I always take advantage of family vacations and getaways to do a little photography. Throughout numerous vacations and weekend journeys, I’ve found that there often is a fine line between being the patriarch of a vacationing family and being a professional photographer. How much time and energy can I devote to my photography with it not having a negative effect on everyone else’s holiday? In this article I offer some tips on how to have a great time vacationing with your family while getting some great pictures too.

Travel Light

In the past I would haul around my Nikon D800e with battery grip, and at least three lenses — the 14-24 f/2.8, 24-70 f/2.8 and the 70-200 f/2.8. Beside that I would also bring a multi-fiber cloth, lens brush, wipes, additional batteries, memory cards and a big ole camera bag to hold everything.

Bringing all that gear tended to be a burden and my constant attention to all that stuff tended to have a negative effect on the time I was spending with my family.

I’ve added mirrorless to my arsenal and took it along on a trip to Washington D.C. taking only my Fujifilm X-T1 and the kit lens that I purchased with it, the Fujifilm 18-135mm F/3.5-5.6 zoom lens.

Over the few days we were in Washington D.C. we averaged approximately 12 miles of walking each day. I carried that camera and lens with me every inch of the way and it worked out perfectly. It was light enough for me to carry all that time and the picture quality was incredible. Furthermore, that lens and body are weather sealed which definitely came in handy because on our first night there, while walking around the Capital Building, it began to rain.

Beside the camera and lens, the only other items I carried with me were a multi-fiber cloth to clean and dry off the camera and lens and a spare battery that I kept in my pocket along with a lens cleaning brush. The memory card in the camera was a 64gb model — I knew I wouldn’t fill that card but if I were using a smaller card, I would have brought a spare along as well.

In the past I travelled with a Nikon D800e and three lenses — One on the camera and the other two in a camera bag strung on my shoulder. Now, I travel a lot lighter with my Fujifilm X-T1 and a single lens, 18-135mm. No camera bag needed.

Don’t Be Frustrated By Crowds

The annual Cherry Blossom Festival was taking place in D.C. while I was there and there were huge crowds on the street, in every museum and at every memorial. This will likely be what you’ll encounter if you go to the typical family vacation spots such as beaches, amusement parks and other such tourists attractions so don’t go in with some preconceived ideas on how you’re going to capture that picture perfect postcard image because with the amount of people around, you likely won’t.

Try zooming in to eliminate as much of the crowd as possible and photograph detail. With that said, if you find that people are interacting in an interesting way within the scene, capture them doing so.

A mob of tourists around an attraction such as the Lincoln Memorial can frustrate a photographer. Fujifilm X-T1 with 18-135mm lens at 83.3mm — 1/125sec f/11 iso: 1600


By getting closer to my subject and shooting at a unique angle, I was able to eliminate the tourists from the field of view and create a compelling image. Fujifilm X-T1 with 18-135mm lens at 43.9mm 1/125sec f/11 iso: 4000


In this image of the Space Shuttle Discovery, I could not take the image without several people in the shot. So I tried backing up getting in as many people as possible to offer scale to the scene. Fujifilm X-T1 with 18-135mm lens at 38.9mm 1/160sec f/4.5 iso: 6400

Use Light to Your Advantage

The light will not always be optimum when you’re on holiday. If the light is harsh, try shooting things in the shade or shoot things where the harsh light can accentuate the object’s texture in a compelling way. Avoid shooting portraits of people and animals in harsh dappled light. Try to shoot them in the shade of a tree or building. If possible, go inside and see if there are any interesting images to be had there.

Dappled light was falling on this fighter jet. I purposely underexposed the image and processed it in B&W. Doing so utilized the dappled light to my advantage putting emphasis on the jet and subduing the busy area around and behind the jet.
Fujifilm X-T1 with 18-13mm lens at 18mm. 1/240sec f/5.6 iso: 640

If you’re vacationing in a spot that will yield a beautiful sunrise or sunset, use a smartphone app such as LightTrac which will tell you when and where the sun will be setting and rising so you can be in the right spot at the right time to capture the golden hour of light. LightTrac will also tell you where the moon will be and what phase it’s in so that you can get yourself at the right position at the right time to capture the moon in your shot.

Don’t Pose Too Many Pictures

Of course you want the ubiquitous shot of the family in front of Cinderella’s Castle but beyond the many “required” family type shots, avoid too many posed images. I’ve found that many of my favorite shots of my family are candids I took of them while they were enjoying themselves.

When your family is absorbed in the moment and before they notice, frame and CLICK that shutter!

My son and I reflected in the mirror of the Greensboro Lunch Counter at the Smithsonian American History Museum
Fujifilm X-T1 with 18-135mm lens at 18mm 1/125sec at f/3.5 iso: 4000

Use Auto ISO

You’ll likely encounter various lighting conditions throughout the time you’re on vacation. You’ll be moving from bright light to shade from outdoors to indoors. I don’t always advocate using Auto ISO because in most cases, I prefer to have total control of my camera’s settings but when vacationing with my family, I often relent and set it on my camera. That’s one less thing to think about when I’m out and about with my family and I can pay more attention to them.  I usually set Auto ISO on my camera with a minimum shutter speed of 1/125th of a second and a maximum ISO of 6400. If your camera doesn’t handle high ISO’s as well as the X-T1, don’t hesitate to set it lower so that your pictures aren’t too noisy.

Setting Auto ISO on a Fujifilm X-T1


There is no reason that you can’t take some great photos and not be a burden while you’re vacationing with your family. Downsize so that your gear is more manageable and allow the technology to work for you as you look to capture detail in a scene.