The holidays are coming up, and for many families, Thanksgiving or Christmas are the one or two times a year when the whole family is under one roof. It makes sense to want a group photo on the rare occasion when everyone is together. But unless you’re related to a professional photographer (like my family is), it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get one to take a family portrait for you on a major holiday.
Fortunately, it’s not too hard to get a nice photo of your own family. Everyone knows tri-pods and self-timers exist, and I have some more tips to help you make the most out of DIY-ing your holiday family photo.
In general, you’re going to get better light if you’re outside than if you’re relying on lamps and inconsistent indoor lighting. Other advantages to being outside are having more room to work with if you’re trying to organize a big group, and not having to worry about clutter or random household objects in the background of your photo.
You might get lucky and have soft light from an overcast sky. But if it’s a sunny day with lots of bright light, put your group against the shady side of a building. This will keep the sun out of everyone’s eyes and harsh shadows off their faces. It might not be the most creative or exciting backdrop, but at least you’ll be able to see everyone’s smiles instead of squinty eyes and dark shadows.
Look for Window Light
If going outside isn’t an option, perhaps due to cold or otherwise inclement weather around the holidays, you’ll find the best indoor light in front of a window. Have your group face the biggest or sunniest window available. This will make sure your faces are nice and bright.
Sometimes there may not be a big, sunny window available. Or, there might be one, but only in a place where the dining room table would be in the way or the background would be cluttered and distracting or there wouldn’t be enough space for the whole group. In this case, do the best you can with lamps and overhead lighting. Just make sure that you have more light on your faces than on your backs. Try to avoid having a window behind you, or close the curtains so you don’t get hazy light from behind.
Use an Actual Tripod (and a remote, if you can!)
Anyone who’s tried to take a group picture by balancing their phone on a stack of books or against a water bottle can tell you it’s not a very reliable or accurate method. Using a tripod and remote trigger will give you the most control over how your pictures are framed.
I know “tripod” and “remote trigger” can sound like intimidating photographer equipment, but they’re really not! You can get a mini smartphone tripod and Bluetooth remote from Amazon for less than $20. Stick your phone on the tripod, open your camera, and push the button on the trigger to take a picture from anywhere within Bluetooth range. The self-timer function on your phone will do the trick, too, but with a remote you don’t have to worry about leaving a space for someone who will be running to join the group.
I have the UBeesize Phone Tripod from Amazon, which comes with a Bluetooth remote, if you need a place to start looking! This is a mini tabletop size, and the fit is a little tricky if you have a Popsocket on your phone, but there are plenty of other styles and sizes of tripods available.
Shoot from Eye Level or Above
Try to avoid setting your phone or camera on a surface that is below eye level, like a chair or TV tray. This is not a flattering angle for faces. Ideally you want to shoot from as close to eye level as possible, or even a little higher. This is where a full-size tripod would come in handy. If you have a mini tripod, look for a mantle or shelf to set it on, or get creative by turning a laundry basket upside-down on top of a table for extra height.
Don’t Let Pinterest Drag You Down
If you’re taking this picture in the evening, when the sun has gone down but your whole family is together, and all you have is a mini tripod and the self-timer on your phone, your pictures probably aren’t going to look exactly like the holiday family photos you browsed for inspiration. It’s hard to replicate photos taken on a photography set by a professional photographer if you’re trying to stuff 23 people into your aunt’s living room. The most important thing is to capture your family together, and you can do that even without professional photography equipment or a cute holiday backdrop.
I hope these tips were helpful and practical for those of you taking DIY family photos this holiday season! But even if you don’t follow any of my suggestions, your photos will still be meaningful and special as long as they include the people and moments who are most important to you.