How to: Take Your Own Family Photo

>> 12.05.2012

We haven't ever sent out a holiday card. Never. Ever. Not even last year when we should have shown off Ada's newborn-ness. This year, we thought we'd start the tradition of a homemade card. I'm usually the one to take photos for everyone else. So, it's no surprise that I took our card photo, too.

I hope I don't look too out of breath. I ran to/from the tripod many, many times.


I think they turned out great despite having no time to shower and limited sunlight (that's the Photoshop is for, right?). Oh, and I didn't have time to take a shower. Anyway, if you'd like to take your own simple family portraits, it's easier than you might think.

Since I'm not a "real" photographer, I don't mind sharing my secrets . . .


#1: Dress up. But not too much. And it's best if you coordinate, but don't match. I understand the desire for a clean photo, and to many this means all white shirts and black pants. However, I think in several years, you might think your photo looks like it belongs on Awkward Family Photos. Oh, and unless the shirt has some significance or is mega-cool, try to leave anything with text or pictures behind.

#2: Find a background. For us, it was as easy as walking down the street to the park. There's a building there with a wood backdrop. A brick wall works, too. Or a mural. Or dense trees. Just something c.o.n.s.i.s.t.e.n.t as a backdrop. If you can't find anything, you could always try to make one using a bed sheet or something. You can, of course, get fancier with your background, but this tutorial just covers the simple stuff.

#3: Find the self-timer on your camera. If you can't, Google your camera and "self timer" and you should be able to find something of us. Read up on it. I even found a video tutorial. I have the Nikon D90 (currently fitted with my favorite lens), and before we headed out yesterday, I re-familiarized myself with it. My self-timer gives me the option to take up to like 10 photos and space out the timer by 1, 5, and 10 seconds. I set it to take 10 pictures and give me 5 seconds to run from the camera to my spot.

#4: Use a tripod. (I have this one by Sunpak.) There were many years when I didn't have one -- and I'd use a fence or something else to prop up my camera. But it's much easier if you have a tripod. And hey, with all the money you'll save from taking your own family photo, you can afford one. Basically, it just helps hold the camera at a level, still spot so you can take tons of like-photos and find the right one.

#5: Shoot in RAW if you can. This tip is most important to DSLR users who also edit in some type of program (Lightroom, Photoshop). Likely if you do these two things, you know what I'm talking about. If not, shooting in RAW gives you most flexibility in editing (things like getting the lighting better, etc.). You can learn more technical reasons here.

#6: Have your family pose. With the camera on the tripod, I framed the shot while Stephen stood relatively still with Ada. I tried a couple different stances -- also figuring out where I would go -- before it was go-time. Then, I made sure my settings were how I wanted them to be. Basically, pretend you are taking one photo . . . make sure everything, settings, etc., is how you like it . . . and confirm that you camera is on the self-timer (you'd be surprised how many times I've forgotten to do that).

***Edited to add: You'll want to get the camera to focus on your family (choose your kid, for example) before you jump into the shot. Otherwise, you will be blurry and something else will be in focus.

#7: Quick! Run! Get yourself into the shot and pose before the shooting begins. Or don't "pose" -- you don't have anyone directing you in any way . . . so we just tried to be natural. And to get Ada to look at the camera. Some finger-snaps in front of her face helped. Also, saying "kitties!!!" (to make her look around for imaginary kitties.) That sounds cruel. Play around with different arrangements (we did Stephen holding Ada, Ashley holding Ada, Ada held on front of us by both of us, etc., etc.). Get creative.

#8: Take LOTS of photos. We took about 80 photos and only got 5 that I actually like. Five where we are all looking, smiling (sort of), where we aren't out of focus, or awkward. You know what I mean. Again, with no eye behind the lens at go-time, you will need to shoot many to make sure you get "the one".


#9: Find your photos and edit. This step is pretty easy and -- well -- isn't really a step. I just wanted to let you know that when I first started taking our family photos, there were several times we came out of it with NOTHING good at all. Don't get discouraged. With some practice it gets much easier.

#10: Consider making your own card, too. This is only if you have good editing software. By creating a document that was 4" x 6" in 300 DPI, I placed my chosen photo as the backdrop and then plopped on some colored rectangles (sampling colors from my outfit), some nice font and wording, and a few Webdings I thought were fitting. Then, I flattened it, saved it as a JPG, and sent it off to be printed. I think the process took me 15 minutes. I even saved over $20 by doing it myself.

Yeah, real-life friends, you should be getting this in the mail soon-ish.


If you guys and gals have any questions. Or if I've forgotten anything, ask away. I'd be happy to help!

Psst: Be sure to check out our gift lists!

Gifts for the Active Family
Fun Gifts for Foodies
Active Gifts for Women
On Stephen's List
On Ashley's List
On Ada's List + 80 toddler gift ideas split into 20 fun categories!

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