Monday, 5 January 2015

Great Family Photos

 Great Family Photos

One quote I read says “Photography is part technical, part
artistic and part Psychology”.

And another “So much of photography is about dumb luck”.

Here are some tips that I hope will assist you to take some great
photos next time the family comes together.


Preparation at the Location

Choose the time of day if possible

Take whatever props are needed – one or two folding stools etc or seek out ‘natural’ seating like rocks, logs, an old fence or something similar.

Natural Rocks used as seating
Natural Surrounds

Fence put to good use
Check out the background carefully, making sure the heads won’t be at horizon level or trees appearing to grow out of heads!  Also making sure the background is not overpowering.

This background may be a little overpowering
This background is a little more subtle
Take a couple of test shots of the background beforehand and review.

Use a tripod whenever possible

It may be heavy and cumbersome but the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. 

It will give you more freedom to pose your subjects, have a bit of fun and get everyone relaxed.  

With your camera set up to take the shot it will be ready in an instant when you have the group looking just right to capture the moment.

And if it is your own family you will be able to jump into the picture yourself using a remote control to shoot.

Lighting is key – get some in their eyes

Light can make or break a photo.  It is important to get light into
your subject’s eyes.


Late afternoon about an hour before dusk is a good time for family
portraits.  There is no harsh overhead light and it is nicely diffused
if there’s haze on the horizon.

Alternatively find shade  -  under trees or beside large buildings,
making sure the background is not lit up as it will draw the attention
away from the subjects.


Avoid using an overcast day.  Whilst the lighting is softer the
direction is not great.  Such days will give direct overhead lighting
and dark eyes.

Use your camera’s Exposure Compensation dial to lighten the faces if necessary or using a simple reflector will give more light to the faces.

Light from the side at 30-45 degrees is ideal.

 Shoot in Manual Mode

Set ISO at 100 or 200

Set Aperture at around f8 depending on lighting conditions to get a depth of field so that everybody is in focus.

Set shutter speed according to lighting conditions.

Or use Aperture Priority and your SLR will set the shutter speed for a correct exposure.

Set focus using Focus Lock or use Manual Focus

Put your camera into continuous firing mode and take many more shots than you think you need.  Things like blinks, closed eyes, yawns or odd expressions are a reality.

Bonus Tip:  If your camera has video capabilities, you have a neat way of doing manual focus.  Turn on live view so you can see the image on your screen.  Hit your zoom button once or twice.  The image on the screen will zoom in [your lens doesn’t] so you can see what is in focus which allows for much more precise manual focusing.  Press zoom again to return to normal view and turn off live view.

 Lense Choice

For a large group such as a few generations of family, a wide-angle lense [around 18mm] will allow more people to fit in the frame.



For a very small group a 50mm portrait lense could be used which should give sharper images and lower f-stop ranges.  You will have to determine if the low f-stop and subsequent shallow depth of field is worth the trade-off.
Let the kids have fun

Don't be afraid to move close
For a shot from above, a zoom lense is probably a more practical choice [70-210 or similar]

Note the difference a shot from this angle can make to your result.

 If you have done a lot of this preparation beforehand your photo shoot should run a lot quicker and smoother.  Some people tend to lose interest if it takes too long. 

It can be very valuable if you can find an assistant you trust who would be willing to help you.  Even if it is someone who will be in the photograph.  Be sure they leave a space for themselves to quickly jump in.

It is never a good idea to let another person shoot over your shoulder or beside you.  Your subjects won’t know which camera to look at resulting in wandering eyes in your photograph.

If you have an assistant, have them stand next to you and direct the subjects’ attention to your camera.


This can be a touchy subject but if you have the opportunity, get the family to think about what they are going to wear.  Here are a few suggestions that may be helpful.

The goals of good selection are:-

·      To make the people the main subjects
·      To help them look their best


·      Solid coloured clothing
·      Muted tones that are a bit subdued
·      Choose 1-3 colours with similar tones that go nicely together                                                               

Which one would you chose?

Again, which one would you choose?


Compose the shot in your mind before assembling people in their places.   They will be looking to you for guidance.

If they are still a little stiff, take some whacky fun shots.  Perhaps tell them to squish together.  They will most likely start laughing and as they pull apart grab some shots.


Pose people to flatter them

Nearly all of us consider we have a flaw or two.  Here are a few quick tips to overcome some of them.

For double chins take a slightly higher camera angle.

A blemish will not show up if the subject is positioned correctly.

For people self-conscious of their weight, use the lying down in the grass position with the kids piled on top.  This makes the kids closer in size because it is just faces.


 If it bends, bend it

People tend to stand stiff when you position them, so you need to
get them to bend a few body parts to look more natural.

Face your subjects, do the pose and have them mirror you.

Stagger the heads

Arrange people with heads staggered.  Diagonal lines are more dynamic and add interest to an image rather than a boring straight line.

Try to position them so that no head is directly on top of or beside another at the same level as another.

Don’t let your subjects tilt their heads into each other.  OK for the bar-b-que snapshot but not what you want for your family portrait.  Watch for it and avoid it.
Let Kids be Kids

To get natural shots let the kids have fun.  Ask Mum and Dad to look
at you and not at their kids then with a little help from some props
such as favourite toys, bubbles, pulling faces yourself or peek-a-boo from behind the camera etc, you can nearly always get the kids to smile.  Then be ready to capture the moments.

In large family groups – you can place people in smaller groups according to their families or couples.

If the event is centred around one or two people [birthday or anniversary etc] make them the central focal point by placing them right in the middle.

 Try to catch  ‘Fun moments’


 Try a ‘Silhouette’

A ‘Walking away’ shot in the right situation can result in quite a pleasing shot

I hope this has been helpful


Researcher: Yvonne Stubblety
Notes from Digital Photography School
Tips from David Peterson
Articles from Darlene Hildebrandt
Hints from Jen Bacher