Tips for Better Family Photos

To make sure your memories are captured at their best, here are some picture-taking tips to keep in mind, whether shooting with a disposable camera, 35mm, point-and-shoot or top-of-the-line digital system:

Keep your camera handy. If your family is used to seeing you with camera in hand, they'll pay less attention to you. That means you'll be much more likely to capture natural moments and avoid silly faces, fake smiles and posed shots.

Consider your angles. Try to think of all the different ways to make a photo more interesting:

  • Get close: A good rule of thumb is to fill half your photo area with your subject. That usually eliminates distracting background stuff.
  • Move far away: If your camera has a telephoto lens (70 mm or higher), experiment with shooting from a distance. This technique is good for capturing contrasts, such as a small child standing beneath a giant tree or Grandpa catnapping amid the pandemonium of a kiddie birthday party.
  • Go off-center: Placing your subject left or right of center helps you avoid pictures where it looks like Mom has a flowerpot growing out of her head. This technique also lets you incorporate interesting foreground or background elements, such as someone leaning against a brand-new car or a baby crawling down a long hallway.
  • Think out of the box: Sometimes it's fun to take pictures using offbeat angles. You can climb a ladder and shoot downward, or sit on the ground and shoot upward. (Use such techniques sparingly, though, or you'll drive your family crazy!)
  • Horizontal and vertical: Vertical is the way to capture a little kid and giant sunflowers in the same frame, and horizontal is usually the angle for a group photo. But when a situation lends itself to both horizontal and vertical pictures, try it both ways.

See the whole picture. Always be conscious of backgrounds. Unless chaos—such as a parade—is part of the moment, you should try for simple backgrounds that keep the attention on your main subject. Consider the colors around you, too. Whites and blues make for simple, clean backgrounds, while yellows, reds and wild patterns may draw too much attention away from your subject.

Lighting is everything. It may sound nutty, but overcast, cloudy days can be a photographer's best friend. Bright sunlight creates hard shadows and makes your subjects squint. (Plus, who wants to look through a summer vacation photo album of people wearing sunglasses?) Cloudy days, though, are shadow-free and the light is soft and flattering.