Advice for Taking Your Own Family Photos from Diane Dultmeier

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It isn’t always possible to plan far in advance for a family picture. I find this even happens to me. In the past I have spent so much time and energy planning a family get together that it doesn’t occur to me, until the last minute, that I will have all my closest family members together in one place. What a great opportunity for a photo to document that occasion!

If planned at the last minute, it most likely will not end up being the perfect portrait that we want to hang on the wall as the official family portrait. But it will be something special that we can cherish. And, as we all know, we truly cannot predict the future and know when and if we will get everyone together again.

Here are some tips to make the most of it!

1. If you think of it a few days before the get-together, tell your family members that you would love to take a few photographs that day. And that you would really appreciate it if everyone could dress in similar tones. Talk with a couple of the key people and come to a decision about what that would be. If everyone is in light tones, everyone in medium tones or all in dark tones, that will work nicely to make the pictures better. Tell family members they can change into something just for the picture, if they were planning to wear a special outfit to the occasion.

2. Try to do the pictures outside, if you will be together during daylight hours. Scout your location to see what would make a nice background. I always try to choose a shady location with the sun streaming through the foliage from behind the people. Alternately, you could choose the shade of a building for nice even lighting. Be careful about locations that have bright backgrounds and the people in the shade, as that will not come out. Do not have faces in the sun, unless it happens to be the very late afternoon lighting that is soft and warm. That is great lighting–photographers call it the “sweet light.” The best time of day for your pictures is in the later afternoon when the sun is starting to get lower in the sky.

3. If you can’t do the pictures outside, you will want to have a camera with a flash, unless it is an indoor location with lots of light. Even so, be careful because a location that looks bright to our human eye still might not be bright enough for the camera and your images will come out blurry or underexposed.

4. Have it pre-arranged to have some else take the photo, so that you can have all the family members in the photo. If you are at a home, ask a neighbor ahead of time. You may have a friend at the event who isn’t in the photo, ask her. Or if you are at a restaurant or club, ask ahead for a staff member to do it.

5. For the pose, try to arrange people in a pyramid, with shortest on the outside and taller in the middle. It is also important to have layers. So have a row of people sitting or kneeling on the ground, a row sitting on a bench or in chairs and a row in the back. It usually works well to put your tallest people in the chairs or on the ground. Portraits look best when you can get all the faces near each other, so if someone is very tall and standing, their face will be too far away from everyone else. I like to have people touch in my portraits, so holding hands, arm around, arms linked, hand on should, those kinds of things. When it is time to take the picture, the photographer should tell everyone to lean slightly toward the middle.

6. Make it fun. Appoint one or two of your most laid back and funny family members to help keep things light while setting up for the photo. It works really well if the person taking the picture is fun and works well with people. Try to keep your attitude fun and light, because if you are the organizer, you set the tone for everyone else.

You may have family members who aren’t all that thrilled with the idea of a photo. Don’t let that stop you! Persevere toward the goal of a great image of all of you. If that goes well, you can even do individual family groups, just the grandkids, whatever people are willing to do. And I have also found that sometimes the one who grumbled the most is the one who, in the end, expresses the most appreciation for the photos. Good luck!

And, if you know far enough in advanced, CALL ME to create the portraits. I love photographing families and I enjoy the dynamics of getting everyone together for something special like this. We can plan ahead, scout the location together and come up lots of ideas that will make your portrait something special that you WILL want to hang on the wall!

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