Every time my family has a get-together, we all know the inevitable is going to happen. Someone, if not multiple people, is going to want pictures of everyone, whether it be a timed shot taken by the amateur photographers in the family or a hired professional at the events where everyone shows up. Coming from a big family creates a greater opportunity for mistakes to be made by those of us getting our picture taken, and through the years I have learned a thing or two about dos and don’ts of taking a family portrait. Follow these tips and your family’s photos will be full of life and love and hopefully free of grumpy toddlers that seem to always try and infiltrate our family photos.
1. Nothing good ever comes from a forced smile.
The number one thing I see that ruins an otherwise good family photo is the one person there who has a smile that looks anything but natural. It makes the whole photo seem uncomfortable and forced and just plain awkward. To combat this family photo offender, make sure you exercise good timing for your photo at a time where the family seems like they are relaxed and having a good time. Those who just can’t seem to smile right on command will require something to evoke a natural smile so come prepared with ways to get them to laugh. This will be easier with children but I remember a time where my grandfather, a very modest religious man, uttered out a mild curse word in a funny manner right before the photo and it was one of the best photos my family has ever taken.
2. Take the photo after eating a meal, not before.
Every holiday season my family seems to make the same mistake of planning the family photo right before a huge delicious meal (Thanksgiving comes to mind). What you get from this is a bunch of grumpy kids and adults who want nothing more than to eat and have a good time but are forced to wait until they get a good picture. While you may think the incentive of the great meal afterwords would help, it puts everyone in a worse mood and the whole experience becomes hectic and you greatly increase your chances of having the one person who doesn’t want to or can’t seem to hide their feelings of discontent.
3. Encourage people to bring some personal flair to the photo.
All too often do I come across someones family photo and think, well this is nice I guess but they all look the same and the photo doesn’t say much, quite boring in all honesty. The photos you will want to look at again and again are the ones that have something to say. Family photos only have to be as boring as you decide to make them. Encourage people to bring a little bit of themselves into the photo, weather it be a certain clothing item or making a tattoo visible or even some kind of prop that represents each person (such as a baseball glove, telescope, instrument, etc) . Even if you are going for the classic matching outfits family photo, don’t forget to highlight everyone’s unique personality for a more dynamic and story telling photo. Express yourself!
4. Tripods are well worth using.
Though they may not be super convenient at all times, you are much more likely to have a well focused and aligned picture if you are using a tripod. Sometimes it’s hard to tell on a small camera screen what is and isn’t in focus and you find out too late that one persons face is completely blurry from hand motion while holding the camera. Fortunately if you do not have one when you need one all you need to do is set your camera on a level surface at whatever height you need. Doing this prevents unstable arms from causing movement resulting in motion blur. An easy mistake to avoid but one that can be very frustrating when you do make it.
5. Don’t try to perfectly align everyone.
It is fairly common to see family photo’s where you can tell they went out of there way to make sure everyone’s head is at the same height or that there are perfectly aligned columns of people kneeling in front of a row of standing people. This is again boring, but even more importantly looks too forced creating a family photo without the sense of natural comfort they should have around each other. Accomplishing this is easy, just make sure no one is directly in front of or behind anyone else and if the group is similar in height find an uneven ground for them to stand on to naturally stagger them without trying to force their postures to keep them out of an awkward alignment.