Quick and Dirty Photo Tips for Traveling Families

Quick and Dirty Photo Tips for Traveling Families


What’s in My Camera Bag?

You have been planning for an amazing journey and you have your bags packed! Woohoo! Now all you have to do is get some great photos of your family and your adventure and post them to Instagram like all those cool photos you see online, right?

I wonder what kind of camera they are using? How did they get that amazing shot? Many times when we travel we experience such a beautiful scene and we want to capture what we see, right? You get home to review your photos and they don’t look like what you just saw.

We had many of these questions as we prepared for our trip and during our trip now. We have received a lot of great feedback on our postings and we wanted to share what we are using and our simple workflow for photography. We are spending our kids’ inheritance so we at least owe them some decent photos of their childhood.

capturing a moment

Capturing Moments

What is the best camera for traveling and shooting children? It’s pretty simple; you’re set with any camera you have at the moment! You don’t need a fancy camera to take great pictures, just a decent eye and some creative software. Many of our photos and some of the videos we have taken were from a smart phone or an old point and shoot. A few years back we shot Cuba with the camera setting on an old videocamera which was 1 megapixel. 

This is not an article for professional photographers or advanced hobbyists. This is a quick and dirty guide for travelers and traveling families! Our goal is to focus on traveling, not becoming a pro shooter and spending hours slaving over a photo and creating masks. That’s a different kind of adventure.

Our technology philosophy for travel is very simple; we plan for loss and destruction and champion simple workflows.

We have a 3 and 5 year old and we are a traveling family; what could possibly go wrong over 12 months in planes, trains and boats. Everything we carry had to be replaceable, but give us professional results.

We didn’t want to worry about our gear being stolen or having to worry if we locked up our cameras before we went for dinner. Many professional lenses are worth more than 6 months salary in most of the countries we will be traveling. Another thing to think about as a traveling family is you don’t want to bring much attention to yourself with valuable gear.

Even our value-focused solution isn’t cheap, but many hobbyist photographers we know spend more on one lens than our whole travel kit. Besides, our kids think our gear looks like cool toys to play with! Here are the “toys” we use to capture our escapades. We acknowledge this is a Nikon kit but you can do the same solution in Canon with this lens and the 70D. 

Our Daily Camera Gear

  • $599 – New Nikon D7100 Digital SLR Camera Body – (Certified Refurbished from Cameta with very low shutter count, research these guys you will never buy a new camera again).
  • $260 – Used Tamron SP Auto Focus 17-50mm F/2.8 XR Di-II LD SP Aspherical (IF) Zoom Lens with Built In Motor for Nikon Digital SLR – Purchased from a reputable reseller on Amazon – do your research on used lens.
  • $18 – Lexar Professional 633x 32GB SDHC UHS-I (2 Pack) – We prefer many small cards versus large capacity cards. We have 6 cards in our rotation which is too few at the moment. 
  • $29 – Silicon cover case for Nikon D7100 with LCD protect film (Black) – Love it and you need this for the road trust us your gear gets banged up.
  • $7Neewer ML-L3 Wireless Shutter Release Remote For Nikon – This is must have regardless if you travel with a tri-pod or not. This is the cheapest solution for steady shots in tough lighting. Prop your camera on a bag and shoot.

Optional Gear – Note each piece you add to your bag feels like pounds!

  • $350 – Used Nikon G ED-IF AF-S DX VR 2159 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 Zoom Nikkor Lens for Nikon FThis is a great travel lens and don’t listen to glass snobs, we have got some great photos with the D7100 and this lens and it is a practical solution when you want a lot of range and don’t want to swap lenses for an excursion. 
  • $90 – Used Nikon AF FX NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8D – The nifty 50 should be in every value focused photographer’s bag and it is light and small and produces amazing photos for $90. It’s a great portrait lens and rocks in low light shooting. For travelers, this lens and a D7100 doesn’t bring much attention to you for street shooting. Wrap the strap around your hand and just fire without even looking and you will be surprised with your shots as a creative hack.
  • $275 – Converted an old Nikon D80 to Infrared – Super Color Infrared (590nm) – Travelers experiment taking up space at the moment – we use the 18-200 lens when playing with infrared photography.
  • $250 – Used Nikon SB-700 AF Speedlight Flash for Nikon Digital SLR.
  • $79YONGNUO YN-622N-KIT YN622N-KIT Wireless i-TTL Flash Trigger Kit – This is for lighting enthusiasts and they make great flashes and triggers for the value. Photography is all about the art of light so check Yongnuo and their products for traveling artists. Anyone can drop a couple grand in Pocket Wizards and Nikon flashes but what fun is that as these bad boys support iTTL!
  • $144 – New B+W 77mm ND Neutral Density 3.0-1000X MRC 110M Lens Filter – We purchased for videos mainly – we haven’t used this once on the road and we haven’t used a filter while traveling for 6 months.

This kit is also designed for video enthusiasts; the Tamron lens listed above is a popular lens for hobbyist videographers with the D7100 for HD. 

Padang Padang Surf GuruThe nice thing about this configuration is we are using older laptops that have card readers (you can purchase external readers cheap). We weren’t interested in using different types of card types for our quick and dirty solution, and SD cards are highly available anywhere and they don’t cost much.

Our Camera Tips

Our shooting philosophy is really about capturing and sharing a moment regardless of the gear and processing techniques. We are not photography purists. We try to abstract the complexity of photography when it comes to researching camera gear, techniques and the art of photography. Been there and done that and the funny thing is the more you shoot the better you get regardless of your gear.

Traveling with children has its unique set of challenges and shooting photography is even more difficult with small children. We don’t get to plan around the golden hour with naps and traveling schedules as much as we would like. We shoot a lot during the middle of the day so we have to be crafty with our shots.

More often than not, we have a kid in one hand and the camera in the other hand. We have some cheats we use so we don’t lose an opportunity for a great shot or lose our children in the process.

RAW is your new best friend!

Do yourself a favor and no matter what camera you have, always shoot in RAW. We don’t care if you aren’t a professional photographer; always shoot a RAW copy when you are out and about. It is the most important tip for a family recording these once in a lifetime moments.

RAW is like a digital negative and when you shoot in JPEG, you will save disk space, but the camera removes valuable data from your photograph. You will be able to salvage many photos if you keep your data in a RAW format and use a proper editor. Most cameras allow you to shoot a RAW and JPEG version, this is what we do. Storage is cheap; don’t be a data miser and shoot boundless because you will delete often.

Camera Settings

We will take a beating from purists, but whatever. When we are walking around with our kids and our rig, we shoot a lot in Program Mode (P). When you are walking around and trying to take photos with ever-changing scenes, drop it into (P) and be smart with your composition and shoot RAW; this will get you there for many shots. The Tamron lens is pretty sharp and allows for great bokeh for great photos. Using P is highly supportive when you hand the camera to your spouse or a stranger to take a family photo.

If you have the time and also looking for a different look or style, still shoot in (P) and then look at the settings in the photo review. Then drop the settings into Manual (M) or use Shutter Priority (S) or Aperture Priority (A) and adjust them to get a different shot and use (P) as a guide. These cameras are amazing and get pretty close to the setting we need to capture our family shots. This is one of our most used quick and dirty tricks as we only have one hand and moving quickly through scenes.

Quick and Dirty Photo Tips in Low Light

Sports Mode in Low Light Photos

The real quick and dirty setting for us when we are inside or in low light situations is to drop the camera into the Sports/Action setting. We were getting horrible shots in Singapore at the greatest aquarium in the world. We accidentally set the camera to Sports mode and then fired off a shot in a tough hand-held low light shot and voila! Thanks super ISO and our quick 2.8 Tamron lens that cost $260.

The challenge for us is we don’t like to use flash in many of these shots as it is really over powers the shot and we don’t have time to meter or diffuse the flash.

When we are with the kids and walking through a dark temple or a low light scene, we drop into Sports mode and we always have at least one good photo to edit. The D7100 and the Tamron lens together can handle a high ISO that allows us to get great shots in low light conditions. We will try to set the setting manually when we are traveling and literally get better shots in Sports mode. Who would have known! We are photography sinners and it feels great because it cuts our workflow down to nothing in tough shooting environments. We only do global edits in our workflow so more time to hang out and not curse your photo editor.

One thing to remember about settings and shooting on the road is 99% of most travelers are going to be posting to the web. That means their photo is going to be reduced even further on Instagram and Facebook and you have a maximum resolution of 72 DPI.

So at the end of the day, factor in what you are going to do with your photos other than sit on a hard drive under your desk. Not every photo is going to paper or printed to a large format. That is why we use Adobe Lightroom (LR) to handle the different formats and focus on shooting a ton of photographs with different settings.

Editing and Post Production

We had grand ambitions of getting everything right in the camera so we wouldn’t have to do much editing or post-production while traveling. Chasing kids and trying to figure out what setting we are in has proven to be more difficult than we had envisioned.

We don’t spend a lot time living in the LCD reviewing pictures other than looking for clipping on either side of a histogram or making sure we have a good distribution of colors when taking shots. From time to time, we will zoom in on a photo to make sure we have good sharpness if we are in lower light scenes. We will look at the photos in our editing program once we get home.

The best results we have at the end of the day are from the tried-and-true rules of photography. Your photos will live and die by your subject, composition and accounting for lighting. We take a lot of shots at different angles and focal lengths and delete everything that doesn’t look good right off the bat, which is many of the photos. No amount of editing can fix a photo if you aren’t framing in great shots.

Delete, Delete and Delete with Conviction

Shoot often and brutally delete everything that doesn’t capture a moment worth preserving. We promise the only thing you will have to show from your travels will be a hard drive full of photos that you will get to one day! Trust us, that day will never come once you get home from your adventure and get back to the “real world”.

When traveling keeping your library clean and broken up into meaningful directories enables you to be more productive and easier to backup. We can shoot 1,000 photos in 2 days and 80% would need to be discarded immediately. The 80/20 rule is highly applicable to travel photography. We try to have all the photos deleted after each day or at least each week and then tag them for editing. Even days of photos can be uninspiring when traveling and can bury your creativity if you get buried by your chores. 

Once you have some great photos to work with, we throw it into a quick edit with Adobe’s Lightroom. LR is a great tool if you want to reduce your traveling workflow and we are not familiar with a better tool for efficient processing of your digital assets. We used Aperture in a previous lifetime but that software is no longer being developed by Apple so Lightroom is really the go to software for travelers.

Travel Tips for Low Light in Cambodia

Low Light Handheld Shot with Sports Mode

Another smoking piece of software is Nik Software, which was acquired by Google in 2016. This software suite is now free and plays nicely with any photographer’s workflow. So we are learning about the Nik suite and it integrates seamlessly Lightroom so that is now part of our workflow and a tool every traveler should learn. There are great videos by Google and photographers on YouTube so you can learn quickly.

If you want an open source solution for editing GIMP is still very popular, but not as photographer friendly as Lightroom. It is more of a competitor to Photoshop, which is another beast of an application. We do use Photoshop with our children’s book project and website but it really is more for professional photographers and for those who have the time to master a proper digital light-room.

Note that the Photography suite at Adobe is only $9 a month, which is really a great value, and you can edit photos on your mobile devices! Pirating is illegal and a pain in this day and age.

Quick and Dirty Photography Tips in Adobe Lightroom

  • We Use LR as a non-destructive editor and image organizer which has a ton of quick features for photographers for quick and dirty edits. You can get lost in professional edits but we use it as our quick and dirty tool.
  • We shoot RAW because we can adjust the White Balance quickly. We rarely get this right, even if we have the time to set the White Balance with an Expo Disc. Thanks RAW!
  • We can adjust the Exposure and Contrast quickly. The Auto setting gets the photo 90% of the way there and then you can adjust to your style. Thanks RAW!
  • We can crop an image to a better composition and trash it if we don’t like the edit.
  • We can do global changes with most of the feature adjustments.
  • We can adjust the different color channels individually (after an auto adjustment) and get really close to a great photo with great color balance. Working with the blue Channel and adjusting the Saturation and Luminance with an adjustment on the Highlights can yield great skies if you have a good RAW image that hasn’t been blown out. 
  • Once you have all your setting set for a great photo, just copy and paste the settings to a series of photos. Very cool and very efficient! We often work on one photo and copy and paste the settings over, and then delete the ones we don’t like! We wouldn’t do that if we spent a ton of time on each photo. 
  • We can have multiple copies of the edit photo to export to Nik for other features like Black and White and Sharpening or 100’s of other combined effects in Nik. We can always right click and set the photo back to its original format to return to the original photo.
  • Once you tag your photos for Export (like your Instagram stack, blog, Facebook) you can set it for Web or High Quality prints. We have a standard export for 1024 pixels on the long edge (that way you can do portrait or landscape) for our exports and then they go straight to DropBox to be shared with you intended platform. We literally just tag and export and we review in DropBox.

Bandwidth Considerations

Remember when you really travel infrastructure is pretty weak in most countries and data plans can get pricey on mobile devices. We are shooting big and reducing small for out intended project. RAW files are big and can take a lot of space, so remember when you are working with the Web and social media sites, large files are not your friend.

You will struggle with Internet connections when traveling the world and it can literally drive you insane if you are travel for extended times. So make sure you have a good backup strategy and you using a service like DropBox that can sync your files in case of an incident. Make sure you have a copy of a copy when dealing with your most precious travel assets.

We will work on an article about what’s on my laptop and how we handle our communications, internet, creative assets and managing websites while traveling next.

A quick note: smart phones have come a long way so look into your phone as a secondary or primary camera! My only issue is with lower light shooting and zooming we notice that photos can be fairly pixelated unless there is good light. But they are coming on strong with some new tech and do a great job for being so convenient. 

Stay tuned and safe travels.

— Cash Cortez

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