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Create action in your shots (William Gray)

Tips on snapping a family trip

19th November 2011

Last week, Will Gray won the Travel Photographer of the Year prize at the British Guild of Travel Writers Awards. Here, he shares tips for capturing the kids

William Gray

1. Be prepared

Have your camera ready. Always. It’s those spontaneous moments during a family holiday that often make the very best photographs – the sudden gale of laughter, the thoughtful expression as they write a postcard or a page in their journal, the wide-eyed expression of wonder when they first set eyes on something amazing – whether it’s their first wild lion, the Taj Mahal or a new X-box for Christmas.

2. Tell a story

Think about creating a portfolio of images based around your holiday or day out. For example, if you’re going to the seaside, don’t just take endless snaps of the children on the beach. Take a close-up of a handful of shells collected from the strandline, a wide-angle view of the coastline, some action shots of the picnic…

3. Make the most of movement

You’ve probably noticed how your children rarely stop moving (except perhaps when they’re asleep or transfixed by the TV). Rather than get them to pause for a pic (which invariably leads to awkward, unnatural poses), try to catch them on the hoof. Use fast shutter speeds to freeze action and fleeting expressions – you may need to increase the ISO setting on your camera or activate the flash.

Alternatively, get all arty and crank down the shutter speed for some motion blur. You can do this in one of two ways. Keep the camera still (rest it on a post, the coffee table or a tripod) and record movement passing through the frame, or pan the camera to keep your subject sharp-ish and blur the background.

4. What are you looking at?

Imagine you’re on a boat trip. After an hour of searching, some seals are finally sighted. What are you aiming your camera at? The seals? Or your children pointing excitedly and grinning their heads off. Remember, you’ve only got one chance at capturing that initial reaction – that moment of excitement blooming across your children’s faces. You can snap the seals later and get better shots of them as the boat draws closer.

5. Set the stage

Sometimes you need to do a bit of directing to achieve the shot you have in mind. An easy one is to get your kids to run towards you along the edge of where waves are breaking on the beach. It’s a great action opportunity and they’ll smile and laugh naturally as they dodge and weave along the strandline.

All you need to do is get into position, crouch down, set your camera to servo-autofocus and continuous drive, then shout "Action". Oh, and also try to keep half an eye open for any unexpectedly large waves. Or use a splash-proof camera.

6. Remember the light

Just because you’ve got your dearly beloved in the viewfinder doesn’t mean all the techniques of photography have to go out the window. Good light will lift your photos above the ordinary, whether it’s something as subtle as backlighting to create a halo glow around an angelic face, or something bolder and more intense to generate a striking silhouette. Keep an eye on composition too. Plonking your subject centre-frame is fine for a bog-standard portrait, but if you’re photographing someone running, body-boarding, zip-lining etc if often helps to leave some space for them to run/body-board/zip-line into.

7. Give them the camera

Owners of the new £5,000+ Canon EOS 1DX may want to look away now, but letting your children loose with your camera is a great way to get some informal photos from a totally different perspective to you own. Better still, buy them a camera for Christmas.

Top picks for sub-£200 cameras for kids this year are the Canon PowerShot A3300 IS (16 megapixels and available in lots of funky colours), the Fuji FinePix XP30 (water, shock, dust and freeze proof with built-in GPS) and the Olympus Tough TG-310 (another robust beast).

Wanderlust contributing editor, William Gray is also editor of www.101familyholidays.co.uk where you'll find inspiration for 101 hand-picked family holiday ideas around the world – from short breaks in Cornwall to safaris in Kenya

Ever wanted to take better travel photos? Take a look at Wanderlust's new photography magazine online. Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned snapper the magazine is full-to-bursting with top tips and advice. Check it out here

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