A Photographer’s Guide to Capturing Perfect Summer Vacation Memories

August 1st, 2023
two children playing by the ocean waves

Summer vacations are a time for relaxation, adventure, and creating lasting memories. These vacations are often filled with laughter, joy, and a sense of adventure. As a photographer, you have the unique ability to capture these cherished moments through a summer vacation photoshoot for your clients and provide them with beautiful keepsakes they can treasure for years to come. So read on for best practices in planning the perfect vacation photoshoot, from start to finish.

Planning the perfect summer vacation photoshoot.

Communicate with your clients.

First, have a detailed conversation with your clients to align expectations. Discuss their preferences, locations they want to visit, activities they plan to engage in, and any specific shots or poses they desire. Clear communication ensures everyone is on the same page. Discuss the desired atmosphere, whether it’s playful, relaxed, or adventurous. This will guide your creative decisions during the shoot.

Scout locations.

When scouting locations for a summer vacation photoshoot, it’s essential to conduct thorough research on the destination, considering the theme and style desired by your client. Seek local insights and use online resources like Google Maps and travel blogs to gather information and preview the locations. Whenever possible, visit the locations in advance to assess lighting conditions and any potential challenges. Consider safety, comfort, and permit requirements, and have backup options in case of unexpected weather or other circumstances. 

Choose the perfect timing. 

Summer vacations can be crowded, so whenever possible it is best to plan your shoot during off-peak hours to minimize crowds and distractions. Additionally, take advantage of the golden hours—the 30 to 60 minute period after sunrise and before sunset—when the light is soft and warm. This lighting can enhance the overall ambiance of the photographs, as well as giving opportunity for glowing, artistic sun flares, silhouettes, and a flattering soft warmth to skin tones. The lighting during this period is less harsh compared to the midday sun, reducing contrast between highlights and shadows and allowing for more balanced exposures.

Create a shot list.

A shot list is crucial when preparing for a summer vacation photoshoot for a client because it ensures you meet their expectations, manage time effectively, provide comprehensive coverage, stay organized, and allow time for creativity. It helps align your vision with the client’s desires so you can prioritize shots while still capturing a wide range of images, avoid the stress of wondering whether you got everything, and deliver a satisfying final result that encapsulates the essence of their summer vacation.

couple holding hands while dad carries toddler at the beach

Preparing for the photoshoot.

Gear essentials

When planning what gear to pack for a vacation shoot, consider the number of people in the session, their ages, and the location. With large groups and families with younger children, it is important to have a lens with a fast focus and best not to lose time changing lenses. Depending on your available gear, this might mean using two cameras, one with a wider angle and one with a 50 or 85mm, or it might mean a single camera with a zoom lens. Either will allow you to quickly shoot wide and close, capturing images that emphasize either the environment or the details. 

As with any other shoot, be sure your batteries are fully charged and have spares on hand to avoid running out of power during the shoot. Additionally, ensure you have sufficient memory cards with ample storage capacity to accommodate the volume of photos you could be capturing. Finally, consider any additional accessories you might need, such as a tripod for stable shots, reflectors for manipulating light, or a diffuser to soften harsh sunlight. 

Know the weather.

Keep a close eye on weather forecasts leading up to the shoot day. Ideally, aim for a day with favorable weather conditions, such as clear skies or partly cloudy skies that can add interest to the images. Be aware of any potential challenges the weather may pose, such as intense heat or rain, and have a backup date and plan in case torrential rains or unsafe temperatures require the shoot to be rescheduled. A “rain” date is especially important with vacation sessions, as your clients may only be in the area for a short time. 

Establish rapport

Before the shoot, spend time getting to know your clients and building a rapport with them. It builds trust, facilitates effective communication, creates a positive atmosphere, and leads to more authentic and enjoyable experiences. This rapport helps capture genuine moments, enhances client satisfaction, and can result in repeat business and referrals.

mother and daughter walking in the forest surrounded by rays of light

Executing the photoshoot.

Capture candid moments.

Candid photos capture authentic and spontaneous moments that reflect the joy, connection, and genuine emotions experienced during the vacation. Candid shots go beyond posed or staged images and convey the true essence of the vacation experience. They capture unguarded interactions, laughter, and natural expressions, allowing the viewer to feel immersed in the moment and evoke nostalgic memories. 

Utilize the environment. 

The environment plays a significant role in capturing the essence of the summer vacation experience, showcasing the unique landscapes, vibrant colors, and distinctive features of the location. By incorporating the environment, whether it’s a pristine beach, lush forest, or bustling cityscape, the photographs gain a sense of place and atmosphere. The environment provides a natural backdrop that enhances the storytelling aspect of the images, immersing viewers in the vacation experience and evoking a sense of wanderlust. 

Direct poses and composition.

Directing the composition allows you to frame shots effectively, considering elements such as the rule of thirds, leading lines, and balance, which contribute to well-composed and visually appealing photographs. As a photographer, your expertise in guiding your client in posing and composition ensures that they are presented in their best light. By providing direction, you can help them feel more confident and comfortable in front of the camera, resulting in more natural and flattering poses.

mother carrying son over waves at the beach

Editing and delivering perfect summer vacation memories.

Review and select photos. 

Once you’ve uploaded your images to your favorite photo culling and editing software, aim to deliver a curated collection of the best images that meet the client’s expectations and showcase the client’s connection, joy, and details highlighting the location of their summer vacation. Carefully assess each image, considering factors such as sharpness, exposure, composition, and overall visual appeal. Narrow down the selection further by prioritizing photos that capture the key moments and emotions that highlight the essence of the summer vacation. 

Storytelling albums

Begin by selecting images that capture key moments, experiences, and emotions throughout the vacation. Organize the photos in a way that follows the narrative arc of the experience, from the beginning to the end. Use a mix of wide-angle shots, close-ups, candid moments, and scenic landscapes to provide a well-rounded depiction of the vacation and enhance the storytelling. Archivally printed photo albums are not only a great way for your clients to share and enjoy their images, they can be an excellent way to make additional income from your work. Create a sample from one of your best sessions to share with clients early in the booking process so they can envision this as something special to invest in from the very beginning. 

Deliver your edited images.

While there are many options out there, one of the simplest ways to share a gallery with clients is to use an online portfolio website with private gallery features. Online client galleries often include time-saving tools that allow your client to mark their favorite images, send you comments and feedback about specific images, share their photos with friends and family, and even download or purchase digital and print products. It is also quick and easy to invite clients to their private online galleries via email, text, and social media dm’s. 

Provide print and digital options.

Providing print options allows clients to have tangible keepsakes that they can display, share, and cherish for years to come. Prints offer a tactile and immersive experience, enhancing the emotional connection to the captured memories. On the other hand, digital files offer convenience and flexibility, allowing clients to easily share their photos online, create personalized digital albums, or use them for social media. Offering both options caters to different preferences and ensures that clients can enjoy their photos in various formats, whether they prefer the timeless appeal of printed photographs or the convenience of digital media

If you’re not sure where to start when offering a combination of print and digital, here are some popular options among family portrait photographers: 

  • Include a limited number of high resolution digital files in your pricing, and allow this amount to be downloaded directly from the gallery at no extra charge. Additional high resolution files can be offered along with prints in your custom online store. 
  • Offer free low-res files for social media use only and then offer prints in your store, along with high resolution for purchase, if desired. 
  • Opt to charge for both digital files and printed products in your store, no freebies. 

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to digital files or selling your work–decide what is right for your business at this point, and don’t be afraid to reevaluate your choices if you feel it isn’t quite the right fit. 

night sky photography with people camping

Bonus tips to help you plan your next summer vacation photoshoot:

Use a polarizer filter:  Incorporate a polarizer filter into your gear to enhance the summer vacation photos. This filter will add contrast to the sky, making it more vibrant and captivating. Additionally, it helps to reduce glare from wet surfaces, ensuring that the family’s joyful moments near water bodies are beautifully captured without distracting reflections. This filter is particularly effective on partly cloudy days when the sky displays a range of tones. If you’re not already using a polarizing filter, this will likely require making a few adjustments to your camera settings, such as shutter speed, aperture, and ISO to maintain a balanced exposure.

Avoid shooting water on a sunny day: Direct sunlight creates a strong glare on the water’s surface, resulting in distracting reflections that are difficult to correct in post-processing. Plan your photo sessions near rivers, lakes, or beaches during times when the sun is lower in the sky or on overcast days. This will help avoid harsh glare and reflections on the water’s surface, allowing you to capture the family’s interactions with the water in a more serene and natural way. If shooting during sunny conditions is unavoidable, make use of a polarizer filter. This may not remove all the glare, but will significantly reduce it. 

Embrace cloudy days: If you find yourself in an area where clouds are a rarity during the summer, make the most of any clouds that come your way. Clouds provide softer, diffused light that is ideal for photographing families in natural settings. Take advantage of this lighting to capture the warmth and togetherness of the family, whether they’re exploring forests, strolling along a beach, or enjoying a picnic in a meadow. The cloudy, diffuse light allows you to capture more details and create images with a more unique and serene atmosphere. 

Explore the blue hour: To escape the harsh daytime sun, consider venturing out during the “Blue Hour,” which refers to the period shortly before sunrise and after sunset. This pastel, ethereal light creates a captivating ambiance and adds a touch of enchantment to your images. This lighting is best for open spaces; shooting under the cover of thick trees is best left for sunny or midday excursions. Clients with early-rising young children may enjoy the time period before sunrise, whereas clients with tweens, teens, or young adult children can be a great fit for the post-sunset blue hour. 

Celebrate the beauty of wildflowers: Summer is synonymous with blooming flora, which can add a vibrant touch to your photographs. Flowers can be found in various locations, offering ample opportunities to capture their charm and incorporate them into your compositions. Encourage the family to interact with flowers and other plant life, whether it’s walking through a field, smelling the blossoms, or even having a playful moment amidst the blooms. Experiment with different angles and perspectives to showcase the beauty and variety of these natural elements.

Venture into night photography: Consider extending your services to include nighttime photography sessions. During summer nights, when the sky is clear and the stars shine brightly, you can create breathtaking images for your clients. Capture the family under a starry sky, gazing up in wonder, or engaging in fun nighttime activities. This will add a touch of adventure and create unique memories for them to cherish. There are many opportunities to play with on and off-camera flash, or even utilize sources of light particular to an activity. If your clients are night owls, don’t be afraid to get creative and include light from a bonfire, camp lantern, flashlight, vehicle headlights, string lights, etc. 

Focus on the details: Don’t overlook the beauty of the smaller scenes and details during your summer vacation photoshoots. Encourage the family to interact with their surroundings, such as jumping off of docks, feeling the texture of tree bark, or playing in the sand. By zooming in on these intimate moments, you can capture their genuine expressions and the joy they experience in these simple pleasures.

Capturing perfect summer vacation memories requires careful planning, preparation, and an eye for detail. By understanding the importance of summer vacation photoshoots, planning meticulously, and executing creatively and flexibly, you can provide your clients with treasured keepsakes that transport them back to their favorite summer moments. Remember, the goal is to not only capture images but to create an emotional connection that resonates with your clients. 


  • Cheryl Dell'Osso

    Cheryl is the Director of Content Strategy at Zenfolio and the Owner/Photographer at Portraits by Cheryl and Seniors by Cheryl in Raleigh, NC. Cheryl has mentored countless new photographers looking to build successful photography businesses.

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