I have photographed families and corporate group shots for over a decade and they all have similar issues like people’s eyes closed, looking away, etc. that have easy quick fixes to improve the chances of a great shot for your family holiday photo. There are a few “checklist” items I want to share with you that I use for my own family group shots. So let’s get right to it!
What to wear
Think of one outfit. Would all the patterns and colors each person is wearing work as one outfit? If so, then you’re golden! Need inspiration, check images online from websites like Old Navy and the Gap. They carry clothes for all family members so it is easy to find inspiration.
Everyone can match… think white shirts and jeans on the beach. While that is ok, the photo will have much more interest if there is some variation. Pick three colors and have various combinations of that. Instead of white shirts and jeans on the beach, a family of 4 could have that outfit on dad. Mom could wear a tan dress with a white scarf or chunky necklace. The daughter could wear a floral print of tan, white and light blue with the son in a plaid shirt of the same colors and denim or tan shorts. Can you see it?
Double-check details before getting started. Are sunglasses off? Shoes tied? Phones out of pockets? Noses and mouths wiped clean? Necklaces hanging straight? Zippers zipped? You laugh but you’d be surprised how often I have found this necessary to fix!
Location, location, location
If possible, check out the location you want to shoot at in advance, during the same time of day. Avoid having the group stand directly in front of a window where the light from the window will overpower the light in the room or if you’re using a flash, your flash might reflect back in the photo. I prefer to have the subjects stand a few feet in front of the background. Christmas trees are popular backdrops but standing right against a tree can make the photo feel busy. Standing away from the tree allows for the subjects to be more in focus and the tree to be slightly blurred resulting in a more pleasing photo. The hour before sunset is the best time of day for photos outside as there is enough light to not need a flash, but it isn’t so bright that people are squinting. Just have the setting sun to the faces of your group. You’ll need a flash if their backs are to the sun. For photos outside earlier in the day, look for a shady spot like under an awning or a big tree. Even the most unusual places can make for great photos if the lighting is great and distractions are minimal. Be sure to zoom in if your location has a lot going on. No need for a lot of background or showing people’s feet. Zoom in to cut out distractions plus showing from the waist up makes most people feel more comfortable.
I like to let people gather naturally and then make small tweaks. It keeps people at easy to make minor adjustments rather than feel completely posed. Some good guidelines are: Taller people will go to the back; shorter people to the front; stager the front line from the back so faces are fully visible; have people turn slightly to one side or another; if possible, have some people sitting too. Have everyone stick their chin out and lean very slightly forward from the hips. (people tend to lean away from a camera when smiling). It may feel a little weird but really improves the shot. Also, try to get up on a small step stool or shoot the group sitting and kneeling on the ground. Positioning yourself slightly above a group is an interesting angle and is more flattering on the subjects.
Set the tone
A bad mood on your part or the family members being photographed can sour the best photo. Is everyone feeling their best? Is everyone fed and comfortable? Address those issues first. A snack and letting out a tight belt can do wonders for kids and adults alike. Remind everyone that this will be fun (and get ready to have a lot of patience if small children are involved). A great way to help the mood stay positive is by being prepared. Make sure the battery is charged on your phone or camera. Have something to make kids laugh (I use a red clown nose). Visualize the end result but be flexible. And no matter what, stay positive!
It is important to keep talking to the group during the session. Yes, even if it is just your own family. Keep them excited, compliment them and be clear about what you want them to do and when you want them to do it. Small kids might need a break or two or three. Expecting them to sit and smile may not be realistic. In such a case, make sure adult(s) in the photo keep looking at smiling at you the entire time while you work to engage the kids.
Make jokes lots of them and get ready to snap, snap, snap!. I have found people have a more natural smile right after laughing. Be sure to take a bunch of photos right away as people’s expressions will change quickly and some people inevitably blink. Burst mode is a great way to capture a bunch of shots in a short time. On a camera, this mode will look like a man running. ON an iPhone, pressing and holding the shutter button will automatically shoot in burst mode. This works best when there is enough natural light that a flash is not needed. Another trick is to have everyone close their eyes, take a deep breath, then open their eyes on the count of three and say a word like “money”.
If you have more specific questions about how to take your own photos, please let me know! I would love to help give you confidence