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8 Tips for How to Take Your Best Family Photo

Say cheese! How to take a fabulous photo of your kids and family

Published on: November 23, 2020

Mother Diana Chen holding baby Xuan Lily Ton-Nu family photo tips credit JiaYing Grygiel
Mom Diana Chen holding her daughter Xuan Lily Ton-Nu. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

It's Thanksgiving time and that means it’s time to take your annual holiday card family photo. Get on it!

I’m guilty of planning our family picture months, if not seasons, in advance. I think of it as a bookmark in time. Someday, I’d like to look back and see my kids growing bigger every year while we parents (hopefully) remain unchanged.

You’re guaranteed great results if you book a professional photo shoot. But maybe you can’t work it out schedule-wise, or you don’t have the budget (like so many this year).

If you're going to do it yourself, here are eight tips from a photo pro on how to take your own fabulous family photo. 

1. Go outside

Unless you are blessed with floor-to-ceiling windows and absolutely zero clutter, don’t try to take the photo in your house. Find a pretty park with lots of trees, or a beautiful building. Think about what’s behind you: Are there telephone poles, parked cars, lingering strangers that are going to show up in the background? And go do it now, not the second week in December, unless you like being cold and wet.  

2. Time it right

Your best bet is actually a cloudy day. The harsh light on sunny days doesn’t flatter anyone. If it is clear, find a big, shady location. And of course, as any parent knows, shoot in the morning when the kiddos are at their cheeriest and most cooperative.

3. Get out of your pajamas

While you are at it, dig out a dress from the back of your closet and put on brighter makeup than you’d normally wear. It photographs better, and hey, do you want to be remembered in your yoga pants and a ponytail? When dressing your family, channel your inner Michelle Obama. Solid colors, in jewel tones, look great. Avoid black or white.

Matt, Nora and Jan Grygiel. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

4. Remember, your smile is your best accessory

This is something I tell brides. If you are nervous or stressed out, it will show. So please, please, relax and think about why 6 was afraid of 7. (Because 7 ate 9. Ha, ha.)

5. Set your aperture to f2.8

This step is optional and only applies if you have a camera where you can adjust the aperture (the opening that controls how much light comes into the lens). It allows your subjects to be crisp and the background to be pleasantly out of focus.  

6. Use whatever camera you have

Say you don't have a fancy camera. Digital single-lens reflex, interchangeable lenses, humongous megapixels, blah blah blah. But you do have an iPhone. No problem. It's how you see, not your gear, that is most important. These days, any phone takes pretty amazing pictures, and you can get a high-quality file out of it. Confession: I use the dinosaur of a digital camera I bought in grad school because it still works.

Grygiel family. Credit: Tai-Jen Chang

7. Get a friend to help

Lately, I’ve been setting up my camera on a tripod and coercing someone else to hit the shutter for me a zillion times. You only need one great frame, and chances are higher you will get it if you have options to choose from. If you set up the picture, literally anyone walking by can press that button for you. I’ve used my mom, my brother, random students on the University of Washington Quad … The results are stiff when I’ve tried using the self-timer, and no one wants to see your distorted arm holding a selfie stick.  

8. Order prints

I've tried a lot of photo printing services over the years, and hands down, my favorite is Shutterfly. (This is not a sponsored post; I just really like their products.) You're not going for museum-quality archival prints, so for the price point and quality, Shutterfly does a good job. Quick turnaround, too. The important thing is to have actual photos to send to the grannies and the aunties, especially this year, and a few to hang up yourself.

There you go! Now go make that family picture that will make all the others on the fridge door jealous.

Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2016 and updated for 2020.

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