Tips for Taking Your Own Holiday Family Photos (with a camera or a phone)

Tips for Taking Your Own Holiday Family Photos (with a camera or a phone)

I’ve always considered family photos a must-have each year. Kids change tremendously in just 12 months time, and the years that I skipped family photos, I always regretted it. Plus, everybody needs that quintessential family Christmas card photo!

Unfortunately family photos can be incredibly expensive to get done professionally, and when you already have a long list of Christmas gifts to purchase, it’s hard to add one more expensive thing to your fall & winter budget.

As a freelance photographer myself, I totally recommend hiring a professional from time to time – a good photographer will capture you and your family in the best light, from the best angles, and in the sweetest moments, and those photos will be something you treasure forever. But I also think it’s ok to hire out every couple of years and then take your own in between, especially if you put in the time to learn a trick or two that will get you decent family photos.

If you have no idea where to start on taking your own family photos, I’ve put together my top 5 tips for taking excellent family photos for the holidays and beyond – and all you need are two things!

Let’s get started:


How to Take Family Photos: What You Need

  1. A camera (this can be any camera – a DSLR, a point and shoot, or even a cell phone)
  2. A tripod that fits your camera (this one works with all cameras AND cell phones, but needs a tall surface to sit on, and this one is a more traditional full-height tripod for cameras and cell phones)
  3. Optional: Bluetooth camera remote

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How to Take Family Photos: My Top 5 Tips 

Tip #1: Pick the right location and time of day 

You have 2 options for your photos: indoors and out.

  • Outdoors: If you plan to shoot outdoors, you’ll want to think about weather and season. If you’re taking fall photos, make sure you get out when fall colors are at their peak. Pick a spot where the background is pretty and the location isn’t crowded.
  • Indoors: Indoor photos give you more flexibility when it comes to weather and really just require you to pay attention to lighting based on time of day. I find the best place to take the pictures is in the master bedroom on the bed or in the living room. Clear out clutter, rearrange furniture if necessary to get the best backdrop and add in plants (I find they add a little something extra).
  • Choosing Time of Day: Time of day is essential in getting the right lighting for your family photos. Morning and dusk are the best times to shoot, because when the sun is overhead it casts unflattering shadows. Right before the sun goes down can give you some really lovely golden pics, whereas morning shots (around 10am) will be a bit cooler. If you are shooting indoors, pick the room that gets the best natural light (morning or afternoon will depend on whether your room windows face east or west). You want it to be bright without sunrays shining in.

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Tip #2: Plan ahead
Prepare your camera, your poses and your outfits

A simple shoot can be done in 20-30 minutes, and that’s about all the kids can handle. So plan ahead and make sure you are being as efficient as possible. Let the entire family know how long it will take so they are aware they won’t be smiling for hours (it helps with morale). Choose a time of day where everyone is fed and well-rested, and you don’t feel rushed. I always bribe the family with going out to breakfast or dinner afterwards, and it works wonders.

  • Test your Camera ahead of time: Make sure you know how the self-timer or remote work (more on that later). Figure out how to properly set exposure, and have all the necessary tools ready to go ahead of time.
  • Prepare your poses: Make sure you prepare some poses that you like. Moving quickly is the best way to ensure that the kids don’t lose their minds (and you, in turn, won’t lose yours…). Scour Pinterest for some family shots and poses that you like and keep them handy on your phone, or print them out so you can refer to them during the shoot. If you need ideas, check out my Family Photography Pinterest Board.
  • Prepare your outfits: The key here is to coordinate, but not match exactly. I always start by surveying the kids’ closets to see what cute pieces of clothing they have that are in the same color family. You want many of the same colors in different shades. The easiest color palettes are usually blues and grays. It’s easy to dress boys in these more neutral colors, and then you can throw in a pattern or print for the girls with a pop of color, if you prefer. Avoid any busy patterns or prints, as well as logo/graphic tees. In the photo below, we used blue as our base color, added in off-white, and yellow as the pop.


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Tip #3: Take LOTS of photos

I always shoot way more photos than are needed. I usually end up with over 200 from an average shoot, but I only deliver about 15-20 of the best to clients in the end. You don’t want to end up putting in all this effort and then finding out that the 15 shots you took are no good. So don’t be shy, snap away!


Tips #4: How to Get the Best Shots

Taking photos of the kids

If you want photos of the just the kids, it’s a bit easier because you can play photographer and don’t have to worry about getting in the shot. Here are my top tips for capturing the kids:

  • Have your partner stand behind you and tell jokes or try to make them laugh; candid shots are always my favorite.
  • Shoot from different angles for every pose.
  • Move quickly and shoot, shoot, shoot (trust me – you’re going to sweat, your thighs will burn and you will hate life, but it will be worth it).
  • Be sure to set your exposure and focus before every shot so you don’t end up with dark or blurry photos.
  • I always suggest getting down to their level and shooting head on; don’t take photos from standing above or crouching below, it generally creates odd proportions and unflattering angles (with some exceptions, of course).

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Taking family photos with a timer or remote (and you!)

Here’s the secret to taking a family photo with you in it:

  • Set your camera on the tripod and either use the self-timer or a Bluetooth remote (the remote will save you from the aforementioned sweat, so I would suggest going that route).
  • Once you have the camera in position (again, avoid having it angled up or down), be sure and set the exposure to someone’s face before you start shooting. How to do this varies based on the camera you use; with cell phones, it’s usually as easy as tapping on someone’s face, and sometimes there is an option to tap a little lock symbol to lock the exposure (which I highly recommend, if you have it, otherwise it may readjust when you reenter the frame before the photo is snapped).
  • Aperture: if you want a blurry background in your photos, make sure you know how to set the aperture on your camera. That’s way too much to go into here, but you can google it when you have time!
  • Again: take lots of shots, try plenty of poses (try having everyone look at the camera for one, and then tell them to look at each other for the next, then look at mom and dad, etc), and shoot some candid moments as well!

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Tip # 5: Have fun!

If you are relaxed, your kids will be too. If you are stressed, they will act out; it’s just how these think work. You are trying to capture memories here, but you can also create them in the process – and you don’t want those memories to be ones of trauma! Just do your best and try to enjoy the process. And bribe them, always bribe them.


Bonus Tip:

Now that you’ve got that perfect shot, pat yourself on the back and pick out your Family Photo Christmas Card! We’ve got lots of options in our shop that will showcase your adorable family and your hard work as a photographer. And, if the pictures didn’t turn out great, we have some cards that don’t require a photos as well… lol

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