Self-Portrait, Family Style

How to take a family photo you actually want to share

woman holding camera

Didn’t have family photos taken this year? As you scroll through the camera roll on your phone, are you realizing that there are no photos of all of you together? Desperate that you haven’t sent out a Christmas card yet and don’t feel like carting the kids off to the local portrait studio?

Don’t panic—you can take your own great family photograph by following a few suggestions:

  1. Learn to use the timer on your camera

This process will be IMPOSSIBLE unless you determine how to use the timer on your camera. Most of them have a menu item or a dial setting that has an icon that looks like this:

It might also have a number next to it, such as a 10 or a 2. Those digits represent the number of seconds you have between the moment you press the button to take the picture and the moment that the camera actually takes the picture. (Hope for 10.) While you should read the manual (or Google the instructions) for your particular camera model, typically you set the dial (or menu) to the timer option, set up your picture, press the button that you normally take a photo with, and then run to get into your spot.

  1. Find a location

Chances are that the rest of your family is going to be less excited about this photograph than you are. To make the process less painful, do your legwork first. Find a good background. Check what the light is like in that area during the time of day that you want to take the picture. (If you can take your picture during the day and avoid using your flash, do it.) Ideally you want the light source coming from the front of your subjects, not behind.

  1. Set the shot

If you don’t have a tripod, find a way to SAFELY AND SECURELY balance your camera so that it is at the same height as everyone’s face. An end table with stacked, hardcover books can work for this purpose.

Remember that it’s better to have everyone’s faces on the same level. If you have small kids (under 4 feet tall), this may mean picking them up so that their faces are up by yours. Consider taking a seated photograph.

Take a few test shots of the empty space where your family will be and see how they look. Adjust your “set” accordingly. This may sound weird, but consider using stuffed animals on pillows to reproduce your family members. This will give you a sense of where your camera’s auto-focus is going to point. This preparation will limit the inevitable whining that will occur when it is time to take the shot.

  1. Get everyone ready

It doesn’t really matter what you wear—this photograph is all about capturing a moment in your family’s history. That being said, busy patterns and big logos on clothes can be distracting, so try to avoid them if you can.

Decide as a family what your picture word will be. Don’t say “cheese.”  Try to find a word that ends in “y,” such as “happy,” as everyone will naturally smile as they say it and (hopefully) avoid the three-year-old’s CHEEEEEEEESE face that is otherwise inevitable.

Make sure everyone knows where to look. I’ve put a small toy on top of my camera before to get my kids to look at the right spot.

  1. Take the picture

Take one test shot (not using the timer) to make sure that there’s enough room to fit you in the photo once you run in. Once that’s good, you’re ready to go.

Set your timer and move quickly to your position! Most timers have a flashing light or a beep that gets faster as the shutter click moment approaches—this is a good time to get ready to say your picture word.

It may take two or three shots, but you’ll get your photo. Don’t search for perfection; be happy with reality. Mark the moment with the true expressions of personality, even if that means your kid is sticking out his or her tongue.

Melissa Gaston is a wife (to one) and the mother of two. She’s a recently recovering lawyer who is trying to remember how to live life in increments longer than six minutes. Now at home full time with the kids, she is discovering that there isn't as much free time in her day as she expected and that her negotiating skills are ineffective at mealtimes. Like all other Mummies she tries to find time to pursue her creative outlets of choice, photography and writing.