My Tips For Taking Your Own Family Photos

(Photos in today's post are from last year - I haven't been able to bring myself to sort through yesterday's disastrous photo attempts yet!)


Photos play a huge part in memory-keeping for me.  As I mentioned before, I am not great at remembering the smaller events of my life, but if I have a photo, I am able to immediately remember details that would otherwise be lost to me.

When I was pregnant with my firstborn, I realized how critical photos would be for me in my memory-keeping.  My babies all have grown too fast, and I am so glad I made sure we got some really good photos together to mark the passing of each year.  

For really big events, like maternity or newborn pictures, I've always outsourced and got my amazing photographer and dear friend to do some photos for me!  But for regular, run-of-the-mill family photos, I usually do them myself.

(Proof that I can sometimes take a good family photo with the tripod!)

Despite yesterday's photo struggles, I usually am able to get some pretty good photos each year, and I thought I would give you my best tips for taking your own family photos - or basically just tell you how I manage it.  I am still really just an amateur, hobby photographer, so your mileage may vary with these suggestions, but this is how I take our family photos.

(If you want tips for taking photos of yourself with a tripod - I can't help you, ha!  That's one tripod skill I've never mastered.  If I'm the lone adult in the picture, then it's most likely one I had Derek take for me!)

What I use:

My DSLR (I have a Nikon D5200 and a 50mm f/1.5 lens)
A tripod (this one)
A remote shutter release (this one)
My iPhone 7+



1. Scout out a spot to take photos ahead of time.  

Every time I've taken photos that have gone smoothly, it's been because I found a spot I liked ahead of time and started putting the photo together in my head.  I think about where I'll put the tripod, how I'll arrange the family, where I'll run in to join, etc.  I try to think about light and shadows and whether morning or evening would be the best.  The couple hours right after sunrise or right before sunset are best, and try to stay out of direct or dappled sunlight!  Good lighting is everything.


2. Pack an emergency photo bag.  

I usually pack a bag with things like a blanket to sit on, extra memory cards and camera batteries, candy to keep the kids happy, hairbrush, makeup, extra diapers, etc.  I've been burned before when I didn't think things through, so I try to plan ahead for problems that might arise so I'm prepared.


3. Be meticulous about getting set up.  

When we arrive at the spot I've (hopefully) scouted out, I take a couple test shots first to make sure my settings are proper and the light is good (I didn't pay enough attention to this yesterday, hence why a lot of our photos are junk).  I get my camera and tripod set up and fidget with it until it's directed right where I want the family to stand, then I have my husband go stand where I want him.  My husband is usually my focus point, because he is the only one in the family I can trust to stand still!  I get the kids arranged around him, and keep in mind to leave a space for me to stand.  

Once everyone is arranged, I go back to my camera, set the focus point on my husband, and ask him not to move his head.  Then I switch the shutter setting to the remote, go over and rearrange children if necessary, stand in my spot, and start clicking with the remote!


4. Check the photos!  

I usually have to repeat this process a few times to make sure everyone is looking good in the actual photos and everything is in focus.  I'm always sorry later when I don't take breaks and double-check the photos in the back of my camera!  I've taken a whole group of photos before, only to realize later they were all out of focus.

5.  Take a lot of shots.  

Most likely most of the shots you take with a remote are going to be just okay, but if you take a ton, you are more likely to get one that might work.

6. Be a little silly.  

In the photos where everyone is smiling, it's usually because we all just got finished yelling "chocolate cake!".  Seriously, instead of telling my kids to say "cheese", I tell them to say other foods they like.  Usually there is more giggling and general enthusiasm that way, which translates well in photos!  This is my favorite strategy for when I'm trying to get a good shot of just the kids too.  My best trick is to be a goofball, balance a pinecone on my head and then let it fall off, throw some leaves, peek out from behind a tree and make a funny face...all with my camera at the ready to catch the laughs!  It helps that my kids are quick-laughers too.


7. Tell everyone to look at one person.  

I really like a good "candid" shot, so after we try a few smiling at the camera, I usually pick a person and tell everyone else to look at them!  It turns out well when everyone is looking at one of the parents, but you have to make sure you are not just smiling blankly at the camera.  Look at everyone else as they are looking at you, or laugh a little, and it turns into a great fake-candid shot!



8.  Try tickling someone.  

When we have a child (especially a baby or toddler) who is crying, we tickle that kid.  We could be really obvious about the tickling and get more of those fake-candid shots while the kid is being tickled, like I talked about above.  Or sometimes we are really subtle about the tickling, so it doesn't cause a ruckus but leads to some good smiles.  There is a blurry line between crying and laughing, especially in photos, and sometimes tickling is the best way to save the photo session!

9.  Take it slow, and bring candy.  

When a photo session is devolving, I try to let the kids have a break to explore a little.  Often if they have time to get some energy out, they are ready to try taking another photo.   I try to take a breaks too so that we can also enjoy the experience, instead of being stressed about getting the photos done!  (Note: It's best if you start earlier than you think you need to so time is allowed for this sort of thing before you lose the light - another mistake I made yesterday.)  This can also be a good time to get more casual shots, or wider-angle shots of your kids exploring nature (I use my iPhone for this - maybe someday I'll get a better lens for scenery shots).




I have also been known to break out the candy to improve moods.  This is not normal parenting...this is parenting while trying to take photos.  Normal rules surrounding bribery do not apply.

10.  Know when to let it go.  

As I shared yesterday, sometimes photos just don't work.  I've been known to break our family photo sessions up into two shorter attempts, because little kids only last so long before they are ready to be done.  I've tried before to persevere when I could tell everyone was losing focus, and it's never gone well.  If everyone is crying and miserable, it's better just to call it quits.  You can always try again another day.  

Or you can do what I'm doing this year, and resort to getting your photographer friend to help, ha!  Some stages are just hard (ex: when you have an almost two year old), and reinforcements may be in order.  But don't let a bad attempt make you think you can't take your own family photos - it happens.  Just try again another day.


Have you ever tried to take your own family photos?  How did it go?






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Meghan said...

Such good tips. You always have such beautiful photos! This is very helpful as the holidays begin to approach and I've got this very topic in the back of my mind.

Ashley said...

This is so helpful as I'm planning to take our photos for the first time this fall. Thanks!

Bekah said...

I love this!!! (And will recommend it!) We outsource our annual fall photos, so we can be spoiled by a photographer working with us, but the rest of the year, we do all our photos ourselves. (And yes, I know we don't have kids, so it's different.) Between selfies and tripods, we've gotten pretty good with the documentation! We recently got a travel tripod (smaller than the regular one and easier to carry in a backpack) that came with a phone remote, so that has really helped! When we use the DSLR, we have to timer it, which is a whole different ballgame. Fun fact: on Ryan's birthday cruise, he set up the tripod with the phone/remote on the deck while we played the giant checkers game, and he documented our entire game by randomly taking photos. It was SUCH a fun scrapbook page!!

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