Top Tips For Better Family Photos

family picture
Better than the average group photo - Next time break up the big group a little - by Walter Ching

You can always tell the holidays are coming when manufacturers scramble to stock shelves with the latest in point-and-shoot technology before everyone heads home for the holidays. Models like the Pentax Optio RZ18 and the Olympus Pen E-PM1 decorate store shelves before people travel thousands of miles for that most dreaded of all holiday activities, family photos.

People have been trained by both the process and results to give family photo time the kind of welcome usually reserved for a root canal.

So let’s all break the dysfunctional family photo trauma this year. Take these tips and come up with some family photos that are not only fun to shoot but tell a more intimate story. Instead of the usual group photo, let’s see if we can come up with a process that will help you find a better holiday moment.

Practice a Pose

You know there are going to be pictures, so job one will be finding a pose you can hit in two seconds that looks good. Something you can turn on anytime a camera swings your way.

One trick that almost always works is to turn your shoulders at a 45 degree angle to the camera, called “cheating to the camera” and then turn your head back to the lens, chin angled slightly. If you have problems with a double chin, this trick will avoid the horror of the drivers license photo look and will smooth out any wrinkles along the neck line.

If you’re going to cheat toward the camera, do keep the open side of the cheat toward the person you’re sitting next to or it will look awkward.

Another trick is not to look directly at the camera, which avoids red eye. Look just off to the left or right, but not so much it looks like you’re disconnected from the scene.

Get In Close

If you can see your subjects feet in a standing photo, you are way too far from them. Get in close, really close. When you think you’re in close enough, take another two steps in.

Crop out as much distracting background and foreground as possible.

Turn Off The Flash Indoors

I realize that sounds counter-intuitive but built-in camera flashes are terrible for indoor lighting. They’re harsh, flat and unflattering. Turn the flash off and get as much natural light as possible on the scene. Window lighting is the best, only station yourself so the window is behind you. You don’t want the window in the shot, you just want the light.

In some situations you can’t avoid using the camera flash, in which case spend $10 and get yourself an on-camera flash diffuser.

If you’re a real cheapo, make yourself a milk jug diffuser.

Turn The Flash On Outdoors

Now you think I’m deliberately trying to confuse you. Turn the flash off when you usually need it and on when you usually don’t!

Find some open shade, place your subject and then set the on-camera flash to mandatory. On camera flash units are usually terrible for lighting indoor scenes, but they’re fantastic for fills.

Get A Lot of Shots

Move in close and get a lot of shots and a few of them are bound to turn out. Most cameras these days, even the point-and-shoot models, have a burst mode. Use it. Storage space is cheap and you can always sort through the shots and pick out the winners later.

Shooting a lot of shots also gives people more time to relax and get comfortable with the camera around. On a professional studio shoot it’s not unusual for photographers to shoot 2,000 or more photos in a single shoot with both the model and photographer in nearly constant motion. There’s a reason for that. You never know what’s going to turn out, so you shoot everything. It’s surprising how many times the difference between a good shot and an amazing shot is a few millimeters.

Break Up Big Groups

So many group photos look like a police line up where a witness is identifying the killer and the people in the photo frequently look just as uncomfortable.

family photo
Avoid the police lineup. Group people and arrange the groups - by Mafue

It helps to break up big groups into smaller ones, arranged in some kind of order. Have husbands and wives stand together and arrange the groups instead of everyone in a line. Have some people sitting down, some standing up, try different arrangements. It will be much more interesting visually. Another oddity that happens when you break up the big groups is it seems to make everyone more comfortable.

Some great tips from Tracy Clark: