Holiday Family Portrait Tips

Posted by Acratech on 25th Nov 2015

It’s one of the most un-wonderful times of the year again for photographers around the nation. And in spite of the fact that it happens every year, each year it also feels like it strikes when you least expect it: lulled into a deep carb coma following seconds and maybe thirds of turkey and pumpkin pie, your Mom, Grandma, or Uncle Bob will suddenly impinge themselves into your sweet dreams of a remote mountaintop photo expedition with a different kind of photo proposal. “Wouldn’t it be nice to take a family portrait, everybody?” And with that, you’re suddenly forced into action, scrambling to arrange a dozen or more relatives into a passable pose for portraits in a cramped living room or front yard.

Never fear, however, because this situation can be (at least moderately) prepared for in advance, allowing you to use the occasion to capture family portraits that actually flatter their subjects, and work with the backdrops you’ve got. Since you’re already known as “the photographer of the family” you may as well own it, right?

Arranging a Large Group:

  • Shoot in burst mode
  • Make sure everyone can see the camera - and is looking at it
  • Don’t be afraid to give directions: help get everyone organized so that shorties are visible in front, and there isn’t too much of a depth change between rows of people
  • Bring a tripod! This way you can set up a self-timer and join the fun!
  • If the group you’re shooting is a big one, hop on a chair to get some flattering perspective - this can help ensure everyone is visible in the shot.

Maximizing Indoor Light Sources:

  • Mind the flash: an on-camera flash often falls short of necessary illumination, and flattens your subject; instead, it’s probably better to bump up the ISO, shoot in aperture priority mode at the widest aperture you’ve got, shoot RAW, and use post-processing to cut the noise after the fact.
  • If you must use a flash, avoid reflective surfaces (like windows) that can spoil your shot with reflected light.
  • Side lighting, such as standing lamps, can be very flattering. Harsh overhead fluorescents not so much.
  • Better yet: sidestep these issues entirely by shooting outside during daylight (weather permitting).

Challenging Backgrounds:

Simon Ringsmuth recently published a great tutorial on Digital Photography School about changing up the focal length on your zoom lens to create background compression. This process enhances the subject by creating background bokeh - a blurred effect that will nicely obscure unwanted elements such as power lines or parked cars, freeing your subject(s) from the distractions of a cluttered background. 

And Most Importantly:

Remember to enjoy yourself - family can be a real pain, but you only have one, and when you look back at these photos in some years you'll want to remember what a great day you all shared, turkey coma and all. 

Happy Thanksgiving, from the Acratech family!