Five tips for taking better family holiday photos.

It’s that time of the year again around Christmas and New Year, when we all get together with loved ones, and some of us will want to take photos to immortalise that occasion on Facebook. More often than not, we only get one shot at it a year am I right? Otherwise it’ll be another 364 days for another opportunity to come around.

Here are a five easy tips to ensure that there won’t be any misfires and lost opportunities so you’ll soon be taking better family holiday photos. Before you know it, you’ll go from taking just a happy snap to capturing something worth bragging about. The title of the story may have said family holiday photos, but it can be applied to any type of gathering of people. I’ve also included examples for both cameras and smartphones.

1) Shoot at eye level, especially for kids.

Getting the attention of kids is difficult at the best of times. It’s like they’re programmed to defy all forms of authority most of the time, with a mission to make life hell for us.

It may feel awkward at first and your knee joints may suffer but more often than not they’ll respond when you get down low to “play”, and you’ll end up with more natural looking shots. Photos shot from high above look unflattering for both children and adults. If it’s taken with a wider angle lens then their skull may look distorted. If you’re taking a photo on a smart phone, perhaps experiment with using a cartoon branded phone case to capture their attention.

child photography

You may end up covered in dust most of the time but the end shot is always worth it.

2) Avoid using flash indoors …

Using a flash indoors is like shining a flashlight into somebody’s face. The small light source produces a harsh, flat and unflattering light that can make somebody look like they’ve come off the set of a horror movie. Instead, try bumping up the ISO settings on your camera which increases the sensitivity of the sensor to light. On a smart phone, most of the newer operating systems allow the native camera apps to lock in the exposure and focus by holding your finger down on the screen for a second on the desired subject i.e somebody’s face. From then on you can slide your finger up and down on the screen to control the exposure level.

Also, think of where indoors you can take the photos. If there are blinds or curtains in the room then open them all the way to ensure as much natural light can fill the room. If the light doesn’t reach your subject then consider directing them to pose closer to the light source with the light falling on their face.

If you’re using a smart phone, most of them now have HDR (High Dynamic Range) option in the menu that give a more balanced exposure by darkening the lighter areas and brightening the shadow areas.

low light indoor photography

Shot at ISO 1600 in order to get a shutter speed of 1/40th second which is ideal for a posing group shot.

… but it’s ok to use flash outdoors.

It’s not always necessary to use flash outdoors, but if you’re taking photos in the middle of the day when the sun is directly over your head, the photo will contain harsh shadows covering the eyes and neck. In these situations, a flash would be handy to fill in these shadows, resulting in a better looking image.

Another option is to take the image in the shade such as under a tree of under an awning. You would be escaping the harsh direct sunlight. As light bounces off most surfaces, you would benefit from the sunlight being reflected off things such as footpaths and road surfaces, filling in those shadows with a softer, diffused light.

3) Where possible, capture images with context, rather than posing.

With the exception of a few, most of us hate posing which is the subject of a lengthy blog post itself. Instead, try capturing an image of somebody putting the final touches to a cake or a child exploding with excitement and anticipation whilst opening a present. It’s much more compelling and tells a better story across the series of photos documenting the occasion.

A great way of approaching it is to just ask them what they’re doing and start a dialogue, and then start taking a few photos. Somebody who is comfortable sharing with you what’s in the cake, or a family member on the lounge telling a story to a captivated audience is already in the zone and more likely to offer up a genuine look and feel in the photo.

4) Take many shots and only show the best one.

Don’t take just one photo and leave it at that. Thanks to digital photography, we’re able to take as many images as we like and delete the not so nice ones. Sometimes it’s those candid moments before and after the forced “smile” that yield more natural and better result. Set your camera to burst mode and take a few candid photos moments before they expect the countdown. Smartphones now have a burst mode if you press and hold down the shutter button.

Shortly after, make sure you show them the nicest photo that you took of them as well. Everybody likes to see a nice photo of them or to be complimented which makes them more comfortable with having their photo taken.

holiday period photography

Spontaneous shots may require multiple frames to be taken to find the best one.

5) Think about the background.

Unless if you want the background to be integral to the photo, avoid posing your subject against a wall. Nobody likes a photo that looks like a mug shot it usually acts as a distraction. portrait photos are ones that create separation between the subject and the background; that’s why the person in the photo seems to stand out or have a “pop” to it.


making your images pop

The further away from the background and the closer to the lens your subject is, and with a low aperture F stop, the more separation and ‘pop’ your images will gain.

To create an out of focus background, try moving your subject closer to the camera, thus creating more space between them and the background. If you have a camera with manual control, then set it to aperture priority and move the f-stop number to a lower value i.e 3.5 lower. If you are using a smart phone, lock in your exposure prior to taking the photo so that the lens focuses on the subject, thus blurring out the background.

Finally, pay close attention to poles or any other distracting objects that can give the effect that it may be protruding from somebody’s head.


2 Responses to Five tips for taking better family holiday photos.

  1. sue carr December 29, 2014 at 7:27 am #

    Good on you Jimmy the start of a book I think!

    • Jimmy December 29, 2014 at 3:15 pm #

      haha Thanks for the support Sue 🙂

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