Vacations are usually the highlight of our year. So when it comes to Holiday cards, I love to have a photo of us on location. While hiring a photographer would be awesome, we can’t always afford to. We’ve taken a lot of family shots and have learned a lot over the years from trial and error. Lots and lots of error! I could put together a whole book of bad photos! It might actually be quite entertaining. Here are 12 tips and tricks to getting good family photos, whether you’re on vacation or just in your backyard.
1. Coordinate or choose complimentary colors. You don’t need to match, but choosing complimentary colors can help make a family photo more cohesive. Even the use of a scarf or an accessory can help tie everyone together.
2. Buy a decent camera. Although cell phones are pretty awesome nowadays- with portrait mode and filtering, it’s nice to have a decent camera to shoot with. You don’t have to spend thousands, a nice, quality point and shoot will give you great photos. When you are trying to set up a good family shot, you’re going to want to take a lot of photos. You can wear your battery down fast if you’re solely using your phone. We usually bring our phones, a point and shoot, an SLR and a video action cam with us. While we may not take every camera out with us, we will use a combination of devices depending on location and situation.
3. Bring a selfie stick. Family selfies are fun! We’re still working on mastering those. They may not be the most polished photos, but at least you’ll have one with everyone in it, on location. The nice thing about selfies is that everyone can actually see themselves. The selfie stick ensures you’ve got enough distance to also get some background in the photo. We have a great selfie stick that adapts to usage with a cell phone or a point and shoot. It even has a mini tripod on it! This is perfect for when you just don’t feel like carrying a big camera. Because this is technically a “mini tripod”, you can bring it into amusement parks.
4. For your DSLR, invest in a lightweight tripod with a leveler. We love this lightweight tripod. The leveler is a game changer. It’s really important to align your horizon when taking photos (unless you’re going for an artistic look). The leveler makes it so easy to see if you’re shooting straight on, without having to guess.
5. Use a remote timer. Husband and I spent years taking turns, setting up the tripod, setting the timer on the camera and then running to get into place while it counted down. We still did this on our last trip because we forgot our remote. We figured out too late that our camera actually works with an app on your phone that you can use as the remote. Doh!
6. Bribe the kids- bribery is one of the best tools/rights of parenting. Don’t judge. I’m not below using any means I can to stretch my kids’ patience. Candy? Yes. The best candy for photo bribery has to be SMARTIES. Smarties are brilliant! They don’t melt, they are small and you can dole them out a few at a time. Ice cream later? Yes. Souvenir in the gift shop? Well, let’s see how big you can smile!
7. Note the direction of the sun- the most basic rule of thumb is to shoot with the sun behind you. You can also shoot from the side, but you need to be mindful of the shadows. If at all possible, shoot in full, but bright shade. Overcast days are often the best days to take pictures. The light is soft and diffused making shadows very subtle.
8. Have spontaneous fun. Husband is a huge fan of the jump shot. The kids voluntary do these because they are fun. Most kids will be happy to run towards you, while you click away. Piggy back rides always bring on smiles. Break it up and have the family do funny faces in between the more formal set ups. The funny face photos can actually spur on more happiness and natural smiles after, so don’t wait until the very end.
9. Keep shooting. Shoot a ridiculous amount of photos. If your camera has the ability to shoot multiple shots, do it. Most of our photos come out a little off- someone’s blinking, someone’s hair flew into her face, someone’s cranky, someone’s looking elsewhere. The good ones are ONE out of many. I mean, MANY. In fact, there are times that none of them come out. In which case, I make a photo collage with some individual shots of the kids and maybe a picture of Husband and me.
10. Think outside of the box. Shoot a photo from behind. This can be of your family walking away or looking ahead. What I love about these photos is that nobody has to smile or even be looking, and you’ll still see great scenery.
11. Get up early. I knew I really wanted to get a photo of us on Waikiki beach, with Diamond Head in the background, but there are hundreds of people there at any given time. We got up early and beat the crowds, and although the sun is not ideal, the only other people in the shot are the surfers in the ocean.
12. Ask a fellow traveler to take a photo, but not just ANY traveler. Have you ever asked a stranger to take a photo of your group and it just comes out really bad? Maybe someone is completely cut out, there’s no scenery in the picture, or the picture is blurry or off kilter? Or you’ve got a great photo of you all, AND the stranger’s finger. There is actually an art to asking a stranger to take a photo. At times your choices are limited and you will just have to go with whoever is there and willing, but if you can, be choosy on who you ask. How do you find the right person? The very first thing I look for is a camera. I’m looking for someone with an SLR. Even if we are just trying to do a cell phone picture, I still look for someone with an SLR. This doesn’t automatically mean that they are a good photographer because they have one, but chances are, they are at least a photo enthusiast. They know how to use a camera and care about setting up the right frame. I’m also looking for someone who is not in a hurry. Someone in a hurry is going to snap a shot or two and rush off. A lot of times you might be waiting to take that shot in that spot. Someone behind you could be perfect to ask because they’ve got to wait their turn, anyway. Don’t forget to return the favor! I am also not shy about asking that person who is not in a hurry to take a few shots. I usually ask them to take a few horizontal and a few vertical shots.
All of these shots (except for the jump shot) was taken by tripod, timer, and/or remote. Sometimes it’s a bit tedious setting up, and it takes more patience, but the end result can be worth it.
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