March 10, 2018 7 min read

You don’t have to be a professional photographer to capture great pictures of your family.

Bear in mind, I do usually have professional family photographs taken once a year, but I take thousands of photographs myself in between.

A few simple tips can make all the difference between treasured memories and complete disasters.

I adore my family photographs.  They are honestly some of my most treasured possessions and for quite a few years, all I’ve asked my husband for on my birthday is to go on a family photoshoot.

It serves three main purposes.  It provides a perfect record of how our family changes year on year; it gives me the chance to step out from behind the camera and actually appear in the photographs; it also gives me lots of lovely photographs to gift to family for special occasions.   

These are just a few tips that I’ve gleaned after years of taking both good and terrible family photographs.  They’re more designed for people going out with a smart phone, rather than with a swanky DSLR with lots of lovely lenses that can deal with the light at different times of the day or poor weather conditions.  They should still be useful nonetheless.

  1. Location, Location, Location

I know some people love them, but I’m not a great fan of studio shots.  They might look lovely, clean and beautifully arranged, but for me, they lack a bit of personality.

I love just getting outside with the camera to shoot.  Capturing people in a fun and less predictable way.  That way the characters come out.

You can turn shooting on location into a whole day out.  Just point and click as the moments present themselves.

It’s usually a good idea to pick a location that has some variety.  Woods with plenty of trees to climb and leaves to chuck around.  Bridges that you can shoot on top of or underneath.  Ponds to dip sticks into.  Even things that look mundane, like wooden benches and stone walls van make amazing backdrops and ensure your photographs have some contrast.


  1. Pick Your Day Carefully

The beauty of going out to take photographs yourself instead of organising a professional shoot is that you can be completely flexible about when you go.

Wake up in the morning to find it’s overcast and a bit misty?  No problem.  You’re not letting anyone down and unless you’re in a rush to get the photographs for a special occasion,just reschedule for next weekend instead. 

Of course, you can get unlucky weekend after weekend.  The light was pretty dismal for most of the summer this year and in the end, we just had to go with it and enhance the final images with a few filters.

Not perfect, but you can’t have everything.

  1. Plan Ahead

Feeling slightly hypocritical saying this, but …………

If you know months in advance that your photographs would make the perfect birthday present for an Auntie or Christmas present for Grandma, don’t leave taking them to the weekend before. 

It’s bound to rain.  Someone’s going to be ill or the camera will suddenly refuse to work.  You’re asking for disaster.

If you take a large number of photographs, it’s could take several hours to pick out the best ones (after you’ve deleted all the ones with people looking the wrong way or pulling funny faces).

If you’re using an online site to get your photos printed, don’t underestimate the amount of time it takes to upload the photos and adjust them.  Also, carefully check delivery times so you don’t get a nasty surprise when you realise it’s way too late to meet your deadline.

  1. Children

One of the biggest things I’ve learned about taking photos of my kids?  If they’re hungry, sleepy or even slightly unwell, just DON’T.

Even if they manage to hold it together for a little while, it won’t be long before the inevitable meltdown and you’ll have to abandon the whole thing.

You’ve got them to stop crying?  Great!  They’re still blotchy though.

Even before the explosion, you’ll be waiting for it to happen, so happy, relaxed shots are going to be difficult to achieve.

Eating on location is a pretty bad idea too, unless you stick to something that makes it impossible to get messy.  Someone is bound to get food down their clothes.  This includes the adults.

So if you don’t want to be posting rice cakes back a screaming toddler, imploring them to ‘stop that and please smile’, just feed them at home, before they get dressed into their nice clothes.  Make sure they’re well and make sure they’ve had a nap.

  1. Use plenty of light

Facial expressions make us who we are, and these are hard to capture in poor light.  Photographs in poor light usually end up looking grainy, even when you zoom them in.

Towards the autumn time, smart phones can struggle with the even very early evening light and once it’s dark you can pretty much forget it.

Take as many family pictures as you can on sunny days, or in well-lit rooms. If it’s dark, use a flash.

Aim for early morning or late afternoon.  Avoid the middle of the day when the sun can be a little harsh and be aware of what direction the sun is coming from. 

Is everyone squinting?  Turn a little so the sun is coming from the side. It is possible to take great photos in direct sunlight, but it gets complicated.

Shooting with the sun coming from the side should illuminate your subjects and capture any shadows nicely.

  1. Take lots of pictures

Never expect perfect results first time. In group photographs, there will always be someone who moves or blinks, and some people end up not looking like themselves at all.

It is always better to take too many pictures than too few, as this gives you the best chance of producing a perfect result, especially when there are unpredictable elements like dogs or babies involved.

Even if you end up with a thousand photos, it might be a pain to go through them all, but you can always go back later and delete the ones you don’t want to keep, while still having a great selection to choose from.

  1. Don’t forget clothing

One thing I’ve really noticed in my own family group photos is how much our clothing matters.  Whilst you don’t want to look like you’ve all turned up in uniform, being coordinated definitely helps the overall aesthetic.

Try to make sure that the colours you wear complement each other and try to avoid anything baggy.  We’ve had some really odd looking shots where clothing appears to distort the body shape, particularly if it’s breezy!

Bold, simple colours work really well.  Nothing too pale or skin coloured. 

I’ll never forget one year when I turned up wearing fawn coloured trousers.  You could barely see them in the photographs which wasn’t exactly the look I’d been going for.

Patterns and logos are also hard to work with, especially if people are wearing different ones.  They tend to look busy and fussy and take focus away from the person wearing them.

Also avoid clothing that will easily and obviously date.  I’m not talking skinny jeans, more Pokemon t-shirts. Unless that’s something you’re going for.

  1. Props

Ok, so props can be REALLY helpful and I like them a lot.  They can be especially helpful if someone in your family is nervous in front of the camera or instantly forgets how to use their face as soon as they see a lens.

Whether it’s a stick you’ve found, a bunch of daisies you’ve gathered or you’ve actually taken your own props on location.  Props can take the pressure off ‘posing’ for a shot.

The person can focus on the prop instead of the camera. 

Some of the best photographs we’ve taken don’t actually have people looking at the photographer.  They’re looking into the distance, to the side, or ………. straight at their prop.

Props also have the added bonus of helping you set your scene, show off your location and depending on how far you want to take it, they can make your photos really seasonal.

Think sun hats, flowers, pumpkins, apple baskets and fairy lights.  Brown paper bags and pretty scissors for cutting sprigs of lavender or treasures you’ve found whilst walking, like conkers, chestnuts or shells.

  1. Keep things natural

Family photos where everyone is sitting there being asked to pose are undeniably difficult. There is pretty much no easy way to get everyone looking happy and natural at the same time.

Mostly because people tend to pull really bizarre faces when they’re actually asked to smile.  Seriously, it’s difficult!

Don’t make your family members hold poses or put on fake smiles.  Asking them to sit and say ‘Smarties’ 100 times will only produce strange results which don’t capture your family’s personalities at all.

To be honest, every time I try to take those kind of photographs, the shots are next to useless. 

A perfect example of this is the obligatory Back To School photos on the front doorstep every September.  Out of 200 photos, I’m lucky if I get one that’s any good.  That’s the one that goes on Facebook.

Instead, snap unguarded moments when family members are interacting with each other, especially when there is plenty of laughter.

Make a day of it.  Go out to a park together.  Bring a picnic and capture everyone when they’re walking around talking, climbing the trees, throwing the leaves or just playing.

This technique will provide you with realistic, happy memories to treasure.

  1. Filters

Ok.  I know the temptation to use these, but try your best to keep filters to a minimum.

Expressive faces are far more important in family photos than Instagram perfect, arty effects or smooth skin.  You want to remember each other as you really looked on that occasion, not a distorted version of.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t edit your photos at all.  There are amazing filters and pre-sets that are fabulous for increasing your colour contrast or helping if the light isn’t great.

Something like Adobe Lightroom is amazing, although there are also a number of great free alternatives if you look around.

Just remember, whilst filters are enticing, it’s best to use them for enhancing the overall picture, rather than altering people’s appearances.

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