Every fall, my mother-in-law gets everyone together to take a family photo for her Christmas card.
With each passing year, we’ve gotten a little better (and a little more creative) at using a timer and a tripod to get everyone in our growing family looking and smiling.
I have to say, as long as you’re prepared, it’s pretty easy! Here are a few tips to help you take your own family photo at home.
What you’ll need:
- Camera with a self-timer function (most cameras have one)
- Tripod – helpful, but optional
- Self-timer remote – helpful, but optional
- Your family
1. Choosing a Location
When choosing a location, you’ll want to pay the most attention to the lighting. You may have the perfect backdrop in mind for your photo, but if everyone’s face is in shadow (or in bright sunlight), you’ll probably be disappointed with the result.
Outdoors: If you’re taking your photo outside, try to find an area in the shade. If you aren’t able to find a shaded area, try to have the sun behind your family, so they don’t have to squint looking toward the sun.
(Shade is better than direct sunlight is because the light can leave bright spots of light on people’s faces that aren’t flattering.)
In my photo above, you can see that there’s scattered light on the ground behind my family. I kept asking them to move forward… backward…sideways… etc., until no one had light on their faces. Unfortunately, right before the final shot, my son and husband were slightly hit with bright sunlight. Luckily, the light is on the side of their faces, so it doesn’t ruin the picture.
Indoors: If you’re taking your photo inside, it’s best to shoot during the day in an area with natural light. Try to pose your family near a window or an open door, and, if possible, turn off all lights and lamps in your house (they give off that unflattering yellow-tint). And, since most light that comes into your house won’t be direct sunlight, you can have your family face the light (as opposed to facing away from the light, like you’d do if you were outside).
Ideally, you’ll have enough light that you won’t have to use a flash. (The light from a camera flash isn’t nearly as flattering in portraits as natural light from a window or open shade.)
2. The Shoot
I put my camera on a tripod because I happened to have one that came with my camera, but you don’t really need a tripod. As long as you have something that’s the right height to set your camera on, you’ll be all set! Consider stacking books or boxes, or using a shelf or counter.
The Test Shot
Before you have everyone get into position, ask one person to stand in place to take a test shot. This will help you make sure everything looks good to you, and you can usually tell whether there will be enough room for everyone. If the location or the light doesn’t seem quite right, you can ask that person to move around, without feeling rushed by having the whole group lined up and ready to go.
At this point, you’ll also want to check your camera’s focus. There are usually little lines or boxes in your viewfinder to show where your subject(s) should be so they’ll be in focus. Place the person’s face in that area and take a test shot to make sure they’re in focus. If their face is blurry, keep moving them around (or moving the camera around) until you find the spot that puts them in focus.
Trial & Error
At one point, I did have a remote for my self-timer—which made this process MUCH easier. But somehow, somewhere, I managed to lose the remote, so this year, we were back to the press-and-run method. Anyway, moral of the story is that you really can do this without ANY fancy gear :)
I set the self-timer function on my camera to 10 seconds, pressed the shutter, and then ran to my spot as quickly as I could. As you can see from my “trial and error” photo above, I didn’t always make it. We took about 8 shots, and I was able to look at my camera and see that I got at least one shot where everyone was pretty much looking—good enough for us!
3. Editing & Card-making
Once your photo’s finished, it’s time to find the perfect Christmas card, so you can send your photo out to your closest family and friends! If you’re stumped on which card to use, check out how to choose the best holiday card for your photo.