Vacation Photos in the San Juan Islands

Family Shoot on the Beach. Photo by Satya Curcio
Family Shoots on the Beach. Photo by Satya Curcio
An insider’s guide to taking the best share-worthy photos in the San Juan Islands. Photo by Satya Curcio.

From family vacations and romantic getaways to the ultimate girls’ trip, the San Juan Islands offer a backdrop for magical moments. While the remnants of such memories can be lovingly preserved in a half-faced selfie, such pictures are rarely worthy of a Christmas card. What’s more, often key players (ahem mom) remain neatly tucked behind the camera. 

For many, booking a professional photo shoot isn’t high on the priority list when planning a vacation. Where to sleep, eat, and play takes center stage. But for those wise souls who slip in a rendezvous with a photog, the result can be much more powerful than just a great Instagram post. 

In a 2023 study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, researchers looked at the effect of nostalgia. They found that those who relived nostalgic memories experienced not only improved emotional well-being, but also an improved cognitive well-being. Pictures — particularly the ones you feel good hanging in your home and office — are nostalgia bombs. 

But who should you hire? What should you wear? And how do you get everyone onboard for a photo session? To answer these questions and more, we went straight to the experts — four of the best San Juan Islands family and lifestyle photographers.

Traveling to San Juan Islands

The quickest way to get to the San Juan Islands is a direct flight. We offer regularly scheduled wheeled plane service from Boeing Field to Friday Harbor Airport and Eastsound Airport. We also offer daily seaplane service from Kenmore and Lake Union to San Juan Island, Orcas Island, and Lopez Island.

4 of the Best Photographers in the San Juan Islands

Andrea Huss

Andrea Huss

Bright and filled with light, Andrea Huss captures the spirit of each individual with vivid details and color. Home based on Lopez Island, she specializes in weddings, elopements, proposals, and family shoots. Her work is authentic, showcasing candid moments gracefully and effortlessly.

Kim Bamberg

Kim Bamberg

Bursting with life, Kim Bamberg’s photos capture simple moments of love and joy. Born and raised on San Juan Island, she moved back six years ago with her husband and two children. Formerly a Seattle-based wedding and lifestyle photographer, she now primarily shoots weddings, families, and portraits on San Juan.

Robert S. Harrison

Robert S. Harrison

In a brilliant use of natural light, Robert S. Harrison turns simple moments into last memories. A Lopez native (mostly, he moved to the island from Orlando Florida as a young boy), he moved back to the island in 2011. A father of two, he’s well-versed in working with families of all ages, couples, and large groups.

Satya Curcio

Satya Curcio Photography

Filled with spirit and life, Satya Curcio’s photos are effortless and honest. Based on Orcas Island, she shoots weddings, portraits and families throughout the San Juans and the greater Seattle area. Her photos are rich in color and her shooting style is energetic, offering enough direction to make you comfortable, while encouraging plenty of playful fun to keep you loose.

Tips and Insights to Make Your Destination Photoshoot a Success

Family Photo. Photo by Andrea Huss
Photo by Andrea Huss
Multiple generations on the dock. Photo by Kim Bamberg of La Vie Photo
Photo by Kim Bamberg of La Vie Photo
Couple on the Beach. Photo by Satya Curcio
Photo by Satya Curcio

Do you have any tips for getting everyone relaxed and onboard with a photo session?

Kim: A big thing is location and making sure it’s appropriate for everyone. For example, if a group has young kids, I’m not going to suggest a rocky vista. That’s just too much stress on the parents, and I want the photo session to be fun! You don’t have to look at the camera the whole time either, notice the location. Is there a seal in the water or an orca maybe? Candid photos have such a relaxed feel to them. It can help to hug one another or stroll along a path. Movement is always a good relaxer.

Robert: I always try to find a fun location for the photo session, like the lighthouse at Lime Kiln State Park, the docks at Roche Harbor or Moran State Park. I’m also open about being camera shy. I get how awkward it can feel to be in front of the camera. One of the things that really helps, especially for couples, is to not look at the camera the whole time. Looking at each other can help put you at ease. 

Satya: My main goal with every family is to keep it natural and fun. It totally depends on your particular family and their personalities, but during our session we don’t pose the whole time. We take time to warm up, play and have a great time. It will go by faster than you think! I want you to come away from your experience with great memories as well as great photographs. 

Andrea: Helping everyone feel at ease and enjoying their session is always a priority for me. It’s incredibly rewarding to witness the initial nerves or awkwardness melt away as the shoot progresses, capturing those authentic smiles is truly magical. 

Sunset Kiss. Photo by Andrea Huss
Photo by Andrea Huss
Hugs. Photo by Kim Bamberg of La Vie Photo
Photo by Kim Bamberg of La Vie Photo
Mother and daughter. Photo by Satya Curcio
Photo by Satya Curcio

What’s the best time of day for family photos in the San Juans?

Kim: My favorite is evening, the golden hour, about an hour before sunset makes for such gorgeous light. Of course, in the summer, that ends up being as late as 7 or 8 p.m. which can be tough timing for some groups. If that is the case, we’ll often meet in the late afternoon or early evening, and we choose a location with the option for shade cover.

Andrea: I personally find the hour or two before sunset to be the most enchanting for photo sessions, though I must say, mornings can be equally stunning, especially with a touch of frost or dew creating a sparkling backdrop in the gentle morning light.

Satya: Since the sun sets so late during the summer (past most bedtimes), I tend to start our session early in the morning, or no later than 9:00 am. That way the sun isn’t blaring, and we can get some great beach shots then head to the trees in the second half.  

Mom with kids. Photo by Satya Curcio
Photo by Satya Curcio
Family Photos. Photo by Robert S. Harrison
Photo by Robert S. Harrison

When working with multiple generations, are there any special considerations?

Satya: When I do extended family sessions, we always make sure the location is accessible for all involved and there is seating nearby for anyone who cannot stand for a long time. That really is about it. I like to make sure that everyone is warm and comfortable, then we can make magic happen! 

Andrea: When I’m working with different generations, I really focus on capturing those special bonds, especially between grandparents and grandkids. They deserve some extra time to shine! And for the little ones, I always let parents know to come prepared with their favorite toys, snacks, and blankets to keep them happy and cozy during the shoot. 

Robert: There are so many great locations in the islands. When working with elders, I try to find locations that are easily accessible, like South Beach, Odlin Park or the village park in Eastsound. On Lopez, my favorite location for families is Shark Reef. It’s a 10 minute walk, but it offers many different photography options. 

Boy running with family. Andrea Huss
Photo by Andrea Huss
Family at the beach. Photo by Satya Curcio
Photo by Satya Curcio
Siblings. Photo by Kim Bamberg of La Vie Photo
Photo by Kim Bamberg of La Vie Photo

How do you recommend families, couples, and friends dress?

Satya: I don’t have particular style recommendations, except to make sure that all of the men are wearing the same type of pants (shorts vs long pants) and that you don’t all clash! I encourage personality in dressing. I think children, in particular, love to see themselves in photographs so I want their personalities to shine. With that said, I also love coordinating outfits, but it is truly up to each individual family and what they want on their wall.  

Kim: Wearing a color you love with your skin tone can make you feel more confident and comfortable. I don’t suggest matching entirely. In fact, I think letting everyone dress like themselves makes for more authentic photos. It can be nice to have a color theme, like blues or jewel tones. The other thing I recommend is to stay away from big, bold patterns. They can get overwhelming and clutter the photos.  

Robert: It can be really fun for families to dress up! That being said, I think comfort is very important and comes through in the photos. This is especially true with footwear. I’ve photographed on beaches before where people sank in while wearing heels. 

Couple riding bikes. Photo by Robert S. Harrison
Photo by Robert S. Harrison
Family at Roche Harbor . Photo by Kim Bamberg of La Vie Photo
Photo by Kim Bamberg of La Vie Photo

What kind of location works best for small groups? Big groups? Families with littles?

Robert: There are so many great beaches and parks in the islands. Ideally you’d find a place with water access and also some trees to provide a variety of photo opportunities. When I’m photographing a group on Lopez that has one or more members with mobility issues, my go-to is Oldin County Park. It’s easily accessible and has a few different options for water and trees. 

Kim: Most people want to have a photograph on the beach. I also like finding places that have a little peekaboo view, but have some rocks for posing, etc. Some toddlers will get distracted by playing with rocks on the beach so I like to start them away from that area for any photographs that require their full attention then let them play.

Andrea: With the San Juans’ breathtaking scenery, there’s something for everyone. From accessible beaches perfect for all ages to adventurous trails offering dramatic backdrops, the choice depends on your preferences and mobility.

Happy couple in lavender field. Photo by La Vie Photo
Photo by Kim Bamberg of La Vie Photo
Lifestyle Family Shoot. Photo by Andrea Huss.
Photo by Andrea Huss
Dog at the family photoshoot . Photo by Satya Curcio
Photo by Satya Curcio

Do you recommend a shoot closer to the beginning or end of a visit to the San Juans? 

Kim: I would say not to leave it to the end, the energy seems to not be as great at the end of the trip and sometimes people have to leave early. It’s really unfortunate when one or two members of the group aren’t there. 

Andrea: If possible, I recommend scheduling your session for the second day of your visit. By then, you’ve had a chance to settle into island time while still fresh and ready to embrace adventure, resulting in a more relaxed and authentic experience.

Satya: It truly doesn’t matter when you do your session, but I do encourage people to have a day to settle in beforehand. I personally tend to book out 2 months in advance, so it is great to get in touch as soon as you have your trip planned to schedule a portrait session.  

Fun Things To Do In The San Juan Islands