How to Take Your Own Family Photo

Michele Wanke
Creative family photography poses make for interesting shots.

Learning how to take your own family photo can save valuable time and money.

Anatomy of the Family Photo

When it comes time to update the family portrait, most clans head to the mall and shell out big bucks for a studio shot. The idea of having a professional handle the lighting, backdrop and poses appeals to many families. However, while professional photo shoots have their advantages, they don't come cheap. What's more, getting young children to pose for a stranger can be a nightmarish proposition. The good news is that there are ways to take beautiful family portraits on your own.

Learning How to Take Your Own Family Photo

The following tips will help you snap frame worthy shots of your family without draining your bank account:

Location

The location of your photo shoot will depend largely on the number of subjects you plan to feature in the picture. For example, if you are shooting a family of four, then an open space in the living room or along the staircase will suffice. However, if you want to include grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins, then you might consider taking the shot outdoors.

Indoor Tips

  • Watch the windows--Do not position your subjects directly in front of a window. Doing so will wash out the shot.
  • Basic background--Be sure there isn't a floor lamp growing out of Uncle Bob's head or a holiday-specific decoration hanging over Aunt Jo's shoulder.
  • Less is more--Bright colors and busy patterns act as distractions. The focus of your photo should be your subjects, not the backdrop.

Outdoor Tips

  • Keep it simple--You don't want the scenery to upstage your family members.
  • Examine all options--Local parks offer ample picturesque settings, including fountains, flowery fields and gazebos. Examine all your options before settling on one.
  • Watch out for reflections--Outdoor locations, such as lakes or ponds can reflect light in undesirable places. Avoid locations where the sun's reflection will wreak havoc on your photo shoot.

Attire

While it's not necessary for your entire family to dress in matching attire, it is a good idea to choose a neutral color scheme. Stay away from black and bright white as the stark colors can cause problems with lighting. In addition, avoid allowing kids to wear shirts with logos or character designs. Rather, stick with solid colored attire in earth tones. Also, remind your female subjects to leave their bold, chunky jewelry at home as the shiny pieces tend to act as a distraction and cause unwanted reflections.

Lighting

Professional photo studios are equipped with flood lighting and reflectors to illuminate subjects' faces and minimize shadows. If you do not have professional equipment to work with, consider the following tips:

Indoor

  • Utilize natural light--Flood the room with as much natural light as possible. Open curtains and doors, and aim to shoot during the brightest part of the day.
  • Supplement with artificial light--Overhead lights work best. Avoid using low light sources as they cast shadows. If you do not have ceiling-mounted lights, position two lamps on each side of the group. Then, tilt the shades so that the light reflects off of the ceiling and down onto the group.
  • Use your flash--If your test shots show low light conditions, then use your camera's flash as fill light. Without the flash your shots will be underexposed. In addition, flash helps to keep your subjects in focus.

Outdoor

  • Sun sense--Never position your subjects directly in front of the sun. The intensity of the light will wash out the shot. What's more, the sun will cause everyone in your group to squint. Position the sun at a 45 to 90 degree angle to your subjects, so it is not shining directly in front or behind them.
  • Shadows--Avoid positioning your subjects near trees or buildings that can cast shadows on the group.
  • Sun or shade--Arrange subjects so that they are either 100 percent in the sun or completely in the shade. Doing so will keep the lighting consistent.

Subject Placement

When arranging subjects for a large group shot, be sure to place shorter family members in the front and taller ones in the back. Larger adults should be placed on the sides of a group so they don't dominate the photo. By arranging subjects in a circular or oval pattern, you avoid losing smaller children in a mass of family members. To create an eye-pleasing formation, position subjects so that the top of one person's head is between the eyes and chin of the person next to him or her. By doing so, you can avoid creating a top-heavy photo.

Finally, don't be afraid to experiment with props and positions. Adult women can sit on chairs below a semicircle of standing men, while children can kneel in front of the entire group.

Additional Tips

A lesson in how to take your own family photo would not be complete without addressing tripods and your camera's self timer. These items are imperative to have in order for you to be part of the family portrait.

The tripod is used to hold the camera in place and should be positioned at eye level with the tallest person in the photo. By placing the camera slightly above the majority of your subjects, you can avoid the appearance of double chins and squinting.

Finally, most moderately priced cameras come equipped with self-timers or wireless remotes. These tools can be employed to help you make your way into the shot. Just remember to have your family members leave an opening for you to squeeze into, and don't forget to smile.

How to Take Your Own Family Photo