Family standing on shore during sunset at a Sarasota County beach

How to Take a Perfect Family Vacation Photo

What you need to know about framing up the best possible shot during your trip to Sarasota County (plus bonus tips from a local photographer)

Every good vacation deserves a truly great picture to capture all the memories that go with it (my mom calls it a “framer”). When you look at your picture you remember the people, the place, the smells, the feels and the jokes. Sometimes you nail that perfect group selfie, but typically what happens is one person (ahem, mom) takes the pictures and the photos neglect to show everyone together. What you need is a true family portrait to pop into that frame or holiday card, and remember all the good times on that trip to Sarasota County.

We asked local photographer Alisa Sue for her expert advice. Alisa has been taking photos in this destination for 11 years, and her shots embody a goal she describes as: “to capture those moments in time – the personality, the spirit – and preserve them forever so that they may always looked back upon with a smile.”

Check out more of her wisdom on the subject.

When to Shoot

If the sun is in front of you, you squint. If it’s behind, you’re shadowed out. Straight up and you get wonky shadows. According to Alisa, the best time for those family photos is during the “golden hour” a.k.a. the 45 minutes after sunrise or ahead of sunset. This is when you’ll look your best in the natural light from the sun.

I know it’s tempting to take the sunset picture (Sarasota beaches do have stunning sunsets) and definitely go for it, but be prepared for them to turn out more like silhouette shots rather than portraits without additional lighting.

Where to Go

Associating the photo to a memory – where you stayed, for example – adds a unique element to the picture. For a true portrait that screams Sarasota, Alisa Sue suggests a few local backgrounds, including:

I’ve had my kids photographed at the Celery Fields and they were gorgeous. Beach accesses allow for the sand and sea without the photobombers in the background. Depending on your vibe, be it boho/beachy, urban/downtown, open field/rustic or woods/greenery (common themes as noted by Alisa) your location should reflect your style. Once there, you can decide if you’d rather go for a candid shot or a more staged approach.

What to Wear

Choosing and coordinating outfits for a family photograph can be a daunting task, but doesn’t need to be. You want to look like yourself, but keep everyone cohesive – like one person in an orange tropical swimsuit and another in a dress shirt and pants (unless that’s how your family rolls, in which case, definitely go for it – it should scream ‘you’.)

Alisa has a section of her website dedicated on choosing what to wear, and it’s definitely something personal to each family unit. A few of her tips include, “stay away from the khaki bottoms and white tops as that blends in with a lot of backgrounds. The more color the better as they will pop in the images.”

Finding a color scheme first is helpful; someone once told me to remember that this will hang on the wall at home and, although it sounds silly, clothes should match the décor of my house.

Alisa’s most important elements, however, are, “be yourself and comfort is key.”

When you look at this family photo, you want it to look like you all really look, not like strangers.

Booking a Photographer

If you use a photographer, Alisa suggests booking four to six weeks ahead of the session. There are a lot in Sarasota, so spend some time researching. Some of her helpful researching tips include:

  • Get to know the photographer beforehand

  • Make sure the photographer will be a fit for your family and knows how to work well with kids

  • Read reviews about the photographer you plan to hire

  • Share some information with your photographer about your families interests, hobbies, size and special requests you are wanting for your session

The key is cooperation both amongst your family and with the person taking the shot. Personally, I find the benefits to hiring someone to take the picture include ensuring it actually happens. We all tend to get busy or distracted and sometimes just forget, or family members may not all pack coordinating outfits otherwise.

Also, many kids (and camera-shy adults) are often more cooperative with a photographer, especially one with a sleeve full of secret tips to help capture true smiles rather than those I’m-smiling-but-gritting-my-teeth-please-tell-me-we’re-almost-done fake grins. Nothing beats an honest smile.

Other Tips

When communicating about the picture, discuss with your photographer but also your family. Everyone wants and likes different things, so maybe try both a posed and a candid. Teens may not want to frame their formal family picture, but perhaps will use a funny shot as their profile picture (the ultimate ‘I love you’ compliment).

A little bribery can go a long way, especially with little ones. I have no shame about promising my kids each a Starburst during a Valentine’s Day session a few years ago; the pictures were adorable and worth the sugar rush.

Our Florida sunshine can be brutal and our weather unpredictable; schedule to take your picture early before sunburns or rain put a damper on things. You can always try again later in the vacation if it doesn’t work out, but if you wait until the very end you may not have a second shot (literally).

Be respectful of limitations. Long walks can lead to tired or sweaty models!

Have fun! You’re with your family on vacation and the joy you’re experiencing will come through, no matter what you’re wearing, where you are, or who is behind the lens.