How to Take a Good Family Photo Without Losing Your Mind

Sometimes when I look at a family photo we took for a holiday card, I can’t believe how much older I look. But it’s not the additional years that are adding those wrinkles (well, at least, not just those additional years). It’s the family photo process itself. It ages me. It seems to be a rush against time to get everyone ready and posed before the freak outs begin. And that’s just for my husband. But you know what, I’ll take those wrinkles, and I’ll suffer their outrage. Because it is worth it to take the extra time you need to get a good family memento. Here are some tips for maximizing your chances for success.

Choose a color palette, and stick with solids.

1. Wear a similar color (but not the same clothes)

I’m not a huge fan of everyone dressing the same. How often do you all dress the same in real life? But I do think photos look better when everyone’s in a palate. We’ve done shades of blue, pinks and purples, or grays and whites. I wear whatever I have that I can live with in a photo that the kids also have. And any photographer will tell you to avoid big patterns or stripes. This is an area where simple is better.

2. Plan ahead

If you’re like most moms, you get the kids ready, but forget about yourself. We were all set to take our family holiday photo when I realized I had arrived at the beach without any jewelry and my nails looking like something out of the Hobbit. Things that you don’t notice just walking around will be glaring to you in a family photo. So make any necessary appointments for hair color, blow out, kids cuts, etc in advance. And if you’re taking a barefoot photo, you’ll regret not having a pedicure. Figure out what everyone is wearing – including jewelry, hair elastics, and other accessories – in advance. Then lay it out. If you have everyone running around getting dressed looking for things to wear, you’ll use up the good will which you’ll need for the photo session.

Silly shots can make the best memories, and the best holiday cards.

 3. Be open to silliness

Often the best pictures are the ones that aren’t planned. The ones in between the shoots you meant to get. The happenstance of a New York taxi passing by when we were taking our Wizard of Oz shot gave us the line “There’s no place like home for the holidays” card. Everyone kissing or being silly not only gives everyone something to do and cuts the tension, the break often yields the best shots.

Subtle pieces in the background can make or break the photo

4. Choose your setting well

As with your own appearance, things that you barely notice in life jump out in a photograph. Carefully scan the area you’ve chosen. Are there random items left on the porch? Is the door cracked open? Or, as we discovered in one possible photo, is the toilet showing in the background?

5. Sit close together

It can seem like everyone is in tight, but when you look at a photo, a gap between a toddler and his grandfather can be glaring. Be tighter than you think you need to be. Lean in where necessary. Make sure it’s balanced on both sides, so that folks aren’t tight on one side and then separated with space between each other on the opposite side.

6. Be Picky & Check as you go

We are lucky that in the digital age, we can actually examine the shots as we go. You’ll think your smile is perfect and your placement ideal until you review the picture. The only thing preventing you from taking this review is the hue and cry which will ensue from your family when you insist on retaking the shots. Ignore them. You’ll be happy you did.

Sit close together because little spaces can become awkward gaps.

 7. Consider the height differences

Sitting, or sitting on different levels adds texture to a picture, without letting one person dominate or the height difference draw all of your attention. Stairs are a perfect way to get a big crowd in without just having a straight line of people.

There’s nothing wrong with calling in a pro – and you’ll save in therapy bills!

8. If all else fails…

Consider hiring a professional. It’s a more expensive option, to be sure. But if you have a really tough time gathering your crew together, it’s something to consider. These are pictures you’ll keep forever, and they may be some of the few photo keepsakes you actually print out. We love the work done by Marcia Ciriello. She makes us look far more gorgeous than we have a right to be (thank goodness for Photoshop!). And Gerald Forster uses natural light and domestic settings that resemble a magazine shoot. Before you hire someone, make sure you know the policy for getting pictures printed. It may shock you how expensive having a professional developer will be. You should also talk to your friends or check a person’s portfolio. Do you like natural shots? Posed ones? Everyone looking goofy? Different ones have very different styles, and you’ll want to make sure your goals align with the photographer. But perhaps the best part of hiring someone is that your family is a lot less likely to act up in front of a third party than they are if it’s just your family.

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Jennifer McAllister-Nevins is a Founder and co-CEO of Savor, a modern keepsake organizational system that makes preserving family memories more easy, fun, and stylish.  A lawyer and fundraiser by training, she is also that go-to mom for advice about the best summer camp, the perfect hostess gift or a last-minute dinner party recipe you can make with items in your pantry.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely the blog contributor’s. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider. Writers may have conflicts of interest, and their opinions are their own.

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