The Internet is full of photography tips on how to improve your travel photography. I am not saying that these tips aren’t good, just that they are sometimes not reasonably doable with a small child in tow. Still, here are some things that I found help you take good pictures – although, despite your best efforts the end result might not be National Geographic worthy.
Let’s start with the most common tip: get up early and stay out late for the best light. Obvious, right? Nobody likes the harsh midday light that drains the surroundings of color. The mild and warm morning and evening light makes for a lot more saturated and beautiful pictures. If your child is anything like mine was when we traveled, that is actually not a problem: he was up early, had a midday nap and then would last a few more hours – perfect photographer’s schedule! In subtropical and tropical countries the sun sets early anyway so it all worked out well. In Yucatan even on June 21 the daylight hours are roughly 6:20 am to 7:40 pm. Now, if you go to northern Norway in summer the situation is quite different …
I found the mornings to be magical, the city/town is waking up, it is still quiet and a bit cooler – perfect time for pictures. It would be ideal now to go out with all your equipment and in peace and quite take pictures. If that isn’t possible: go out with your child and take pictures. A little snack, the promise of an adventure and a real breakfast later go a long way to get compliance. Depending on the age of your child it might make sense to give them their own cheap camera to take pictures. Else include them somehow: there are pigeons in the plaza – let the little one chase them and take pics of that. A fountain – some splashing might be just the thing to record.
I also tried to include him as much as possible in what I was doing: “Today I am looking for numbers, like on street signs or houses. Can you help me find some?”
“I am looking for really fun houses in all different colors. Can you find a pink and a green one for me?” “Now I need the prettiest flowers in a garden.”
I might not have been interested at all in numbers or green houses – but it kept him involved and meanwhile I could take pictures of other things.
Another of the photography tips one reads a lot is about the importance of location scouting. Find a great place, take note of how the light changes it during different times of the day, how busy it is, anything special going on at certain hours? Once you figured that out, come back with your camera at the best time and take your pictures.
A sabbatical is ideal for location scouting – at least in part. If you spend weeks or more in a particular place you get to know it, you know when the light hits that church in the neighborhood best, when the plaza is the busiest, when traffic is the worst, etc. So you can wait for the perfect time and weather to go take those pictures.
But, like with all travel that isn’t dedicated to photography there will be that time when – on a short trip – you come across these majorly impressive Mayan ruins but it is 2 pm and the harshest of lights. Now, unless you can come back later or stay an extra night there isn’t much you can do other than to take some memory shots and make peace with the fact that these pictures will not win you any awards.
Let’s just assume you are not exclusively focused on landscape photography and getting great people shots is high on your list. The photography tips you read around that often include engaging the people you want to photograph. You little one can actually be quite an asset in that case. A parent with a child and a camera is much less intimidating than an adult with a camera. My admittedly extroverted child who talks to anybody and everybody broke the ice on many occasions and made people more willing and in some cases eager to let me photograph them (with him) and their surroundings. I specifically think of hiking around the tea plantations in Kerala. The women harvesting the tea leaves couldn’t get enough of my son, they showed him everything, carried him around, let him cut some tea leaves – all along I had very willing, if not eager models for my pictures.
Photography with a small child in tow is never ideal, photography requires time and patience and quiet and serenity. But there is a lot you can do still get pictures that you will enjoy many years to come.