How ROAM Picks its Winning Family Travel Photos

Picking top shots from hundreds of entries ain’t easy. Here’s how we did it.

By Maryann Jones Thompson

What makes a great family travel photo? The place? The faces? The filters?

As the judges began to review the more than 300 worthy entries to the ROAM Family Travel Photo Contest, we immediately realized we had to get on the same page about what we were looking for in our winner.

“We knew we weren’t looking for the technical quality of what National Geographic or the Audobon Society would look for in a winning photo,” said judge Didrik Johnck, professional outdoor photographer and ROAM Photographer at Large.

“We were looking for photos that moved us –  the image that makes me want to throw my boys in the car and hit the road or check flight prices or ask my wife, ‘Hey, have you ever thought about going to this place?’”

Contest judge Crystal Engstrom, professional portrait photographer and ROAM’s Photo Editor, took note of the shots that stopped her from scrolling. “I was looking for a sense of fun and adventure, as well as great scenery and cute kids – they always stop me in my tracks.”

As founder and editor of ROAM, a family travel magazine that specializes in real family travel tales, I knew I wanted shots that looked more “real” than polished. Instagram is full of millions and millions of perfect smiles, perfect clothes, and perfect sunsets that serve as great eye candy, but they’re not an accurate depiction of what its like to travel with kids 99 percent of the time.

Laura of frugalforluxury called our bluff in 2019 with a photo of the side-view of her toddler’s legs getting a diaper change with a line of snowy Alps in the background – now that’s the reality of traveling with kids!

In the end, however, we didn’t choose the “diaper changee” as a winner, nor did we choose many other compelling photos, because there were just too many other awesome ones.

To keep our brains from exploding, we imposed a few more parameters to our judging: We could only choose one photo per Instagram account (many photographers submitted multiple great shots); we would name the runner-up winners as the best shot in four categories – Nature, Action, Culture and Portrait; and we would go beyond our five top prizes to award a larger pool of “Honorable Mention” entries.

The vast majority of entries were of babies, toddlers, or very young children. Now that I travel with teens, I can cite countless possible reasons for this phenomenon 😉 but we also realized we wanted to showcase a variety of families, destinations and photo types.

The photo angle also mattered. I often prefer shots of children from afar, back or side so that people can envision themselves and their kids in the spot.

“When I publish photos of kids, I do often choose ones where you can’t see their full faces – whether they’re shown from the side, back or obscured,” says Johnk. “Yes, some parents are worried about privacy but I also wonder how our kids will feel when they’re 18 years old and there are 20,000 images of them out there.”

We are proud that our winning photos represent a variety of countries, family types, destinations, subject matter, photo styles, and that all show the excitement and fun that family traveling can bring.


 Maryann Jones Thompson  – January 2020

ROAM Founder & Editor in Chief   

After a thousand years in publishing as a business journalist and content strategist, Maryann brings her experience traveling as a backpacker, businessperson, expat and mom to writing and editing for ROAM. After traveling with her husband and kids to uncommon spots across six continents, she’s currently focused on finding ANY trip that’ll interest teens, hitting epic scuba spots, and expanding family-travel horizons in her native California and beyond.


© ROAM Family Travel 2020 – All rights reserved



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