How to Take Great Family Photos at Home

Can you take great family photos without a professional photographer or a great camera?

Varied images of one woman wearing wrist warmers made by Bridie Murray - Parade Handmade

The short answer is yes. It's easy to take great family photos with a bit of know how. You can make huge improvements by taking on just a few hints and tips. These tips will improve your photographic abilities enough to give you a little more confidence when you are recording your memories. It will be less of a gamble for you.


Knowing how to take better photos is a great advantage when you have a growing family. The average family takes hundreds if not thousands of photographs throughout the years. Many family photos are disasterous which is such a pity and so disappointing in later years. When your beloved granny/granddaughter/uncle's photo is clearly them but they are otally in shadow from the window behind or fuzzy as it's mostly out of focus because the camera/phone shook.

This scenario could be easily avoided by keeping just a few basic tips in mind. You don't need years of study by a long shot but the best camera or camera phone in the world even with all it's wizardry will enhance images but rarely save natural photographic disasters.
I know the pain of this because although I studied photography in college many moons ago, I have had some crazy disasters both before and after my training. For example, I shot a whole roll of film during the night of my debs, (36 shots over a whole night was al ot then), with an instamatic camera I had borrowed especially for the purpose. We were all in our finery in a beautiful hotel for an evening of dance and romance, supposedly, (it wasn't). Nonetheless, when I went to develop the film I discovered, to my dismay, that the film had got stuck at the start of the night, (having been threaded crookedly at the beginning), and my photographic masterpieces were not to be found. They were never even taken!

I love taking family photos and I would sooner photograph people over things. I love keeping a photographic memento of special times and special people. I started my photographic learning back when film was the only option available to the masses. I took a ten week night course in the local school with my dad who was interested in taking better photographs also. Although this was a low pressure and a particularly fun experience of learning, it is a great way to find out if studying the subject at college is really for you. I loved it and it felt natural to me. I went on much later on to study photography at the Dublin Institute of Photography, through a circuituous route, going up a few blind alleys first. 


Shooting Family Photos at Home - Top Ten Tips

  1. When posing a person or group do NOT position them with their backs to a light source such as a window, lamp or sun. Always have then face the light unless you want a silhouette effect. Then by all means place them with their backs to the light!

  2. Position a single person at a slight angle to the camera as it's a more relaxed pose. Normally, try not to shoot from straight on. It seldom happens in realy life that you encounter a person at a direct angle unless it's in an official situation with someone behind a desk or something like that. If it helps have them sit on the arm of a sturdy chair as they will most lightly sit up straight without you telling them or making them too self conscious.

  3. Try to stagger a group of people both in height and from the front to the back of the picture. keep to some sort of triangle shape with the grouping if you can and have the smaller ones in the front or even the tallest in a chair with the others all around the chair. This gives a lovely relaxed air to the group and keeps it looking together rather than scattered.

  4. Try not to pose people with they're backs to a wall especially if using flash but as a rule of thumb it's better to have people about 6 feet from the wall or even with the whole room behind them. (Always make a quick sweep to make sure the background is not too distracting or untidy and remove obvious distractions like a red jacket or remove the empty pizza box from the night before etc. (Even someone else, who is not in the portrait, could be asked to move just for the shot.)

  5. Make sure that the people are all neat and tidy and have no obvious issues that they will regret later such as smudges on their clothes, collars with one side in and the other out, hair sticking up, shoe laces undone (if you are shooting that low). Chipped nail polish can be hidden easily enough.

  6. Be careful not to pose anyone directly in front of a plant, lamp or candle sconce. They can be comical scenarios but not great for the family portrait to be perused down the ages. (Grandad with the lampshade on his head.) n the other hand, you could have everyone doing this for a fun image.

  7. FOCUS. Stay very steady when you are taking the shots especially for single person portraits. There's nothing more distracting than an image of a person with the leopard print blouse perfectly in focus but the eyes and the face are fuzzy. Use a tripod if you have one. Alternatively you can use the back of an armchair. If all else fails you can just steady yourself with your back against a door frame or other sturdy object like an armchair. Remember it helps to keep your feet shoulder width apart, more or less and keep your arms tucked in by your sides. When using a camera for individual portraits, focus on the eyes while pressing the shutter release half way down and keeping the shutter release semi-pressed reposition the camera to the position you want to take the photo and shoot. For group shots you can put your camera on automatic and get the general shot in focus. 

  8. When framing your shot try to fill the frame while being careful not to chop off heads, arm or feet etc. It may even be worth keeping the big feather on top of auntie Sheila's facinator for posterity. It can pay to think about the frame you will use later if you print out your family photos. On a phone you can choose the proportion to suit different frame shapes and you can choose between a landscape image (wide and short) or a portrait layout (long and narrow) to suit your purposes. For a creative effect you can try a few shots from unusual angles like from very low down making the shoes seem very big and the heads seem very small.

  9. Take lots of shots. The first few will probably be rubbish, though you never know. Take them from different angles and perhaps move a few people around in case there is a better combination. It's often hard to get the whole gang sitting still together so it's a good time to go for gold if and when you do manage it. For single portraits definitely change up the angle a lot. Left and right, up and down. Move in and move back to get close up head shots, body shots or full length. Encourage them to think of different things to change their expressions like spotting someone they know in the park, listening to someone interesting at a meeting and one of my favourites is seeing you friend, husband or child coming towards you with two big icecreams. That usually does the trick to get a natural smile of joy. You could try saying something to make them laugh though this can be tricky.. Saying 'cheese' in a cheesy way can work too of course.

  10. Last but not least. Have fun. You can start or finish with some fun scenarios. This can be a great way to get natural family photos. Dad can pretend to sit on the childrens' knees). Perhaps everyone can bring something they love with them such as teddies, golf clubs, fishing hats, knitting, paintbrush, the hamster or other family pet. (They should feature in evey photo if possible). Everyone can dress up or wear a hat or whatever. You could all strike a pose like a famous detective or fashion model or create a letter with your body and try to spell out a word.

Do you have any questions, thought or comments related to this subject? Let me know and I will see do I have a helpful answer or suggestion.


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