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?

That Time It Just Didn't Work

I've been debating with myself on how to handle Sundays during my 31 days challenge.  I thought I might write about what our pastor's sermon was about each week, or maybe part of my testimony.  But Sundays are typically restful family days, and I didn't want to put a burden on the day, so I thought I would just play it by ear.

This morning we went to church, and the plan was to visit my mom and dad in the afternoon, and take some quick family pictures in the fall colors.  I thought I would be able to whip together a brief but insightful summary of what I learned in church once we got home and finish with plenty of time left for a TV show with Derek.

Easy as pie, right?

Not so much.

I have never had such a hard time taking good photos of my family!  The light faded too quickly, my camera wouldn't focus or my settings were off, and the kids were not cooperating.  A couple of hours, multiple crying children, and a bag of M&M's later, and I got a very small handful of usable photos.  I couldn't even get a really good one of Georgie at all.

I was fighting a grouchy mood all the way home, and even now I am just shaking my head wondering what in the world went wrong!  So if you've ever told me "I don't know how you get such great pictures of all your kids!"...well, today I'm not sure how I've ever done that either.

I'm sure I'll always look back at this year's family photos as the year it just wouldn't work.

But I hope I also remember a little bit about how cute they all looked, despite the lack of documentation.  How tall and handsome Wyatt and Clyde were in their bomber jackets.  How Gwen and Clarice beamed when I told them how ladylike they looked.  How Georgie pronounced "I wook pwetty!" in her baby voice.

I hope I remember the way all the kids breathed a sigh of relief when I finally called it quits.  How suddenly the tears turned into laughter as they threw leaves in the air, on top of their heads, into the water.

The way it felt when Georgie leaned her forehead against mine and relaxed into my arms, a tear drying on her cheek and her chubby little fingers clutching a blue M&M.

How Derek let me vent all the way home about what a disastrous attempt at photos that was and sulk for a little bit, but didn't hold it against me.  How he wrapped his arms around me and assured me we could try again.

I don't have much energy left in me to be briefly profound about anything at the moment.

But I am so thankful for my sweet family that I didn't get any good pictures of today.

Four Years Of Sunshine

Note: I have written each of my kids a birthday letter and shared it here for years, but this year I am better month to catch up than memory-keeping month, right?  So I'm going to share one of my kids' birthday letters each week until we are caught up!

Dear Clarice,

Darling, you are four years old!  The last year went by so fast, and it was a highly adorable year.

You have grown and changed so much between three and four.  This year will forever be marked in my memory as the year when we arrived home to our still new-to-us house at night, and you looked out the dark car windows and declared nervously "Mama, I sceered a' behrs."

("Mama, I'm scared of bears," if you need a translation.)

It was achingly cute, and your dad and I repeated it whenever we needed a smile.  Last year you still had something of a baby lilt to your sentences, and now you are sounding more like a big girl.  Your voice is still tiny and cute though, and you hardly speak without smiling.  Your face has lost some of it's baby roundness.

Your favorite clothes to wear right now are tutus and any items with sparkles.  You are about to start a ballet class, and you are so excited.  You've been practicing your ballet moves ever since your big sister took a class last year, and your little motions are so graceful.  I can't wait to see you all dressed and with your ballerina bun.  You're going to love it!

Your favorite toy is still your "Baby", the pink bear you have carried with you since you were an infant.  I found a back-up last year, the same bear only a white one.  You found it in my closet one day and ran up to me with your face all lit up.  "Mama, it's a white Baby!"  Now you carry around "Pink Baby" and "White Baby" everywhere (even though White Baby isn't exactly white anymore).  But I notice that Baby is with you less often than it used to be.

You started drawing in earnest this year, and your attempts at drawing our family are my favorite.  We are a jumble of round heads and stick arms and legs, with big smiles drawn on.  In one version, your brother is jumping on Daddy's head.  Sometimes you draw a picture of me and you together, and it melts my heart.

You are my child with the biggest emotions.  You either give me your brightest smile, or you come to me with the saddest little tears in your eyes.  When you are sad and I pick you up, you still curl into my lap, and I remember what it was like to hold you when you were brand-new.  I kiss your little wet cheeks and hold you until that sunshine smile comes back to your face, and it never takes long.

You are a joy, my sunshine girl with sky blue eyes and golden hair.  I thank the Lord every day that He made you mine.  You are a gift to me, Little One.  I have loved you at three, and I can't wait to see what new fun four will bring!  I am blessed that I get to be the one to watch you grow.

I love you always!


A Fall Scavenger Hunt (& Thoughts On Memory-Making)

"Mom, do you remember when we did that fall scavenger hunt?"

I have to be honest, when my son asked me this on our mountain drive yesterday, I was totally drawing a blank.

"Um, no?" I said, puzzled.

"Yeah, we had to find like a red leaf, and a spider's web, and stuff, and you gave us candy corn afterward."

I honestly have no memory of this event ever happening.

See what I mean when I say I have a bad memory?

My son insists we did this scavenger hunt though.  After searching in the far recesses of my brain, I may have a vague recollection, but I have no idea where I found scavenger hunt inspiration the first time.  In an effort to duplicate something that clearly made an impression on my kiddos, I decided to put together a scavenger hunt for them today.

I considered putting together my own list of items to find, but did some quick googling first, and boy, I'm glad I did.  There are not just fall scavenger hunts online, there are lists of fall scavenger hunts online.  I found these papers for us to try out on this website, but thought I'd share the ones that stood out to me!


I don't think you could complete this scavenger hunt list in a day (or at least we couldn't, since it includes some items we would find in the city or plains), but it would be great to do over the course of a week or two!  I like the pictures of the items for younger kids who can't read yet, but the actual things to find are good for older kids too.

This fall scavenger hunt is great for older kids who can read, or to do together as a family! My oldest son (eight years old) is working on this one.

This is an ideal fall scavenger hunt for younger kids because it has really simple items accompanied by pictures!  I gave this one to my four year old today.

This nature scavenger hunt has pictures and words, so I think it would work well for a variety of ages!  My middle two (six and five) are doing this one as I type.

If you kids in early elementary who might be up for a nighttime scavenger hunt, this one looks fun!

This is not really a scavenger hunt, but I love these kind of identification guides.  This one is a leaf identification guide that would be handy!

And if you are in a pre-Thanksgiving mood (or just want to bookmark this for November), I liked this gratitude scavenger hunt, a Thanksgiving Day scavenger hunt, and this Thanksgiving Reading challenge!

If none of these are interesting, or if you just want to see way more options than the ones I picked out here, check out the post 18 Fall And Autumn Scavenger Hunts For Kids - they had a bunch to sort through, these were just a few that I ended up saving!


What was interesting to me about this whole scavenger hunt conversation was how different things stick with us, and so many things just slip away.  I can barely recall (maybe?) doing a nature scavenger hunt with my kids.  I feel like it would have been when my son was in kindergarten.  But here we are a few years later, and he still remembers that we did that.

What does all this have to do with memory-keeping?  I guess this post is more about memory-making.  You can't have one without the other.  So often I think that I have to orchestrate elaborate plans or make an elaborate effort to make a memory for my kids.  But this was so simple.  It required so little effort from me that I hardly remember it the first time, but it was really fun to my son.

My kids are running around outside right now as I type this, searching for spider webs and deciduous trees and pinecones.  I found a couple printables to hand out and basically said "have at it".  I promised them "corn candy" (as they call it) if they found as many items they could.  They are laughing and exploring and shouting every time they spot something on the list.

So I guess the point I'm trying to make with memory-making is to encourage you to take heart.  You don't have to try very hard.  Do something out of the ordinary now and then.  Mix in some candy.  They most likely won't remember that it wasn't perfect. They'll just remember the fun.

Gone Fishing (And 3 Reasons You Should Go)

I have a vague memory of my parents taking us fishing once when I was a kid.  My dad's cousin knew a spot.  I remember walking there in the evening, mosquitos hanging in the air, the purple shadows and blue water.

I don't remember if we caught anything that time, but I remember the feeling of being out there at night, hoping we would catch something.

That fishing experience is largely eclipsed in my memory, however, by a Canadian fishing trip when I was twelve.  We drove for days up to Canada, then took a float plane to finally arrive at a little fishing lodge.  Sportsman's Lodge, it was called.  We woke up early, put on our rain gear, and ate Red River hot cereal for breakfast.  Then our native guides, Cecil and Roger, took us out on the water in two boats.

Now that was fishing.

We caught so many fish we had to throw some back before lunch each day.  When the sun was high, Cecil would pull our boat up onto some sandy island, start a fire, and cook up the walleye we caught.  If you have never had fresh-fried wallet on a Canadian shoreline, have you really fished? I've never tasted any other fish that was so good.

I still think of that trip and hope that I can take my kids on a fishing trip like that before they are grown.  

But in the meantime, we try to fish down here, where it's a lot harder to catch something.

Wyatt has been dying to go fishing for a couple summers now.  This was a classic case of saying "We'll try to go soon," until the summer was over and we realized we still hadn't gone.

We finally decided last Sunday was the day.  We packed up some fishing gear, packed a lunch, and went out to attempt fishing in a bright blue sky, in the middle of the day.  Actually not the best fishing strategy,  at all.  But it was just for fun, after all.

The wind was blowing something terrible, and the water was low at the lake.  But we trudged down to the shore anyway.  The kids tore off their shoes and stuck their toes in the water while Derek threaded the fishing line.  We were casting into the wind, the waves were lapping at the shore, and we only got one small nibble.  But we were outside in the sunshine, watching the pelicans having more luck than we did, playing in the sand, enjoying the quiet.

It was pretty magical.

If you've never tried going fishing, you really should give it a go.  Here are a few reasons to go fishing with your family:

1.  You really don't need that much gear.

We did most of our fishing with a $13 fishing pole, taking turns.  We also had to purchase a fishing license, fishing line and bait, and we had a net we had previously, but that was it.  I don't think fishing has to be too expensive, especially starting out.  You don't need top-of-the-line gear to have fun. It's more about the experience, in my opinion.

2.  It's a great way to get outside.

Fishing is a really relaxing way to enjoy nature.  You only have to walk as far as you decide, and then the rest of the time you are sitting or standing on the shore, so there is minimal physical exertion.  But you still get to see the beauty of God's creation up close and personal.  I think it's one of the easiest ways to do something "outdoorsy", especially with kids.  Fishing from the shore is even better with a family, because if the kids get bored, they can run around  a bit.

3. You'll make memories even if you don't catch anything.

Whether you catch anything or not, you still had a chance to enjoy nature and just be together in the outdoors.  And those near misses can be just as bonding as catching something.  All the way home our kids bemoaned the fact that some fish nibbled on our line and stole our bait, and I know they'll remember that.

Have you been fishing lately or ever?  Did you like it?

The Wednesday Five | Vol. 1

Do you ever announce that you are going to do something, and then realize that you better get going if you don't want to fail right out of the gate?

That was me yesterday.  I was mulling over my 31 Days Of Memory-Keeping, trying to figure out how I wanted to organize this project and what I wanted to write about, and I came across a new-to-me blogger, The Autumn Girl, who does "Tuesday Five" posts.  She shares a quote, a recipe, an outfit, an inspiration, and a happy moment.

I love the concept of recording and sharing things in five categories that stand out each week.  I'm going to give this a try during my month of writing here every day.  I'm borrowing Meg's idea of sharing a "Tuesday five", but I'm tweaking it to fit my purposes here.  Further tweaking may happen, and if we all like it, maybe I'll keep doing my "Wednesday fives" after my 31 days project is finished.

A Quote

"The road must be trod, but it will be very hard.  And neither strength nor wisdom will carry us far upon it.  This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong.  Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere."   
-Fellowship Of The Ring

I have thoughts about this quote - it really resonated with me when I read it.  Maybe I'll share more in another post soon when I have more room and time.

A Book

Chasing New Horizons by Alan Stern and David Grinspoon.  We are studying space in our co-op this year, and me and one of the kids got in a discussion last week about whether Pluto is gaseous or terrestrial (online sources don't seem to have a solid consensus either).  Apparently a planet can have a solid surface but not actually be terrestrial like Earth is.  You learn something new everyday.

Regardless, it got me interested in Pluto, and I looked up books on the subject and found this one on audio.  I tore through it in three days!  It's mostly about how Pluto was discovered, how people got interested in studying it, and all the political and technical maneuvering it took to finally explore that extremely distant planet.  I think this book could potentially be dry reading, but it was great on audio!  Very interesting.

A Bit Of Nature

The aspen leaves by my house are being stubborn, but the bushes are changing...

A Recommendation

This video on the "evolution" of worship music was amazing!  It gave me the chills.

A Moment Of Happiness

I was cleaning up the dishes from lunch and spotted a couple toys around the corner.  I followed the trail of toys toward where the kids were playing, trying to decide whether to ignore the mess or tell them to start cleaning it up.  I peeked around the corner, saw Gwen (6 years old) building a farm on the living room floor, and I decided against stopping her.  I picked up a pair of shoes to put away myself, and looked closer as I walked by.  I did not expect to see Clyde (5 years old), playing next to Gwen, decked out in full knight gear - coat of mail, helmet, plastic sword, the works.

I don't know what game they were playing, but the whole thing struck me funny, and I couldn't help grinning and chuckling to myself.  Sometimes I get so focused on the mess and all my to-do's, and I should just stop. Overlook the state of my house, and just look at them a little longer.  I'm glad I didn't miss that moment yesterday.

Another Go At Memory-Keeping

I often wish my memory was better than it is.

I have family members who can recall the exact dates that things happen, or concur up details that don't even come to my mind until they are mentioned.  Sometimes I'll smell something, or hear a song, and those sensory things jog my memory, but it dances on the edge of my brain and I can never quite grasp it.  Big events stand out to me, but it makes me sad that so many little things go unremembered.

A couple years ago I embarked on my first ever 31 days project to write about memory-keeping.  The 31 Days Of Writing project was actually an organized event for bloggers to attempt to write every day in October about one topic.

I started this project for the first time when I was hugely pregnant, not even sure I would make it to the end of the month.  I almost did, but my attempt to write every day was still foiled in the best way, by the birth of my fifth sweet baby.

Alas, the 31 Days Of Writing event has been officially ended, and there is no longer an organized linkup for bloggers.  But the spirit of the challenge was still a good one, and despite it no longer being a "thing",  I'm kind of itching to give it a try again.

And I kind of want to choose the same topic as last time: Memory-Keeping.

The reason I originally tried to write every day for a month about memory-keeping still applies.  It's the same reason I've been recording memories on this blog for the last eleven years.  My brain too easily forgets the little things, and sometimes those little details are the stitches in a much bigger picture that reflects God's providential hand in my life.  It makes it easier to see the big picture when I have the little details written down somewhere.

So this month, I'm trying 31 days of writing again, about this familiar subject.  I'll write about little things I don't want to forget right now, maybe about some of the mechanics and struggles of documenting memories well, maybe about my own memories from childhood.

Memory-keeping is a broad topic, and encompasses a lot of what I already write about, so that makes it feel like a manageable challenge.  But writing every day makes me dig a little deeper, pay attention to the little joys in my life more.  October seems like a wonderful month to remember those little good things.  It will focus my heart leading into the month when we give thanks to the Giver of all good gifts.

So yes, I hope you'll follow along, or join in if you always wished you had tackled the 31 Days Of Writing project while it was still a thing.  It's still a thing here!


To kick off the month, I wanted to share a few of my posts from my last attempt at writing every day in October - these were my most popular posts last time!

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