We’ve all been there.  You know, the one where you drop big bucks on a great camera and when you see your special vacation photos later you cringe.  I thought it was sunny in Cancun.  Wow little Suzy’s face looked splotchy.  That photo would have been so great if I had only….. Vacations are expensive.  Here are a few photo tips for family vacations so that your pictures are as bright as your memories.

1) use the rule of thirds. Don’t centre your subject, make it more interesting and place them on the far right or left third.

2) watch the sun! High noon is the worst time to take a photo in sun. Look for some open shade with a nice backdrop and place your subjects there.

3) don’t be shy! Get a close up! Zoom in and get those real expressions and reactions. It’s not always about where you are, but how you felt at the time and place.

4) ready to get some scenery? Step back, look with your eyes first and use your hands to frame out a nice spot then snap. Just because its digital, doesn’t mean you should just snap away without thinking. It doesn’t cost anything to snap away, except for a bad photo with regret!

5) if you camera has a manual function, play around with it and crank up your shutter speed for those fast moments when the kids are moving quickly. Don’t forget to then turn DOWN the apperature (f-stop) or bump UP  the ISO to compensate for loss of light with faster shutter.

6) using your phone to get some shots? You can still be creative! Use your grid to get a visual on your screen and use the rule of thirds. Have a touch screen? Most smart phones have a focus ability if you touch the screen where your subjects are. It will help you focus and get more light on your subject.

7) have a new dslr? Get a lesson, or play with your new camera at home before you leave. Or test it out in the plane train or while you are a car passenger. While “auto” mode is amazing, nothing beats being creative and playing in manual mode!!

8) watch your surroundings when placing your subjects! Is there a pole going through their head in the backdrop? Is the horizon line f the ocean “chopping” off their head? A slight tilt, turn or shift can be the difference between a beautifully composed photo, and a very distracting element in the image and on your subject.

9) if the sun is behind your subject, their face will be dark. If the sun is in front of them, they will be squinting. Place yourself somewhere in between so they have half of their face lit, and they have a nice shadow across the rest. High noon is not the time for this. Early morning, or as the sun is setting: 6pm onwards.

10) Don’t get too caught up with your camera when the time comes for the shot. If all else fails, stick it in manual and shoot away. You don’t want to miss those quick moments and memories. Enjoy!

For more kips, we spoke to Nat Geo’s Annie Griffiths about taking photos of kids!

Silvia Simpson is a Vancouver photographer with an eye for beauty.  She graciously wrote these photo tips for family vacations.