Whether you’re hiring a professional photographer or doing it yourself, here are some tips for a nice family photo you will be happy to send out. It’s all about location, background, light, poses, and having fun.

Be relaxed. The picture is supposed to represent your family, not a bunch of random people standing together tensely. You can show that you love one another, even if your child’s high energy is jumping on your last nerve. Throw on your best genuine smile.

Stand close together. You all know one another, so brushing shoulders isn’t a bad thing. Chas Elliott from the Digital Photography School suggests that families should stand close together to emit a feeling of warmth and closeness with one another. Stand at a diagonal instead of directly shoulder-to-shoulder to personify that.

Under Elliott’s “don’t” list, he says that families shouldn’t tilt their heads in.  “Subjects tend to think they will fit into the picture better if they tilt and lower their heads,” he says. However, this pose makes a lovey-dovey feeling that is all too fake. Raise your chin up (it will help with posture too!), and have your picture taken with confidence.

If you’re having a professional photographer take your picture, listen to them (Mom…). This is their job; they probably understand lighting and poses better than you. Things will go much smoother if you do. You can always look at the pictures if you think something is off. Assert your dominance when necessary.

As for the photographer, be funny and keep the mood light. Being tense and domineering makes no one happy, so try to keep your cool. Make jokes to get genuine smiles. If people are getting restless, let them move around, and capture some candid pictures. Especially with kids, let them roam and run out some of their energy. Many people prefer candid pictures of themselves anyway, and it will fill up your photo album that much quicker.

Find a good pose for everyone and stick with it. Doing too many poses will tire out the kids and the family will be more tired than excited to immortalize these moments. Think of height: have the taller people sit and shorter people stand. Have the grandparents sit (always), and the grandchildren at their feel. If everyone is standing, make sure everyone’s heads are level. Mix and match who is standing where, but once you find a good position, stick with it.

Know the color scheme (or know there isn’t one). Pastel and pale colors tend to give off a more traditional feel to the family, while bold or clashing colors and patterns tend to emit a feeling of energy and frivolity. Match this with your background to not clash too much.

Pick your location out carefully. Whether you are inside or outside, it will affect your lighting. Lighting is key to how your pictures come out.


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Harsh light outside will definitely force your family members to squint, which can mess up the picture. You definitely want everyone’s eyes open (which will always take a few shots to get, so be patient). If possible, use a diffusion panel or something similar (hang up a tarp or sheet) behind the photographer to allow for softer light.

When you’re inside, you have to be careful with the use of flash. If you’re by a window, try to use the natural light that’s filtering in to lighten up and contour the room and family members. Do NOT have them stand in front of a light source, such as the window, as it will create this awkward glow around them, and they won’t be as visible.

Be aware that when you’re outside, the wind could be a problem, and mess up people’s hair. Generally, look up the weather beforehand. It will diffuse stress later on and will factor into whether you want your picture outside.

Having stuff going on in the background will be distracting, so focus your camera on the people. It’ll sharpen the focus, but also the attention of whoever is looking at the picture afterward.

Have fun. Try different poses, different locations inside and outside, and different angles – use your imagination! Whatever you’re trying to show off about your family, have fun with it. Don’t be afraid to get a little dirty. You can hire someone to do it, or create fantastical (and possibly nauseatingly hilarious) memories by having your favorite uncle or niece set up the picture. Whatever makes your family’s smiles genuine will make the picture the best it can be.