Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and New Years—with so many holidays right around the corner, what better way is there to commemorate fun times with loved ones than in the lens of your DSLR? If you happen to be the resident photographer within your social circle, chances are high that you’ll need to take more than your fair share of family photos in the next couple of months. Here are 5 simple tips you can follow to take better family photos this holiday season.
#1 Bribe the Kids
We’re going to knock out one of the hardest things about family photography right of the bat—the kids. Young, full of energy and constantly in motion, kids already make for a challenging subject to photograph, but that difficulty seems to triple around the holidays. Children can be especially rowdy and unpredictable when you’re on-the-go, traveling to visit distant relatives. Just try getting little kids to stand still long enough for a group photo after they’ve wolfed down a plate of cookies after a Christmas party. The simple solution to getting kids to behave during these crucial limited edition family photo ops is bribery. One trip to the dollar store before the shoot and you can temporarily transform devils into angels—just make it clear that they must behave if they are to keep the gift.
#2 Master the Group Photo
For many people the phrase family photo conjures images of awkward group photos where one person’s blinking, another is placing “bunny ears” on their little sibling, and still others are looking at the wrong camera. There’s always going to be a few of those awfully awkward group photos around the holidays, but the good news is you can leverage your authority as the camera aficionado among your friends and family to orchestrate the perfect group shot. Here’s a brief list of tips to help you land that group shot:
- One camera at a time to avoid multi-directional stares.
- Use a tripod and a timer - so that everyone gets to be in the shot.
- Take multiple shots - at least one of them will have everyone’s eyes open.
- Use the right settings - wide angle lens, decent depth of field (f/5.6 - f/6.3) to keep everyone in focus.
#3 Embrace the Candid Camera
The real family photography magic happens outside the posed group photo everyone takes at the end of a family gathering—it’s those candid moments where friends and relatives are interacting with one another and having a good time. Instead of forced smiles and poses you can capture genuine expressions by sneaking in quick clandestine photos while your subjects are unaware. All the usual action photography tips apply. Try to use fast lenses and take advantage of shutter priority mode, but be mindful of indoor lighting, increasing your ISO as necessary to adjust the shot. Take lots of photos or use the burst mode feature on your camera—you’ll be able to pick quality stills after the event.
#4 Be the Director
Genuine shots are nice because you can capture some of the shyer subjects at the gathering in their natural habitat. Oftentimes however, lighting and location may not be in favor of your camera’s capabilities—that’s when you’ll need to play director and set up a professional shot. Don’t be afraid to leverage your authority as a photographer and move parents and their kids around so that you can capture them in front of the right background. Keep in mind that you are trying to tell a story with your lens—if the fall colors and lighting are better over the picnic table in the empty camping spot adjacent to your lot, don’t be afraid to bring the family over there for a better autumn family photo. Keep your eyes open and ready for opportunities to tell the story of this family gathering.
#5 Have Fun!
It’s the holidays, and while you may be tasked with being the “official” family photographer for a holiday gathering, don’t forget to have fun and live in the spirit of the season. Most people feel awkward when a camera is pointed towards them—a factor that can be amplified if the subject detects the stress within the photographer behind the camera. Just be yourself, project enthusiasm and excitement, and your subjects will do the same. A genuine smile is always better than a forced one, and if everyone is having fun it will show in your photographs.