Taking Great Family Vacation Photos: An Ode to my Photographer

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Today’s post I’ve been meaning to write for a very long time now just because it’s so fun. In fact, I might just make a series out of it. Everyone sees our travel pictures all over social media, but what most people don’t get to see is the struggle to take these amazing photographs. When I started my blog, I knew I was a very visual person. While content is definitely important, pictures are what attract me to most of my favorite blogs. Luckily for me, I had the picture part covered from day 1 on my blog because I have Jaime.

As you may know if you’ve read my About page, Jaime takes most of the pictures you see on this blog, with the exception of iPhone pictures. He always finds the right angles, knows the right settings, and herds us all into position like sheep when we take group shots. Today is his birthday and this post is dedicated to him not only for being a great husband but also for taking the charge of documenting the entire family’s most important moments.

Sometime during our NYC trip last year, I realized I could get some pretty funny pictures of Jaime taking pictures of me or setting up the camera to take pictures of us. This is how this idea of a behind-the-scenes post series was born.

For the last year, I’ve collected a good amount of pictures of all the things we’ve done in pursuit of the perfect picture. For Jaime’s birthday, I decided it would be a great time to finally share the pictures you don’t see on my regular blog posts. Happy birthday, Jaime (since I ruined the your real birthday present surprise, I hope you enjoy this little surprise instead).

Without further ado, going behind the scenes of My Napoleon Complex’s blog:

From Left to Right, Top to Bottom:
1. Jaime & Joaquin taking a picture of Carolina at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington D.C. (2013)
2. Taking a picture of the Capitol at sunset from the middle of the road. (2013)
3. Taking a picture of me in Williamsburg, VA. I was on some kind of pedestal. (2013)
4. Setting up the camera to take an HDR picture of Thomas Jefferson’s house, Monticello in VA. (2013)
5. Taking a picture of Venice from San Giorgio Maggiore. (2014)
6. Taking a picture of me at the Vatican Museum with the crowds getting in our way. (2013)
7. Taking a picture of the Tuscan countryside. (2014)
8. Taking a picture of JFK’s grave in Arlington Cemetery, VA. (2013)
9. Taking a picture of a garden in Cordoba, Spain. (2014)

Taking the perfect shot of Manarola, Cinque Terre. (2014)
One of my favorites and the beginning of this obsession. Taking a picture of taxis in NYC. He went for three consecutive red lights trying to get the perfect shot. (2013)
1. Taking a picture of his parents in front of Tidal Basin, Washington D.C. (2013)
2. Getting an HDR picture of my best friend, Lauren, and I in the Lincoln Memorial (2013)
3. Taking a picture of my stepbrother holding the Washington Monument in the palm of his hand (2013)
4. Taking a picture of David. (2014)
5. Taking pictures of Arya for her doggie passport. You can imagine how long this took. (2013)
6. Taking a picture of me in front of the Capitol. (2013)
Sunset picture of Castel Sant’Angelo and St. Peter’s.
Not sure what he was trying to get a picture of in this one to be honest. 

1. Taking a picture of the World War II Memorial Fountain and the Washington Monument. (2013)
2. Taking a picture of St. Peter’s before the Christmas tree was removed while under the pouring rain. (2014)
3. Setting up the camera to take a picture of us in Cordoba, Spain. (2014)
4. Taking a picture of the Alhambra, Spain. (2014)

1. Taking pictures of Marines in front of the Marine Memorial. (2013)
2. Setting up camp at Top of the Rock in NYC to get the perfect blue hour picture of the Empire State building. (2013)
3. Taking a picture of the Empire State. We were there for two hours! (2013)
4. Taking an HDR picture of us at the Lincoln Memorial. (2013)
5. Blue hour picture of Vernazza, Cinque Terre. (2013)
6. Picture of a picture. (2013)
7. Taking a picture of us in Turin. (2013)
8. Walking around NYC in a hurry before blue hour! (2013)
9. Setting up for the iconic (at least to me it is) picture of us in front of the Colosseum. (2013)
One of my favorites: holding up the line at the Knights of Malta to get a picture of St. Peter’s through the keyhole. (2013)

I’d also like to take the time to share some of my tips on taking great family vacation photos (or any special occasion photos). I am no expert, in fact for anything remotely technical about picture-taking you’d have to ask Jaime. He’s not a professional by any means, but photography is his hobby and he’s gotten very good at it throughout the years. Along the way, I’ve also picked up a few very basic, very beginner tips on how to take better pictures.

Disclaimer: Once again, I am not an expert, this is just some of the things we do that works for us. 

1. Camera. A few years ago I would have said, eh, a camera is a camera. Well, it’s not. We primarily use a Canon EOS Rebel T3, but we also have one of those cute little point-and-shoot Canon PowerShots that we take when we need a water-proof camera. I hate this camera. No matter what settings you use, pictures don’t come out anywhere near the vicinity of our bigger Canon. If you want proof, check out my post on the dog beach near Rome from last year.

2. Learn your camera. Buying an expensive camera is only half the battle though. It does you absolutely no good if you have it on Automatic all the time. Jaime wasn’t born knowing all the settings on his camera, he just took the time to read through the instructions manual at the very least, and a few web tutorials wouldn’t hurt either. After, start practicing!

3. Tripod. Or, in Italian, cavaletto. This is our biggest secret with the greatest impact on our photography. How many times have you been somewhere and you ask someone to take a picture of you and, no matter how much the person tries, the picture just kinda…sucks? Well, solve your problems with a tripod. Sure, you have to carry it with you and set it up every single time you want a group picture, but I promise you, you will be so much happier with your pictures because you took the time to center it just how you wanted it.

4. Patience. I like taking pictures and I like having quality pictures after the suitcases are unpacked and our day to day life continues. So, most of the time, it’s no big deal for me to wait two hours for exactly the perfect moment to take a sunset picture, or wake up at an ungodly hour to get a sunrise picture, or spend 15 minutes standing in front of a tripod to get the perfect shot of Arya actually looking at the camera (all of this are things we do on a regular basis). But I’ve also traveled with people that have no interest in taking photographs, but then lament themselves when they have nothing to look at after they go back home. You just need to be patient because when you start taking good pictures, you have no idea how you ever lived without them before.

5. Research. Finally, this is something that I do mostly and I don’t know if other people do it too. Before we leave for our next destination, I go on Flickr or other blogs to see some of the best places from where to take pictures. There’s been quite a few times when we’ve found places that we might not have known about with a great view. Google is your friend, use it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and gotten a few tips out of it, hopefully you won’t be as embarrassed about being those annoying tourists taking forever to get a picture, as it’s more than obvious we do it all the time (and I have no regrets about it). To Jaime: hope you liked this long-time-coming post, the only thing that’s a surprise on your birthday. I love you!