like you’re in the scene instead of overshadowing it. Photos are often more pleasing when the subject occupies a third of the photo. You can read more about the rule of thirds here. In any case, photo variety is always a good thing!

Remember to bring your camera along for the little moments on your trip too! Vacations are as much about quality family time as they are about new experiences. 

Twin toddlers play with their mother in Copenhagen
Running around castle grounds in Copenhagen. This shot was taken with the camera timer. I used the stroller as a makeshift tripod.

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