Magic Moments: How to Take Great Family Photos in National Parks

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Follow a few simple rules to bring home album-worthy images

Posted by: Xanterra on October 3, 2018

Viewing images of your grade-schooler wide-eyed at a geyser, your teens standing triumphant at the top of a difficult trail, and your gang picnicking in a mountain meadow make the memories come alive again.

Photographs provide one of the prime pleasures of going on a family vacation: the ability to relive the trip months and years later. Viewing images of your grade-schooler wide-eyed at a geyser, your teens standing triumphant at the top of a difficult trail, and your gang picnicking in a mountain meadow make the memories come alive again.

But capturing those shots can be tricky. “Framing and lighting are the key elements of taking great photographs,” says Irene Abdou, of Irene Abdou Photographs [ireneabdou.com]. A professional photographer in the Washington, D.C., area who likes to shoot families in outdoor settings, Abdou provides tips for returning from your national park vacation with album-worthy images.

Mountain in Death Valley

Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park

Take Advantage of the Day’s Best Light

“In general, the best time to photograph in an open area is 1.5 hours before sunset and about 30 minutes after sunrise,” says Abdou. Called the “golden hour” by photographers, it’s when the sun is low in the sky and the light is indirect and soft, which is much more flattering than the harsh midday sun. Plan to be in some of the parks’ most scenic areas at these times and get there early enough so you don’t miss that magic moment.

Make Sure the Light is Even

“You don’t want one person standing in the sun and one person standing in the shade. For a group photo the light should be the same,” says Abdou. Move your subjects if necessary.

Family Time Celebrations

Use the Right Positioning for Scenic Shots

How to capture the classic photograph of your family in front of the Grand Canyon or other spectacular and mammoth park setting? Position yourself and the kids carefully. To include the most scenery, don’t take that iconic shot of the Grand Canyon with your kids against the rim wall. “If you want a wide expanse of landscape in the background, you as the photographer and your family should be at a distance from the background. Position the people close to the camera. That way you get the scenery, but the people aren’t small,” says Abdou.

 

Focus on the Correct Spot for Action Shots

To shoot an image of something moving towards you — a child on horseback, for example — focus on an area just in front of the moving object. “If the horse is walking towards you and you focus on the child, when you take the shot, the child is likely to be out of focus because the horse is moving,” says Abdou. “Focus on a point in front of the horse, then wait for the child to arrive there before you shoot.”

Salt Fork Family

 

Look for Interesting Perspectives

Get away from the predictable group lineup by changing the perspective. “Get down low or go up high to shoot your group and also take photographs of activities.” Snap your kids putting on life jackets, readying rods for fishing, or entering a hiking trail. This eliminates the standard police lineup look of family photographs.


Candyce Stapen

Written by: Candyce Stapen

Long-time family travel guru Candyce H. Stapen writes for many publications and outlets. She has written 30 travel guidebooks, including two for National Geographic.

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