How to shoot vacation portraits – Tips and Tricks

Often I get positive reactions when I show my vacation pics. And then I am not talking about the little projects I tend to do while we are on vacation. Of course we, my wife and I, take the standard photos and portraits but with a few little tricks I try to do just this little bit extra and make them a bit more special. It can be something as simple as using a flash on a bright sunny day or picking a different view point. A nice example is a shot of me made by my wife while she was sitting inside the car and I was preparing my gear at the rear of the car. She captured a bit of the landscape and showed me whilst doing what I like doing.

Landscapes and surroundings

Below you will find a few other examples of standard vacation portraits with just a little bit extra. Just by making sure you get a good proportion of the background (landscape) in your picture you can show where you were, what you saw and you have proof that you were there (in my case my wife) (btw: I just realize that in all these shots my wife is holding a some sort of camera, hmmm)

And of course it isn’t a necessity to show a large view, you can choose to show a part of the surroundings such as a wonderful tree in Kenia. Or you just show a part of a plane so your audience knows that you were at the airport (for this shot I used my flash to make sure that the light inside would match the light on the outside (fill flash)). The shot on the right shows how you can use a person as some sort of frame and that it is not necessary to show the person in full.

So there is more than one way to show where you were during your vacation. Dont be afraid to show people from a distance if you think it is more important to show your surroundings or to give your audience a taste of the atmosphere. Of course there are rules and do’s and don’t but if you ask me, during your vacation that is all b*llsh!t.

As long as you create a good memory and nice shots it should be fine. If you disagree you might consider to become a travel photographer for a living. But all that on a side note.

Car shots

That reminds me of something else. Of course it is not allowed to make photographs while you are driving a car (at least it is not in The Netherlands). But regardless the looks I get from the misses I tend to make a lot of photos while I drive my car. I think it is always fun to shoot my daughter who is the sweetest kid you can imagine when we are going for a long drive. And now she is getting to an age where looks are getting important so sometimes it looks like she is modelling in the back of the car when i try to shoot my typical car vacation portraits.

Recurring Themes

Something else I do whilst on vacation is recurring themes. For example I tend to place my daughter in front of a shopping window. This was all based on a photo that I shot several years ago while she was looking at a pair of shoes (previous photo). Basically what you are doing is shooting street photography photos. And by repeating this on every vacation it might become a returning theme. There are many situations you can think of that can become your theme, it’s all up to you.

Or you shoot your girls as fashionistas while they are shopping

While operating or showing fast vehicles..

Another theme that I love but is not always possible to shoot, is shooting my daughter while she is at the airport walking on the escalator with her little trolley. I love the lines and the atmosphere (but I don’t like other people in these shots (and that is the part that makes it hard to shoot))


Another theme that keeps me busy during my vacation: is shots that have to do with water. I make sure I always travel with or a waterproof camera or a underwater house for my body. This has several advantages. First of all you don’t have to worry about rain and bad water, while on the beach a waterproof camera is better protected against sand, and above all you can shoot photos while you are in the water or even better while you are underwater.

And once you are at home you can use some simple editing tricks to make those underwater shots extra special, but more on that can be found in other blog posts. While you are in the water there are plenty more things that you can do. Last vacation I got the idea to experiment a bit with shots where something is flying towards the camera. (a frisbee, or water, your kid on the water slide, etc)

Or you can show the water splashing which adds more dynamics to your vacation portraits. As I said before, there are so many possible option. Just leave it all to your imagination.

And you don’t alway have to be in the water yourself. The shot above was taken from a little bridge over the swimming pool whne our daughter was practising her snorkeling skills.

Dinner Time

When you are on vacation you tend to eat out more often en with kids the waiting in the restaurant can be boring business. So what we do is bring our camera and start shooting portraits while we are waiting, sometimes we do funny faces and sometimes your kid won’t even notice that you are shooting. But at least the time seems to pass faster and you might end up with some great vacation portraits.

Business as usual

And don’t forget to keep photographing while you are doing the daily stuff. Sometimes these will deliver you the best shot at the least expected moment. Your kid on the potty, or while getting dressed, after a nice swim while you they warming up in the sun, during a rainy day while they are reading or drawing, or when they are ready to go to the pool. It is all about how you look at things and how you process your images.

Process your vacation portraits

I can show you many more examples but for these just check the gallery with Vacation Portraits. The last examples I want to show you are heavily edited photos of which I think are worth showing here. What I’m trying to say is not to be afraid of HDR, B&W, Stitching or any other technique while you are on vacation.


The first one is a HDR shot while I am in the middle of the swimming pool (waterproof body) shooting three sequential shots (no tripod) and back home merging them to HDR. (one of my favorites)

Boost the colors

The next shots are processed in Lightroom CC and Photoshop CC to give them the extra boost in colors or to open up the shadow areas. It is always a good thing once you get home to see if a bit of processing can give your vacation portraits this little bit extra.

Convert to black and white

Converting to black and white is one of my personal favorites, but that has probably to do with my old school education where most of our work was done on the old analog black and white way. There are many different programs, tools or way to convert your color photos to B&W. If you are not familiar with this just search on the internet for the best way that suits you. Also it is really hard for me to tell you how to do it because most of the steps you take in this process are based on taste.

Let them participate

Okay, okay, final tip and then I’m going to end this post. Let them participate in your vacation shoots. My (now seven years old) daughter is walking with a digital cam since she turned three years old, and since a year now she discovered ‘Selfies’, and to my surprise she makes very funny shots. But also the shot of me and my wife in front of the cathedral in Como (Italy) is made by my daughter. You go on a vacation together, so share your photos and combine the best of everybody, and you will be surprised.

Enjoy your vacation, don’t shoot as if it is work. I had my share when I went on trips with 17 kg of gear in my backpack, and I was still calling it a vacation. Nowadays I make sometimes better shots with my (professional) point and shoot and it is a relief not having to carry all my gear. Just seek the adventure and explore

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