How to photograph landscape while traveling with young children

When I started sharing tips on landscape photography years ago, one of the feedbacks I often got was: “I like your tips to photograph landscape during sunrise or sunset, but I’m traveling with family and young kids... and it’s hard to manage.”

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I thought I understood the problem - having to carry tripod, camera equipment as well as kids, oftentimes in the wilderness, or perhaps in darkness, or having to climb on slopes, must be physically hard.

I was seeing only part of the problem back then!

I did not know the full magnitude of challenge until I became a mother - going out to take landscape photos wasn’t an option in the new routine. I need to feed the babies, or let them sleep during those “best hours”. It’s not about carrying them along, it’s about not having the option to go out at all.

I have to admit I took few landscape photos during the past 5 years, and I have missed many “best hours”. For each of those landscape photos I took, I often had to pay a higher “price”. For example:

  • Avoid nature scenes hard to get to, or that look the best in sunrise or sunset. Instead choose the “easier” landscape subjects that do not require particular hours or long trips

  • Stay somewhere with a sunrise or sunset view

  • Arrange childcare in advance

  • Use extra equipment to compensate on not taking the photos in the ideal days or hours

  • Modify kids’ routine (which would be my last choice). But sometimes we could take advantage of jet lags and naturally “modify” their sleep schedule in order to be out

The bottomline is: there is a formula to photograph landscape even traveling with young children.

Here are a few examples:

  1. Photograph Waterfall During The Day

 
Punchbowl Fall hike, near Portland Oregon, May 23, 2016

Punchbowl Fall hike, near Portland Oregon, May 23, 2016

 

If I have to photograph nature scenes while traveling with kids, waterfalls might be a good bet. I can photograph waterfalls any time during the day. Cloudy days and waterfall in shade would be the best scenario. In case of harsh sunlight, you might need filters. (See When And How You Should Use Filters)

In fact, sunrise and sunset hours are not necessarily the best time to photograph waterfalls. For example, if the waterfalls are deep in the woods (like this one above), you can’t see the colorful clouds in the sky anyway. In addition, you might want to force yourself to do an exposure longer than needed due to the low light during sunrise and sunset, making certain waterfalls look too “blurry”. (See how to photograph waterfalls)

We took our first road trip with Apollo, our first son, when he was over 1 year old. The coastal US Highway 1 was beautiful, but our little guy threw up terribly on the curving ride.

The hike to Punchbowl Falls (above image) was an easy half a mile walk, but oh boy, he cried the whole way to the fall, and back. Truth was he fell asleep on our drive to the waterfall, and wasn’t happy we transferred him into the baby carrier for the hike. Well - we learned the lesson, and later improved on time management between commute and baby naps.

Back to the photo. There was no recon - just a quick set up, take the photo and go back. At least it’s some landscape subject you can capture when traveling with young children, particularly for waterfalls within easy reach.

Below is a different angle of the Punchbowl Fall.

Punchbowl Fall hike 2016-05-23-003.jpg

And below is a much easier waterfall to photograph, without any hike.

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See more tips on photographing waterfalls.

2. Photograph Urban Scenes At Night

Cityscape is not necessarily easy subject. But cities are more convenient for us to travel with young children, photographing cityscape thus becomes easier logistic wise.

My favorite time to photograph a city, if not during sunrise or sunset, is night time, when many landmarks are lit up beautifully. Most importantly, my kids would be asleep.

During our 6-week Europe summer trip last year, I spent a few nights out by myself - kudos to my husband who stayed in with our kids in the evenings - and got the chance to photograph a few beautiful cities, including Porto, Budapest, and Prague.

Night view of Budapest, Hungary, Jul 1, 2018

Night view of Budapest, Hungary, Jul 1, 2018

During the summer months, day time is longer. Even when I photographed the above night scene of Hungarian Parliament Building at 9pm, I could still get some sunset colors in the sky.

Below are more night photos I took in Budapest.

Most of the images above were photographed after 9pm or even 10. I knew my kids would be sound asleep, and I could simply take the time and explore the beauty of the night.

Prague in sunset, July 6, 2018

Prague in sunset, July 6, 2018

I took the the above photo on an evening walk with my family. I photographed this at 8:12pm, one hour before sunset (9:14pm on that day). It was close to our children’s “modified” bedtime - we intentionally “trained” them to stay up a bit later, in order to minimize their jet lags after returning to the US.

This was one of the very few “golden hour” photos I took while traveling with kids. No matter what season we travel, and how early or late sunset is, we would have to more or less cut into our kids’ evening routine, which is not the most convenient.

3. Combine Dinner with Sunset Photography

We often chose our dinner restaurants next to my sunset photography vantage points. That often means the place would be more crowded due to easier access to the public.

 
Sunset at Miradouro das Virtudes, Porto, Portugal, Jun 16, 2018

Sunset at Miradouro das Virtudes, Porto, Portugal, Jun 16, 2018

 

When we arrived in Porto, Portugal, on our first day, our Airbnb host suggested us to check out Miradouro das Virtudes . It’s a hidden spot where local people enjoy watching sunset. It was next to a cafe, restaurant street, where we could simply have dinner and enjoy the view.

We did exactly that. In fact the restaurant our host suggested was right on the corner, but did not have seat for us at the beginning. I had to step out for the photos while my family was still having dinner.

Good news is that we were only on the first week of our trip, and our kids’ sleep time wasn’t adjusted to local time yet. We had no problem staying out late. In fact we chose to slowly adjust their sleep time (normally between 7-8pm) so we could accommodate more eventful evenings instead of rushing back to put them down.

This is also the exact reason I was able to photograph several sunsets in Porto (check out our travel video to see more photos).

The best time to photograph landscape during sunset facing west is blue hours (typically 30-60 minutes after sunset). Check out more details on how to master timing to capture the best landscape photos.

4. Stay somewhere Close to The Vantage Point

We took a road trip to Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia less than 2 months ago. Our boys are already over 4 and 18 months old, and we were also more experienced to handle long drive with them. The key was to drive the longest distance in early afternoon during their naps. Site-seeing activities usually happen before and after.

But nothing beats staying somewhere with a sunrise or sunset view. So you don’t have to worry about logistics and time management with kids.

I knew Peaks of Otter was a main attraction I’d like to see and photograph. So we rented an Airbnb with the view of the peak. It was not a disappoint.

Foggy morning in Bedford, VA

Foggy morning in Bedford, VA

I did my sunrise photography for the first time after several years. Sneaking into the backyard at 6am wasn’t that bad. Unfortunately it was foggy. But I still like the shot (see above). When I wrapped up my sunrise photo shoot, my kids were just waking up.

Peaks of Otter, VA. Apr 22, 2019

Peaks of Otter, VA. Apr 22, 2019

In the same evening, I stepped out to the same pond in the backyard and got the above shot. By the time I came back, I could still spend the evening with my kids. Not bad at all!

How often your vantage point is just 2 minutes walk away? How lucky and convenient is that?

5. Seascape Long Exposure During the Day

Last but not least, this is always an option, if you are at a beach.

We were in Cabo de Roca, Portugal. I had a 3 year old napping and a 9 months old barely waking in the car. I knew I had a very short window of time but didn’t want to bypass the photo opportunity. It was not close to the “best hours” to photograph landscape, but the best time for me.

I did a day time long exposure. Of course extra equipment, eg. filters, was needed for such type of photos. Check out more details on long exposure photography tips during day time.

Last but not least, here is the complete photo story and travel video.

 
Cabo de Roca, Jun 13, 2018

Cabo de Roca, Jun 13, 2018

 

Overall, landscape photography while traveling with young children isn’t easy, but still doable. It requires appropriate time management, selection of subjects, and more importantly, support from your family.

Most of the above tips are not about how to use your camera and equipment to take landscape photos, but how to plan your logistics so you maximize your chance to capture the right scene at the right time, which I emphasize repeatedly as the most important step of taking quality landscape photos.

Below is the travel video that gives you more glimpse into my “backyard landscape photography” in the Blue Ridge Parkway road trip.

 

 

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