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For many of us vacations, or holidays, can be a stressful time, photographically speaking. The types of trips I’m talking about here are the ones flying to a location with solid photography potential and the whole family is in tow. These trips often call for a certain level of compromise on the part of any picture taking parent. Balancing the desire to grab my full photo kit and still manage to have enough room for all the family essentials. I have been on multiple trips with my nine year old daughter and I can attest to the learning curve and how the balance can change with every trip.
Not only is gear space and weight important, the shooting potential when on a family trip can often be limited, and for good reason. It’s not a solo trip where I get to decide when and where I travel, it’s a family trip and everyone’s needs and desires come into play. Finding that balance with family time and shooting time is way beyond the scope of this post, but I do hope to help you lighten your gear load by only packing what is truly needed given the compromising structure of any family vacation.
Bring, at most, two lenses. A telephoto zoom and a wide angle zoom are all that is needed. That 400mm monster? Leave it at home. Yes, you might miss out on some great birding photos, but if this is a family trip, it’s going to be about compromise. Maybe find a simple, easy lens for a trip like this. Remember that you may be handing the camera over to other family members, depending on age, to shoot some shots. Keep it simple and easy. An 18-200mm lens works well as an all around travel lens, for those with a 1.6x crop factor camera, and there are some quality options available for most any manufacturer. If you must bring multiple lenses, try to pack them in a bag that handle double duty for daily snacks and water when out and about during your daily excursions.
If you were to bring just one filter on a trip, bring a polarization filter. From cutting down glare of the ocean waves to removing pesky reflections on buildings to increasing contrast and saturation in other situations, a polarization filter will serve you well. I would suggest keeping it in its original container (see below when you’re not bringing your full filter wallet) for protection.
Chances are you have one of these on your camera already. It will help protect your lens from spray and all that sand you’ll encounter while lounging on the beach.
Many of us travel with a shot list, be it a prescribed list for any trip or something specific for the location of intent. The most important reason to have a shot list on a family trip is to share it with everyone. This serves three purposes: 1) It lets everyone know what is important for you to see on the trip. 2) It gives others a chance to offer input and make photography more fun for everyone (ask for suggestions to help everyone feel involved, especially if your kids have favorite things they like to have photos of) 3) It helps keep you sane and limited. Don’t make the list too gargantuan, keep it limited to the most important items so you don’t feel constantly torn between family time and shooting time.
Don’t run out of space!! You’ve made your checklist in the item above, but did you include all the photos of your kids and spouse playing, goofing off and just generally being a family? Not only that, if you are like me, you may hand your camera over to get a kids perspective on the world and they will surely suck down a lot of card space. On top of that, with many cameras offering video, something you may use lightly or not at all when traveling and shooting solo, it can be a great way to bring back some fond memories. But video also chews up a great deal of space. Cards are light and relatively cheap these days, don’t be caught frantically deleting photos to make room! Your time is better spent enjoying your trip.
A full sized tripod is nice, but the bulk and weight can be a killer on a family trip. Sure there will be times when you may want to snap a family photo in front of a scenic spot, but there are other options to a space hogging Goliath of a tripod. For instance, I prefer to carry the Trek-Tech GO! Pro tripod. It is a bit of compromise in the batter of space and weight over solid stability, but it does get the job done well for this type of situation. And it can be used as a walking stick, handed over to one of your children as a handy means of distraction when the time is right. Not only that, it will fit in a carry-on bag, possibly saving you on checked baggage fees.
Unless there is a specific photo you know you want to capture that will require more than one strobe, leave the weight, and the batteries, at home. If your camera has a pop-up flash, you won’t need to bring an external strobe at all. I know it may be blasphemy to some, calling for a ban on external strobes, but the weight and space saved can make the trip more enjoyable for all. Depending on the size of the little ones, you may be over burdened with snacks, toys, books or other forms of entertainment, don’t add to the stress on your back by adding in unneeded weight.
Bring one battery for the camera and one spare. That’s all you will need, really. Bring the charger as well and give the day’s battery a charge every night, replacing it with the spare. If you burn through two batteries in a day, you might be shooting too much and spending too little time enjoying your family. Depending on trip length and your shooting habits, you may be able to simplify even further and bring only the batteries and no charger. Simple = easy = more enjoyable vacation.
You have a fancy wallet with a ton of filters. Maybe you don’t think it’s a ton. Maybe it’s only 10 or so. If your significant other thinks it’s a ton, you might want to consider leaving the wallet at home. It’s bulk, it’s (minor) weight and it is one more thing to keep track of while juggling other family gear. Simplify. Did I mention that? See what you can shoot without the filters. Sure, there may be times when you lament not bringing them all, but this is a family trip and you family would certainly enjoy you spending more time with them than the filters. Ok, bring the graduated neutral density filter. Maybe you can’t live without that one.
My point is packing a minimal amount of photography gear will often have the biggest impact on fun for everyone. I have over one it in the past, carried over 15lbs worth of gear and got so caught up in photos that everything else falls away. I found this isn’t always the best way to handle a trip.
One last bit of advice: Schedule time to just shoot. Work with your spouse and kids to have some time when you can get out, by yourself, and shoot until your heart is content. If the pull of photography is too great, communicating about your desire for photography time alone can go a long way to smoothing the bumps any family can have while traveling.