Going on family vacation, as a professional photographer, has it's perks: firsthand knowledge, years of experience and skill in both portraiture and photojournalism, means access to the best cameras and lenses and the opportunity to make some pretty stellar family and scenic photos from our trips! That said, I have a HUGE CONFESSION to make: Our family vacations and road trips, are photographed entirely with my CELL PHONE. I can't say the same for my partner (he still packs the kitchen sink in photography gear), but hear me out, here....you heard me right!
Often, people ask me for professional advice on camera gear and what they should buy or bring along for their family travels. My immediate answer is: You probably already have it in your hands! Unless you are carrying some ancient model flip phone, chances are, you have all the power you need in a camera right there in your purse or pocket. Today's iphones have primary camera's that shoot over 12 MP frames with an f/1.8 lens as well as amazing HDR. That's just the iphone 8! Since then they've come out with the iphone X with dual optical image stabilization and 4K video. Really, just give it a few weeks it keeps getting better!
So, when you pile into the car for a family road trip...there are likely at least 4 of you, maybe a family dog or two, plus all your stuff like clothes, snacks, drinks, pillows, (if you are like me) mom's entire shoe assortment, entertainment, etc.... but then if you decided to bring the camera gear, it's not only going to take up more of your inner car space, but it's going to end up taking up a lot of your time and energy as well.
Whether you are pro or amateur - you don't want to leave any of the gear in the car for risk of being robbed, but you don't want to lug it around absolutely every place you go either - especially if you are heading to a sandy windy beach or vertical hike. That's without even mentioning the weight of a DSLR on your neck or shoulders while touring and hiking. And then there's the fact that you won't be in any of the vacation pictures because you were behind that big black camera body and lens for the whole trip and your kids will look back on this vacation album and say, "Where was mom?"
YES! I'm actually saying you will be MORE present on your travels by leaving the heavy gear behind and sticking to your cell phone! I know it's the opposite of what you might think one would say, but, I promise it's all you will need and it fits right in your pocket and you were going to have it with you anyway. All of your experiences with each other and the ease of capturing those experiences will be much easier and accessible! The other major key to being present is to wait until your experience is over to edit and post things on social media. So Be present! Don't miss those shots! But don't miss the moments after, either! Your family will thank you for it when they look back on the day you spend together!
Below (center) is a fun little gadget I got for Christmas that made vacation life even easier! Check out my cute little old-school camera-style cell phone case with strap that I can wear around my neck! My sweet guy got this for me HERE on Amazon! Not only do I get a TON of compliments, but this freed up my hands for our explorations while keeping my phone handy for quick shots and videos while we were out sightseeing. I never had to worry about it falling out of my pocket or digging it out of my purse to catch a quick photo op, and better yet my purse got to stay safely zipped up keeping my wallet and other valuables out of sight!
So now you're probably wondering, how do you take great photos and videos with just a cell-phone? First of all, your local cell-phone retailer such as Verizon, or AT&T often offer classes on how to use your new smartphones - sign ups are usually free! There are also a plethora of youtube instructional videos out there on just about every phone that features a camera ap. Look up tutorials on the model of phone you have and they will show you all the features and how to use them and all it costs is a little bit of your time! Here's one by Recombo on the iphone 8.
After learning how to use your device creatively, practice-practice-practice just as you would do with anything else you want to learn! My partner and I often play a game on date night when we are out taking a walk... We see who can make the best portraits in our current location, using just our cell phones, a cell phone light or available light such as street lamps, doorways, and neon signs. You can find some great examples of this in my facebook holiday album Merry and Bright taken at the San Antonio, Texas Riverwalk... Note: it doesn't have to be an iphone! Most of the images in this album were actually taken with an Android Galaxy model phone before I made the big switch!
So before you go dragging and guarding all your heavy photo gear and spending your entire vacation hiding from your family behind a DSLR and missing out on the actual leisure and joy of exploring TOGETHER, consider what you already have in your purse and use it! It saves your back, your wallet, and your experience. For more great tips on cell-phoneography check out my list below.
Try holding the phone horizontal more often than vertical for both photo and especially for video
Adjust your exposure by placing your finger on the focus square until it blinks twice, then slide your finger up/down to dial in exposure
Invest in a little twisty-tripod with phone attachment - great for family shots when you want something better than selfie-mode
Find a photo-editing app that works on both video and photo, such as VSCO so your images and videos have the same aesthetic!
PRINT PRINT PRINT your photos!
We are the most photographed generation of our time, yet we fail to exist in prints! Print your legacy in books and on paper! Your beautiful family memories deserve to be relived over and over again.
Remember, if you still want something professional, formal, and epic, consider hiring a local photographer where you are traveling - they know the area, the light, and will be able to produce that beautiful wall art you wanted, while saving your back from lugging around the heavy camera for that one portrait you would have spend half the day trying to achieve with a self-timer. There are many professionals available at a day's notice - especially if you are traveling on a weekday - and quite a few aps out there to help you find them in each area you might be staying.
Chele Jones is a Southern California based photographer specializing in unique custom high school senior portraits at Chele Jones Photography AKA CJ Seniors as well as couple's travel and adventure photography with her partner, Frank, at Wanderlust Couples Photography.