Priceless Treasure: Tips for Great Family Photos

By Karen Hendricks

Photographs are some of our most treasured possessions as parents, right? From sweet baby pictures to fun vacations photos; photos of Christmas celebrations and special holidays, to treasured photos of loved ones who have passed away… Photographs can instantly transport us to another place, another time, directly into a precious moment.

I feel extremely blessed that photography, one of my favorite hobbies, also intersects with my job. Over the years, between photography classes in college and practical “on the job” training, lots of tips picked up along the way translate better-composed, more meaningful family photos as well.

I’m happy to pass along a few of my favorite tips, but first let me dispel a myth. Okay, it’s probably more of a pet peeve! People often say, “Wow, your camera takes great pictures!” So let’s set the record straight: People take great pictures; not cameras. Yes, a good quality camera certainly helps… but training the eye behind the camera is even more important! Glad I got that off my chest… Now for four fab photography tips:

1. Look them in the eye. In other words, get on the same level as your child(ren). This is especially important when photographing young children. Yes, it means crouching down or getting on the floor and risking not being able to get up gracefully (I’m speaking from experience)… but if you remain standing and shoot downwards at children, they will appear out of proportion or distorted. Getting down on their level allows you to capture their sweet features in a more natural way.

Looking in my children's eyes: Can you see the sparkle and excitement in their eyes?!

Think of how different this photo would look, had I remained standing, shooting downward… Instead, it’s a fun picture focused directly on my children.

Being in the splash zone of the Slip 'n Slide made for another exciting water shot!

Being in the splash zone of the Slip ‘n Slide made for another exciting water shot!

2. Use natural lighting as much as possible. Skin tones, especially for children, look absolutely radiant when natural light is used as opposed to harsh lighting and the camera’s flash. Experiment and try turning your camera’s flash off if you feel there is enough natural light present. Your subjects will also thank you for not blinding them!

This was a spontaneous moment, as my son peeked through the blueberry bushes. I opted for natural sunlight as it filtered through; the flash would have filled in the shadows but probably washed out my son a bit too much. Leaving the flash off helps preserve the feeling and memory of how he peeked through the bushes!

This was a spontaneous moment, as my son peeked through the blueberry bushes. I opted for natural sunlight as it filtered through the leaves; the flash would have filled in the shadows but probably washed out my son a bit too much. Leaving the flash off helps preserve the feeling and memory of how he peeked through the bushes!

3. Try the “rule of thirds” whenever possible. Ok, this may take some training and getting used to if you’ve never used it before… but basically the rule of thirds divides your photo into nine imaginary blocks. The points of intersection are the places where your eyes naturally gravitate when looking at a photo. So, taking Photography 101 and applying it to your photos: Try to place your subjects (aka your family) at those intersections whenever possible for better-composed photos.

Instead of filling the entire shot with my daughter, I opted to place her in the upper right-hand third of the photo, exactly where she was placed on the tennis court.

Instead of filling the entire shot with my daughter (zooming in with the lens), I opted to place her in the upper right-hand third of the photo, exactly where she was placed on the tennis court.

Here, my son is in the lower left-hand third of the photo with a mountain vista behind him.

Here, my son is in the lower left-hand third of the photo with a mountain vista framing the shot behind him.

4. Candids are king. Keep your camera handy and capture spontaneous fun as it happens. Your photos do not always need to be staged (aka: “Look here and smile!”). Feel free to snap candid shots of your family in action, even if they are not looking directly at you. Sometimes these are the most priceless photos because your family’s expressions and emotions are genuine.

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A rare moment: All three of my children were laughing uncontrollably, translating into a photo of pure joy.

Cousins say "cheese:" This photo combines two tips, the rule of thirds and the idea of being on level and eye-to-eye (at least with the bottom portion of the slide!).

Cousins say “cheese:” This photo combines two tips, the rule of thirds and the idea of being on level and eye-to-eye (at least with the bottom portion of the slide!).

I hope these tips inspire you next time you are clicking with your camera! Feel free to share some of your tips and tricks, below, as well. 

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6 thoughts on “Priceless Treasure: Tips for Great Family Photos

  1. The iPhone truly has a quality camera – and it’s always handy, right? The trickiest thing about using it… holding it completely still while using it. If you go to iphoneography.com you’ll find an entire website and network devoted to iPhone photographers!

  2. These tips are wonderful, Karen ~ I especially liked tip #1! I, too, use mostly my iphone since it takes better pictures … I mean, I take better pictures when using it, hee hee!

  3. Pingback: The Cure for Anything is Salt Water… | Off the Merry-Go-Round

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