Search This Blog


Taking the perfect family travel pictures as a group
Let's face it, Gang: Some shots just aren't going work out!
(Our Big Family at the Toy Museum in Basel, Switzerland)
There's always been something special about traveling that makes the traveler want to...

...record it, and share the experience. For nearly everyone, myself included, traveling involves taking photos of it and sharing them.

Trip Photos vs. Modeling
This unfortunately can sometimes mean tourists are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to frame the shot, model for it correctly, and take 15 pictures of the same thing trying to make it perfect, all so as to try to create the perfect impression with each photo.



Modeling for the perfect travel photo
Selfies for Insta:  Not a Part of Our Family's Travel Plans
Image may be subject to copyright

This is done so that the pic can be shared, and its subject can digitally receive "likes" and online comments resulting in personal affirmation. Traveling with our children, we've seen some very strange stuff going on, in front of the camera.

Faking It
I'm always disturbed for the state of the world when I see how many people do a travel activity seemingly for the sole reason that it will result in interesting (well...theoretically interesting) social media posts. Everywhere we travel, we see at least a few people who seem to completely ignore their surroundings, and are only interested in which parts of it they can capture for the perfect self-portrait (oh, uh, self-portrait is the antiquated term for "selfie," if anyone was wondering).

Faking travel pictures for friends
"I'm having so much fun that I just
can't keep my mouth shut!"

Image may be subject to copyright
We've seen people arrive on a gorgeous, jaw-dropping beach, only to immediately drop everything in the sand, turn their backs on the exotic view, and set up an on-the-spot, amateur modeling shoot. Totally ignoring the beach they just traveled 8,000 miles to see, they begin posing for the camera, and pulling the strangest faces, faking expressions of rapt ecstasy, then the old standby, fake surprise (mouth open, eyebrows raised - that expression that says "I can't believe I'm taking this photo of myself!"), and even expressions of faux wonder at their surrounds (which they aren't actually seeing!).

Then, the second they've made a few photos of that faked experience, they turn off the facial expression as though there was a light switch for joy. They squint judgmentally at their screen, swiping through the photos, deciding whether they have sufficiently cropped out any people in the background, and whether their faces look convincingly overjoyed at being on the beach they haven't yet noticed.

Traveling thousands of miles just to take pictures of yourself
I'd wager it took at least 20 exhausting 
tries to get this photo
Image source: Pinterest
Image may be subject to copyright

Usually, the decision is made to take quite a few more photos, to replace the earlier ones which they found totally unacceptable for whatever reason. Any selfie-seeking tourist can suddenly find herself embodying a Korean female pop band taking promotional photos while on tour...This time, they try harder: eyes are bugged out with electro-shock levels of joy, smiles show teeth from ear to ear, mouths hang open playfully, hips pop out to the side, shoulders pivot, fingers pop up in Victory-sign expressions...and then all that fake joy gets turned off in an instant.

They return to peering at their screens to judge themselves in their photos, wondering how others will judge them, mentally calculating how many "likes" a given post may achieve. This process can go on for 10 or 15 minutes!  And for what?  All this effort is done just so the carefully selected, perfectly framed, perfectly posed image can get posted to social media. Instead of experiencing the travel, the obsessed selfie-taker treats the journey as one long photo op; the journey becomes a series of chances to create popular online posts.

Something valuable is lost in that process. As The Guardian's Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett sagely observed,

"Social media encourages the memeifcation of human experience."


Should you tell other people to move out of the way so you can take a photo?
Some places are just too crowded for a family pic - so skip the attempt to capture the perfect moment - you can't fake solitude.
(Our Big Family at Aeropagus with Acropolis in background, Athens, Greece)

Getting that Perfect Photo of a Family Trip
We try to get at least one good group photograph of our family in each major destination, and we have varying degrees of success with that. For instance I just realized we don't really have any "good" (so to speak) pictures of France, or of the United Kingdom. Oh well.

When we're traveling, we definitely don't blaze a stream of online posts while in the moment. Even now that we've started this website, the plan is that when we travel this summer, we'll be focused on being together, and traveling.  I'll handle the writing and posting about it after we get back.

Although we do publish a lot of our own travel photos on our site, these photos were actually taken for us to keep, to help us form memories of our trips. None were posted on social media on the day they were made; none were shared online at all until they seemed relevant to something being written on this site.

When other tourists appear in the background of pictures
Three-Armed Portrait?
(There was this woman behind her that kept moving around, digging into a backpack - I took two shots; both were marred by the appearance of random body parts that seem to jut out from my daughter's side)

(Our daughter at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece)

None of the pics of our family trips involve photo sessions that last over 2 minutes. The vast majority of our photos involve no major posing other than just "Okay everybody stand there for a second."  In some cases when we want to do a group pic with all of us, we may end up posing for perhaps 10 to 20 seconds for a single picture (or maybe two) to be made. In some cases I've tried over and over, trying to force it to come out right, but usually after a second or third try, you know whether it's ever going to work.

So we try not to endlessly retake photos unless the kids' eyes are closed, or someone's finger is buried to the knuckle in an apparent gold mining expedition, or one of our boys nails us with a pretend sourpuss expression (my oldest boy loves to make an "Eww, yuck!" face at the last second).

Ruining family photos for fun since 2011
Image may be subject to copyright


Whether it is possible or worth it to try to get the perfect family picture
Our oldest boy does love his Calvin and Hobbes
(Our Big Family at the Acrocorinth medieval castle site in Corinth, Greece)

We've also learned that if we get about 3 to 4 bad photos in a row (such as when a child is actually unhappy, or needs food or a nap, or just doesn't feel like waiting there for a photo to be made at the entrance to some place), the photo results are never going to improve, so we just drop it and move on.

You can't fake an actual, happy or relaxed moment. Likewise, once you've taken a shot with multiple people's eyes closed, it's almost a guarantee that no matter how many more you take, someone is going to be looking the wrong way, or have their eyes closed. They'll just take turns closing their eyes.

At this one castle in Germany (awesome place - see our prior post), I took 8 shots in rapid succession, and anywhere from 1 to 3 members of our family had their eyes closed or heads turned away, every time. I tried more shots than I usually would, because I loved that place, and wanted a family pic there, plus the kids were laughing and no one was giving me the "When is this photo shoot going to end?" expression that sometimes comes out in a third or fourth retake.

When kids won't look at the camera for a travel picture
Eight Tries, but Zero Photos in Which Everyone
is Looking at the Camera, with Eyes Open
(Our Big Family at Rötteln Castle, 
Lörrach, Germany)
Something about an obsession with the photographic results of an outing while traveling involves a certain objectification of the subjects of the photos. When a subject is induced to pose for a photo - particularly one that he or she might not feel like taking at that moment - then is told to adjust the pose or facial expression, then remain still for the shot to be made and remade, over and over, with adjustments, and additional instructions to stand a certain way, and make a certain face, there's an unintentional reduction of the family to photographic objects, to be manipulated and posed for a desired image.

The photographer and his subjects are lost in that moment; it's no longer a parent trying to get memories on film of the spouse and kids. It becomes something else - something mechanical, with an attempted forced artistry that divorces the joy of the journey from the creation of its supposed record. All of which is to say: there's nothing wrong with a "candid" shot here and there, eh?

I do try these days not to let our group shots become work, for any of us. Unless you're a professional photographer working an assignment, we recommend focusing on something other than trying to get the perfect picture of yourselves while traveling with a big family (such as: the family, and the trip itself). Let the kids ruin some photos, by having bug-out eyes, dangling tongues, or making rabbit ears on one another's heads - these are the pictures they'll ask to see again and again anyway.

Giving up on having "perfect" family pictures made during journeys is also a stress reduction technique for parents. Working with a camera, and kids, at the same time, can be a recipe for frustration. It's not worth becoming frustrated or impatient with the kids, and having everyone get stressed out over a picture. It's easy for the importance of a single photograph to get blown out of proportion. If it's not coming together, we just skip it and move on to the next activity. As a former professional photographer, I'd say that you just have to "feel" it - if the shot isn't happening, you can't make it happen, and trying again and again will produce diminishing results.

So our tip is:  don't try to get that "perfect" family photo while traveling. It's not all about the photos. Enjoying the trip, and seeing it with your own eyes, taking mental pictures with your brain, forming memories of the experience, is worth more than even the most thoroughly "liked" social media post.

More Soon!
We hope this blog helps make your family's next trip a great success! Could you help us?
1. Please share a link to our blog.
2. Stay tuned! Please sign up for free email updates so you'll be notified of future posts.
Thank you for reading!

If you're new here, you may want to start with our first post.

Or, check out our List of All Posts.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Ideas? Suggestions? Tips? Let us know! Thanks for reading! (If you'd like a reply by email, please include an email address, or use the Contact Form at the bottom of this page - thanks!)