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6 tips for better campground photography

Campgrounds are great places for taking pictures of family and friends. Campers are relaxed and nature forms the perfect backdrop. Imagine beams of sunlight shining down through shady trees, children catching their first fish, and loved ones gathering around crackling campfires. You get the picture.

Or do you?

A campground may provide many opportunities for great photos, but that doesn’t mean your photos will be great. It takes effort and creativity to make your pictures pop, and with a bit of effort, anybody can do it.

Here are six tips for taking great campground photos that you’ll be proud to share on social media or hang on your walls at home.

1. Get Down: The easiest thing you can do to improve your campground photography is to change your perspective. We see most of the world around us while we are standing or sitting—so those perspectives don’t seem very fresh. No one wants to see another picture of the tops of your kid’s heads. Try getting down on your knees or stomach so you can look up at your subject. You might get dirty and look a little goofy—but your pictures will turn out great.

2. Give Night Photography a Try: Campgrounds are great places for night photography and campfires provide moody light for portraits or wide-angle shots of your campsite. A smartphone camera won’t work for quality night photos, even with a blazing campfire. Use a DSLR on a tripod and change your settings so that you are controlling the shutter speed. Try a five second exposure, then ten, then fifteen, and so on. If the photos still seem too dark turn up your ISO setting which makes the sensor more sensitive to light. With a bit of practice, you’ll end up with a memorable shot.

3. Learn to Take Panning Shots: Have you ever seen those cool pictures of moving cars that are completely in focus while the entire background is blurred out? You can almost feel the speed of the car in the picture. This is called panning. It’s a great technique to use when taking pictures of your kids on bikes or running across a field. Simply slow down your shutter speed to either 1/10th, 1/20th, or 1/30th of a second and shoot in burst mode. As your subject speeds by lock focus on them and move the camera across the plane of action.

Sounds complicated? It’s not. It took me about 20 minutes to get my first great panning shot.

4. Keep Your Campsite Neat and Tidy: It might be a challenge to keep your campsite clean, but nothing ruins a picture more than a mess of toys, a crooked picnic table, or towels hanging over scattered chairs. The clutter distracts from the subject of the photo and the natural beauty of the scene. We want to remember our happy, smiling children in beautiful locations—not our family chaos.

The added benefit of keeping your site clean for great photos? A clean campsite of course—which is its own reward.

5. Make a Photo Album for Each Child: Our children used to hate smiling and posing for pictures. One of them always ended up scowling no matter how hard we tried. Recently we stumbled upon a brilliant solution. After each trip we print up a photo album that they can bring to school and show their classmates. Suddenly our boys are smiling from ear to ear and throwing each other bro hugs like there is no tomorrow.

6. Learn When to Put the Camera Away: This is the most counterintuitive tip. We love taking pictures when we travel, but we also know that sometimes the camera needs to be put away. Once you have scored a great picture at the pool—put the camera away. Once you have one great campfire photo—put the camera away. You get the idea. No one needs two great shots of the same scene.

The camera can come between you and your family if you overdue it. Great pictures are incredibly important to us—but not as important as a great vacation together. Our kids sometimes ask us to put the camera away. And when they do, we listen.