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Six Tips For The Family Pic

Setting up the Perfect Shot

Ferris Bueller was right: “Life moves fast. If you don’t stop every once in a while, you could miss it.”

It’s true. I’m the proud mother of two wonderful teenagers – but it seems like it was only yesterday that I brought them home from the hospital.

Thankfully, I have documented just about everything that happened since. First smiles, first word, first teeth, first steps, first day of school – now prom, senior portraits, and graduation.

It goes by way too fast. But, I cherish these photographs because they allow me to savor these moments.

Full disclosure here: I’m a photographer by trade, but not all of my favorite shots were taken in the studio. I’ve got a slew of photos from family beach vacations, mission trips, school events, and numerous other places from over the years.

Since you cannot always have a professional studio or photographer record your special memories and take photographs of your loved ones, here are some tips on creating that perfect family portrait with your own camera.

1. Plan ahead.
When photographing the kids and family for a special occasion (your holiday card, for example), try to plan around dinner, nap, and nighttime schedules. There are few worse things than wrangling everyone around the Christmas tree, all dressed up, only to have one of the kids experience a meltdown because it’s too late at night. Try to plan ahead and schedule a time to take your photo when you know your kiddos are at their best.

2. Lighting is key.
If you’re going to photograph your family outside, the best time is generally early morning or at dusk. If you photograph in the middle of the day, you will most likely end up with images that are dark because the sunlight is overpowering the image and not properly exposing it. Photographing in the morning or evening will provide a softer light that’s less likely to produce harsh shadows or washed out skin tones.

3. Coordinate your clothing.
Coordinating your style is great, and generally, working within the same color family can be good, too, but don’t feel like you have to match. Have fun with the clothing and keep each outfit authentic to the personality of each family member. I always recommend laying out everyone’s clothing in one place. If something really stands out on display, then it will also stand out in the picture. You’ll get your best results when everyone’s clothing colors generally complement one another. The bottom line is you want people to look at your picture and focus in on the faces and expressions – not grandpa’s bright red corduroy shirt.

4. Keep it simple.
Stay away from logos, patterns, and designs. I always encourage my family and my clients to steer clear of any clothing that is super busy or features prominently-placed brand names. After all, you want the focus to be on your family – not on the Nike swoosh across your son’s sweatshirt.

5. Frame up your background.
We’ve all been through the background predicament at one time or another. Picture this. You’re out with your family and see an amazing landscape, building, or maybe even a field of flowers. The initial assumption is that you can have it all: a perfect picture of the family and the ability to capture all the beauty in the natural landscape. The truth is, it’s not going to happen. Like we tell our kids all the time, You have to pick. If you want to capture the entirety of the landscape, your kids will be in frame as tiny secondary figures. But, if you want a good picture of your family, your best bet is to position them in front of the distinctive features of the place. For example, if you’re outside a beautiful home, consider placing the kids on the front steps and crop into this feature rather than trying to capture the entirety of the house.

6. Connect everyone together.
Sometimes you need to get a little closer than you think in order to make the picture look connected. I know that trying to get brothers and sisters to stand close to each other, or (dare I suggest it?) Touch each other, is no small task, but it really makes a huge difference in a family portrait. You want everyone to look like they love each other, so come together and be connected. I promise it will look one hundred percent better.

With the holidays right around the corner and cameras in just about everything we own these days, there are truly no excuses for not taking some time out to capture a family portrait. I know that I love to receive holiday cards (both digitally and by mail) with family pictures in them, and what better gift for family members than a fun frame with a personal picture in it? Regardless of how you use these tips, I hope you take some time out to capture your loved ones in pictures.

Real Mom Mary Fisk-Taylor is the mother of two. She lives in Richmond and is co-owner of Hayes and Fisk, a Richmond-based photography studio that specializes in family and portrait photography.
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