Blog: Travel photography with children

Travel photography with children: The golden rules of Ellen Wissink

By Ellen Wissink
Wizzinc fotografeert – www.wizzinc.nl

A long long time ago, in a country far away …. I started doing travel photography. I travelled with my husband to countless photogenic places and followed all the golden rules of travel photography, such as: ‘take plenty of time for your photographs’, ‘wander aimlessly and endlessly through a city’ and ‘always use the golden hour’ – the magical hour around sunrise and sunset with the most beautiful light. 

All good and well, but then came two children. And there I was, fortunately still in all those faraway places and intriguingly hectic cities. But with almost zero time to focus on taking good photographs, holding one child in my hand and carrying the other child on my back. And the ‘golden hours’? Those magical hours were almost without exception used for catching up on sleep. Many a great sunset was lost in the daily feeding, bathing and sleeping ritual. We just went with the children’s rhythm. And I just couldn’t get out of bed early in the morning for the perfect photo opportunity. If I’ve experienced three sunrises in all of that time, it’ s a lot. My photography bag also had to downsize. The wide range of lenses was mostly replaced by nappies, butt wipes and emergency carbohydrates.

And yet I still take travel photographs. I often hear: “I really feel that’s a typical photo for you”. The question is: what do I do exactly? I really had to reflect on what my new 3 golden rules are. And I secretly like my new travel photography with the children in te frame much more than the old photography.

Golden rule 1:  Make you child look very small

That may sound a little pedagogically inappropriate, but it is not as harmful as it sounds. I always see something happen to my children when they are in the great outdoors. They start running like crazy. And when they run so far ahead of me, I take the best pictures. Endless beaches and huge mountains with tiny figures in front of them. And with children in the image who are completely in their element. It doesn’t matter if you can still recognise them or not. I like it when they are just little dots on the horizon. I hardly ever ask my children to pose and I seldomly photograph them up close in a landscape. I always just let them play and run – and let my husband solve the problems if they do something risky ;-).

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Isle of Arran – Scotland
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Port Greville – Canada
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Sint Michael’s Mount – Cornwall
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Doo Lough – Ireland

Golden rule 2:  Follow the cloud

The cumulus is sacred! I love a good cloud. Nothing can make a photograph as exciting as a large white sea ship with a looming downpour in it. Combined with my first golden rule above, this produces the best pictures. Your children will seem even more part of the landscape under a huge storm cloud. And when mother nature throws in a pretty rainbow, the party is complete.

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Luskentyre beach – Isle of Harris – Scotland
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Cornwall
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Lofoten – Norway
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Stoer lighthouse – Scotland

Golden rule 3:  Follow the lines

I always see lines everywhere. Angled lines, straight lines, intersecting lines. Lines in the landscape or in the clouds, lines on the road or on a building. Combined with children in the photographs, this can result in exciting compositions. I also like to place the horizon very low, or very high. Never put the horizon at an angle to people! In my opinion, that is a mortal sin! Always straighten the horizon.
In addition, I like to place my children far away from the middle of the picture, in a corner somewhere. Or precisely in the middle (for instance in reflection photographs). Half heads, severed legs; I will allow it all, as long as it’s not boring and as long as your lines are clean.

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Ullapool – Scotland
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Peiljoch – Austria
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Taiwan
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Lake Louise – Canada

My travel photography has changed quite a bit since we travel with our children. We choose to travel to safer destinations, to skip crowded cities and to look for nature with lots of open wide spaces and tranquillity. I think it only became more fun.

There is one last golden rule of travel photography that I have ignored: ‘only take lightweight photography equipment with you’. I use a heavy SLR and a huge lens attached to it, so it’s not very lightweight. I may not take as much with me as before (no large camera bag, tripod, extra lenses, filters etc.), but what I do take is exactly what I need.