Family selfie / Seoul, 2017
Family Selfie / Seoul, 2017

I just finished (part) of a brief family trip and wanted to share some of my personal reflections on how to travel as a photographer (with family).

Many of us dream to travel as photographers. We dream of seeing the world, photographing the exotic, and making better photos.

However not all of us have the ability to travel solo. You might have kids, family members, a partner, or someone else you need to travel with.

The truth is when you travel with others, you won’t have 100% freedom to do whatever you want. Often times, whatever you want to do, others don’t want to do. To travel with family means you need to be flexible.

The itinerary

Tokyo, 2017

Our family trip looked like this, which included me, Cindy, my mom, Cindy’s mom, and two of Cindy’s sisters:

  • 7 days in Tokyo
  • 2 days in Kyoto
  • 5 days in Seoul

Now as I’m writing these words, I’m currently back in Hanoi with Cindy, and our two moms. The next two weeks, we will travel more in Hanoi, check out Ha Long Bay, and to central Vietnam.

Why travel with family?

My Mom and Cindy at the Site of Her Childhood Home / Busan, 2017

To start off, the question is — why travel with family? What is the purpose of traveling with family?

Honestly for me, it isn’t about seeing fancy sights, experiencing the exotic, or exploring the unfamiliar. A large part of traveling with my family is about having good food (we are a foodie family, with Cindy’s family owning their own Vietnamese restaurant, and my mom also being an expert chef, with me being an expert eater). But at the end of the day, traveling with family is all about spending time with family — and sharing deep conversations.

My Mom at the Site of Her Childhood Home, 2013

Even though having good food was important, the more important thing was eating at a restaurant that allowed us to sit down, in a somewhat quiet environment, which allowed us to have deeper conversations. Not only that, but the joy of walking was incredible. Just to walk, look at things, and being in the presence of one another.

What did I photograph?

Seoul, 2017

For the trip, I just brought a Ricoh GR II pocket camera. Traveling in Japan and Korea was cold — so I just kept the camera in my pocket the most of the time. Whenever I saw an interesting photo opportunity, I just took out the camera, snapped a few photos, and put it back into my pocket.

I also used this opportunity to not just photograph “street photography” of strangers, but to also photograph my own family. I tried to make “artful” photos of my family members— those who I loved the most, rather than focusing too much on strangers on the streets.

Cindy’s Mom / Tokyo, 2017

So my simple advice is this: if you plan on traveling with your family, don’t focus on photographing sights, people on the streets, or your experiences. Rather, photograph your loved ones. There is no other opportunity you can spend so much time with your loved ones.

When you’re traveling with family, you’re more or less spending each awake moment with them— from breakfast to when you fall asleep. When you’re back at home, everyone is distracted with work, school, or playing on their phones.

Actually the best part of our trip was when the internet was spotty in Korea (our family has unlimited international roaming as part of T-Mobile, although 2g speeds). When the internet wasn’t good, everyone spent less time on their phones (checking social media, playing games, etc) and more time actively engaged in conversation. We spent more time making eye contact, laughing, reflecting about our day, and talking about our future.

On being flexible

Tokyo, 2017

Probably the biggest lesson I learned through traveling is the importance of flexibility. Think of yourself like water. Water is infinitely flexible — and can adapt to any shape, or situation.

When it comes to traveling — only expect 25% (or less) of your plans to go according to plan. No matter how well you plan or optimize, you will never be able to do everything on your itinerary.

Sometimes while you’re traveling with family, unexpected things will happen. People will get sick (Cindy and her sister), you will see other random interesting things to do in the streets, or your preferences will change during the trip.

Tokyo, 2017 #cindyproject

Even though this doesn’t seem like good advice— I would recommend the following: don’t plan a day ahead. Only plan a day at a time. Because who knows, what if you make a plan of checking out an area the night before, and suddenly the next morning— you find out your family member has caught a cold? That will throw a wrench in your plans.

Not only that, be flexible hour-to-hour. Your family might get unexpectedly tired, and you might need to go inside a cafe and have some coffee and rest. Some family members might get hungry at random intervals. Or you might go to an area that you planned on spending all day in, and find out (once you get there) it is actually quite boring. In those cases, don’t stick to your plans. Change them.

Practical travel photography tips

Tokyo, 2017

If you’re traveling with family, and yet still want to make good photos, here are some other tips:

1. Don’t photograph tourist sites:

They will never look as good as those you have (already) seen on the internet, and your photos will have no originality or soul. Rather, it might be a better idea to photograph the tourists photographing the tourist sites. It is hilarious to photograph tourists doing selfies in front of landmarks.

2. Focus on photographing your loved ones (not strangers):

Who is more important in your life— your family members, or strangers? I know you might have a passion for street photography, but put more gusto in photographing your family members. Try to incorporate the candid aspect of street photography to photographing your family members. Don’t just take posed photos of your family members in front of landmarks. Try to catch them unguarded during your trip— when they are excited, joyful, tired, miserable, or during public transit. Catch “unguarded moments” of your family.

3. Photograph the mundane moments

Often the most mundane moments while traveling can be the best. Your family enjoying a coffee, dessert, or a meal. It can be the messy sheets of your hotel bedroom. It can be photographing your loved one when they are passed out or taking a nap on the train.

Look for nice light whenever possible (soft window lighting at cafes and restaurants are nice), or just use a flash (if your camera has one).

Don’t see your family as a burden

Cindy and My Mom Putting on Makeup / Seoul, 2017

The last thing I want to share is this — don’t see your family as a burden to your photography. Rather, think of how being with your family can be a benefit to you. Perhaps if you want to shoot street photography, they can make you look more like a tourist, and therefore piss off people less. Or perhaps your family members are the best subjects.

Not only that, don’t expect to make any good photos while traveling. If you do, you will be massively disappointed.

Focus on your family, and loved ones. After all — aren’t they the most important to you? More important than photography?

Always,
Eric

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