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Have you ever returned from travelling and been disappointed by the pictures you took? As a professional photographer living in a resort town, I often cringe when I see folks trying to take pictures. Luckily, visually documenting your family’s vacation is easy, and doesn’t require any extra equipment than what you probably already own. Any smartphone manufactured in the last decade is equipped with a camera powerful enough to capture beautiful, high-quality images. A few easy photo tips are all you need to take mantel-worthy family vacation pictures.

1. Ask for help.

Often, the family photographer is not in any of the photos because he or she is operating the camera. A meaningful family photo includes every member of the clan! Simply ask a fellow tourist or employee of the company you’re patronizing to take a picture for you. You’ll have a beautiful memory of the whole family together – perfect for your holiday card.

2. Take candid photos.

Photo of swimming, Taylor River, Rafting Colorado
River Swimmers

The posed family photo all lined up and smiling in front of a tourist attraction is a nice shot that will preserve your trip memories. However, taking candid (un-posed) photos provides a more organic and accurate representation of each family member’s personality. Without announcing your intentions, quietly take out your camera during special moments – your son climbing onto the back of a horse for the first time, or your spouse’s face as they catch their first river salmon. These photos will freeze moments in time and bring a smile to your face for years to come.

3. Get close to the subject.

Photo of Rafting the Taylor River, Colorado Rafting, Three Rivers Outfitting
Rafting Kids

Whether you’re photographing scenery or people, your photos will improve the closer you get. I often see folks snapping pictures of the mountains out of their car windows. These shots almost always include a barbed-wire fence or power lines – not exactly the wild and scenic Colorado photo that you were hoping to show your Facebook friends! Get out of your car. Even a short hike will take you to a more beautiful (and less visited) vantage point. When photographing people, don’t be shy. For example, ask the ski area employee if it’s okay to take pictures of your daughter trying on her first pair of ski boots, and then get close enough to her to photograph the look on her face as she puts them on.

4. Consider paying a professional.

Going rafting? Skiing? Snorkeling? These activities are photogenic, but they don’t mix well with expensive electronics. Many outdoor adventure companies offer photography services too. Ask about them when you book your trip. A professional photographer, usually armed with high-level camera gear, will take posed and candid pictures and even videos of everyone in the family participating in the activity. If it fits in your budget, consider this as an alternative to bringing your own camera (and running the risk of dropping it in a river or off a chairlift). Another option is to hire a local photographer to take a family portrait in a picturesque outdoor setting. It’s easy to find photographers on Craigslist or through local residents’ recommendations.

5. Know when to put the camera away.

You went on vacation to spend quality time with your family, right? Then put the GoPro down and hang out with them! Plus, nobody likes being photographed every minute of the day. People will react more positively to a camera used sparingly. Be an active participant in your trip first, and a documentarian second. You don’t want to get back home and realize you missed out on the fun because you were behind your camera the whole time. Even if you don’t get the shots, you’ll have the memories. And that’s really what’s important.

Happy shooting!

Photo Manager at Three Rivers Outfitting in Almont, Colorado

About the author: Katy Mooney is a professional free-lance photographer and Photography Manager with Three Rivers Outfitting in Almont, Colorado.

Three Rivers Resort is located between Gunnison and Crested Butte in beautiful Almont, Colorado. They offer a variety of lodging options including cabins on the Taylor River. Three Rivers Outfitting offers daily raft trips, guided fishing, kayaking and a fully stocked fly fishing shop. For more information, visit

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