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How to Take Family Portraits You’ll Be Proud Of

6 Tips for Taking Family Photos

For the first five years we were married, my husband and I would pay an annual visit to a photography studio. Kids in tow and coupon in hand, we’d pay them to take the family portraits we sent in our Christmas cards.

1990 K-Mart PortraitIn those days, the coupon would get us about 88 pictures for only $4.95. Never mind that the bulk of those photos were the size of a postage stamp — it gave us something to include with the Christmas letters we sent out every December.

Though my husband cooperated with this yearly ritual, he didn’t really look forward to sitting in a crowded waiting room for hours on end, wrestling cranky kids while we waited for our turn with the photographer.

Our last visit was so bad, in fact, that I promised Doug he never had to go back. I’d come up with a different, better, less stressful way to take family portraits.

So I did.

I started taking them myself. I’ve done this for so many years now that the entire family knows the routine. Best part? It seldom takes more than 5 minutes in front of the camera to get a good shot.

Here’s how we do it:

  1. Plan the Wardrobe:

    Coordinate clothing colors for a more put-together look. Solids work better than busy patterns. I usually lay out the clothes for everybody in the family and announce well in advance what time they’ll need to be ready for the portrait session.

  2. [Our  First Attempt - 1994]

  3. Set the Stage

    Set up a tripod and arrange any necessary props ahead of time. Whenever we are shooting photos at home, I usually get everything ready while the family is getting dressed. That way I minimize the time out of their schedules. We try to take the pictures before 10 AM or after 4 PM. When you take photos in the middle of the day (between noon and 2 PM), you have much harsher shadows to contend with.

  4. 1995 - Flanders at Home

  5. Pick One Pose

    Choose a single arrangement and stick with it. Although we don’t shift positions — we save alternate poses for subsequent years — we do take multiple exposures (usually a dozen or so) to increase the odds that all eyes will be open in at least one of them. In the old days, I’d set a timer and run back and forth each time I had to advance the film. Now, with my digital camera and a wireless remote, I can take multiple shots without working up a sweat.

  6. 2003 Flanders Christmas Photo

  7. Bribe the Kids

    To ensure I get everybody’s cooperation, I usually offer a little incentive. I promise $1 apiece to every child who is smiling in every photo we take. If you don’t want to pay for smiles, offer to take the family out for ice cream if everybody cooperates.

  8. 2007 Family Photo

  9. Don’t Shoot for Perfection

    Don’t torture your family by trying in vain for the “perfect” shot. Be happy with “good enough.” Baby won’t look at the camera? Don’t worry about that. As long as she’s not wailing, count it a success.

  10. 2008 - At Hilton Head

  11. Have Fun

    Save one last shot for funny faces. Cross your eyes. Stick out your tongue. Be silly. The kids won’t dread the photo sessions if you make sure a good time is had by all.

  12. Christmas 2012

After more than two decades of taking my family’s photos myself, several of my kids are old enough now — and skilled enough with a camera — that I can kick back, relax, and let them do all the work. David (back row, center) took our photo last year:

The Flanders Family (Christmas 2014)

But he still followed our established protocol. He knows not to mess with what works. 🙂

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  1. Thanks for your suggestions! We will be doing a family portrait to celebrate our 50th Anniversary with of course ourselves, our 4 kids, their 3 spouses and 7 grandkids ages 5 mos. to almost 18. We are having a professional do the job and have a plan regarding clothings. Each family unit will have a particular color family to choose from. I’m hoping it will all come together as lovely as your photos have.

    1. Congratulations on celebrating your 50th, Karen! That’s an accomplishment! I’m so glad you will memorialize it with family photos. Your clothing plan sounds fantastic!

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