Posing for a professional photographer on an expanse of white sand in St Lucia, Naomi Isted’s clothes are impeccably color-coordinated with those of her husband and children, their smiles as bright as the Caribbean sunshine.
Bemused onlookers peer over their sunglasses eager to fathom the scene before them. Could they be models showing a new range of family beachwear, or perhaps they’re famous?
In fact, neither is true. They’re just an ordinary family from Hertfordshire who’ve taken the extraordinary decision to hire a photographer for their holiday — paying him hundreds of pounds to ensure their picture-perfect, sunkissed memories are caught on film.
“It avoids the risk of getting rubbish pictures, or photos of only three of us at a time,” says Naomi, 44, a broadcaster and interior designer married to property developer Haydn, 50, with whom she has children Fleur, 13, and Rocco, eight. ‘In the past, if I wanted photos of me with the children I’d have pester Haydn to take some under duress. The results were often so poor I wouldn’t want to show them to anyone. Then I found a photographer in the Turks and Caicos in 2017, and haven’t looked back since. My kids smile for the camera when there’s a stranger behind it, and that means we get a gorgeous set of pictures of all four of us taken in as little as half a day.’
Welcome to the indulgent world of vacation photography. You might think the practice would be limited to image-conscious celebrities, but it’s a fast-growing trend with many ordinary people. Forget switching off with a book and leaving your hairdryer at home when the kids break up for the summer holidays. In the era of Instagram perfection, even a family beach holiday demands glossy photos for your grid and expertly filtered smiles for the Christmas card.
Naomi (pictured), 44, is a broadcaster and interior designer married to property developer Haydn, 50, with whom she has children Fleur, 13, and Rocco, eight
And women, in particular, are ready to part with thousands for the privilege. Companies such as Flytographer and Angel are cashing in on the boom, connecting travelers with photographers in their holiday destinations.
Nicole Smith founded the former a decade ago. ‘Since then, we’ve had tens of thousands of people use our services to hire a photographer around the world, including solo travelers, couples and more than 20,000 mums,’ he said. ‘It’s so important for mums to get into the photo instead of always being the invisible one documenting the moment.’
For Naomi, hiring a vacation photographer is as much a part of a family holiday as buying a new bikini. In the past six years, they’ve had multiple shoots in St Lucia, Los Angeles, Turks and Caicos and Miami, their long-haul destinations of choice.
Prices start from £300, depending on the photographer and duration. The family’s most recent shoot, during the Easter holidays, was a six-hour stint in St Lucia costing around £100 an hour, for which they were all dressed in white and blue.
‘I always have colors and outfits in mind, and plan them when I’m packing our cases. My husband and kids don’t enjoy the shoots, but they prefer them to the alternative, which is pestering them for photos throughout the holiday,’ she says, sometimes revealing that she hires a hair and make-up artist to get her camera-ready, too. (You can add on another £50 an hour for that.)
‘My husband would prefer to be lying on the beach with a cocktail, while the children would rather be in the sea. There have been many moments when I’ve told them we’re having a shoot and their reaction is: “Oh, please no, it’s so boring!”‘
Veterans of holiday photography know that getting your oh-so perfect photos means military precision planning to avoid possible pitfalls. Naomi once booked a photographer for the start of a Caribbean holiday, with the family’s skin still pasty from a British winter, saving for sunburnt shoulders and noses.
‘Now I book the shoot for the end when we’re tanned, and make sure it ties in with the most photogenic locations or activities. I post them on Instagram, and use them for family Christmas and birthday cards. This summer, we’ll be holidaying in Florida and California, and I’m now looking for photographers.
High-end stylist Oriona Robb (pictured), 46, has spent the past ten summers in various glamorous rented villas on the Algarve with her husband, Colin, 52, an investment banker, and their daughters, aged 21, 15 and ten
‘People may say it’s an absurd luxury, but I’d argue that you can’t put a price on capturing memories we can then treasure forever.’
Hannah McClune is another devotee of hiring vacation photographers — even though she’s a professional photographer herself. “Before, it was always me taking pictures on holiday, but rarely appeared in them,” says Hannah, 41.
She lives in Reading with husband, Neil, 44, a finance manager, and their sons, Myles, 12, and Alexander, nine. ‘It would feel like work.
‘So when we flew to the Dominican Republic a few years ago, I knew there must be plenty of photographers on the island. I found a great one on the internet and briefed her to take candid shots of us all wearing white on the beach.
‘She and her assistant drove us to a remote beach and snapped it away as we played football.
‘I took a variety of outfit changes, mostly color-coordinated T-shirts, shorts and swimwear in bright shades to reflect the tropical vibe. The boys did get fed up, but we gave them snacks while the photographer took shots of me and my husband in the sea — the first photos on our own since our wedding day in 2009.’
The half day’s photoshoot costs around £700. Another in India two years ago was £300. ‘We holidayed in Kerala and the photographer turned up with three assistants,’ Hannah recalls. ‘We were up at 7am to go to a tea plantation. But it wasn’t quite as successful as the Dominican one, because the photographer staged a lot of the photos.
‘We only had one outfit change into swimwear there as we were traveling in a taxi, so there wasn’t really anywhere to change.
‘The kids sometimes complain, but it’s all over and done within a matter of hours. My advice is to have a shoot towards the end of a long-haul holiday so the kids aren’t jetlagged. The best way to find a photographer is on Instagram and look for one with a photographic style similar to what you want.
Photographer Juliet Lemon, 41, specializes in wedding, corporate and wildlife photography, but since 2013, well-off families have also been hiring her to travel with them to document their holidays. Charging upwards of £2,000 a day, Juliet recently spent eight days in Finland with one family, snapping their adventures in the Arctic Circle. She’s also been to Palma, South America and on multiple safaris.
She says: ‘The clients who flew me to Finland wanted to be fully immersed in the holiday, not fretting about taking photos,’ explains Juliet. ‘Having me there meant they could enjoy those magical moments of husky sledging, reindeer feeding, ice fishing or watching the Northern Lights, while I discretely snapped away.
Joyce, 59, is single and lives in Reading. Joyce was so blown away that she planned her Cappadocia trip entirely around a photoshoot
‘I accompanied one family on a multi-generational holiday to Africa, photographing them in the desert and watching whales at sea. Since the trip the grandfather has died, meaning the photos I took are now even more precious to his family.
‘Of course, there have been more challenging clients, too. One memorable woman hired me to travel with her, but often canceled our day’s shoot at a moment’s notice if she wasn’t feeling in the mood.’
As Juliet points out, there’s a big difference between snapping away on an iPhone and having an experienced photographer, who understands lighting techniques and has everything from underwater equipment to drones and long lenses.
She wouldn’t need to convince hair and make-up artist Joyce Connor of the benefits. Last year, Joyce hired photographers for solo bucket-list trips to Cairo and Cappadocia in Turkey, and boasted envy-inducing pictures as a result. “I’m the world’s worst selfie-taker and asking a stranger to take a picture is a gamble,” says Joyce, 59, who’s single and lives in Reading.
‘One man took photos of himself with my phone as he’d flipped the camera by mistake. In Cairo, a photographer charged me just £40 for a three-hour shoot. He doubled as a terrific tour guide.’
Joyce was so blown away that she planned her Cappadocia trip entirely around a photoshoot.
‘I wanted the shoot against the backdrop of Cappadocia’s famous hot-air balloon rides at sunrise in tribute to my sister who died last year from cancer, but loved them. I booked my flights around the photographer’s availability.
‘He even hired a fabulous, floor-length purple gown with a flowing skirt for me, which made the photos even more sensational.’
Joyce was collected at 4am for a three-hour shoot costing £160, including dress hire, three drone videos and 40 edited images.
‘The assistant held the hem of the dress up, then let go as the photographer pressed the shutter, so that it billowed out in the pictures. I show them to everyone, they’re so incredible.
‘I’m already researching photographers for a holiday in Bali and Singapore in August with my daughter and grandkids to celebrate my 60th birthday.’
Hannah McClune is another devotee of hiring vacation photographers — even though she’s a professional photographer herself
High-end stylist Oriona Robb, 46, has spent the past ten summers in various glamorous rented villas on the Algarve with her husband, Colin, 52, an investment banker, and their daughters, aged 21, 15 and ten.
Oriona, from North London, says: ‘I’ve been hiring local photographers for years to take the pressure off myself.’
‘I always style the shoots and prefer us to wear white outfits because it compliments a sun-kissed and glowing complexion. White also brings a simple, fresh and elegant aesthetic to the photos. I’ve bought a beautiful white dress for this summer, which cost £400 from Ivana Ma London.
‘There are always a few rows when it’s time for a photoshoot, though. Someone will be in a bad mood, or too hot and bothered. Whenever we gather for a shot, the temperature seems to be scorching, so we end up sweating and arguing.
‘My husband is the only relaxed one on the shoot and just goes with the flow. When we see the pictures afterwards everyone is happy. I have a wall on the landing with all the black and white framed photos, and it’s super emotional seeing how we are evolving as a family from one summer to the next.’
Oriona pays around £150 per hour for a half day’s shoot and sometimes has a photographer a couple of times during the summer. ‘I always have a few taken on my own, too, styled in the pool, or a particularly photogenic part of the villa.
‘It’s pure convenience and indulgence, but the memories are worth every single penny. It wouldn’t be a summer holiday without a vacation photographer now.’