There is a long and time honored tradition of taking family photos at special occasions and events. There is also a tradition of taking posed portraits of the family as a whole that can be framed and hung on the wall. In lieu of hiring a professional photographer, taking a good family photo requires some thought, some planning and some luck. The right equipment can always help as well.
Lighting is the first and arguably most important part of taking a great family photo. Lighting can make a huge difference in the quality of the image. The best light is as bright as possible and natural. A room filled with sunlight bouncing off of many light colored surfaces will create ambient light and remove dark or distracting shadows. A fully lit subject photographs very well. If natural light is insufficient at the time of the photo, then as much artificial light as possible scattered around the subjects in all directions will work.
A digital camera is not only the easiest, but also the best option for a family photo. A good 35mm camera will work as well, though. The key is to have a camera with a fast shutter speed. If using a 35mm camera, make sure that the film speed is fast as well. This means that the amount of time that it takes to capture the image will be less and result in a better image.
If possible, try to make sure that the clothes being worn in the picture are either neutral in color, or are at least not contrasting. This will make a huge difference in the final image. Avoid having clothes with logos or other images on them because it will date the picture, removing its timeless quality, as well as being a distraction from the faces of the family.
When positioning the members of a family for the photograph, be very aware of what is around and behind them. There should not be an incidental objects behind the members of the family. The family should also not be positioned in front of a light source because the light will overtake the people and cause a large, bright area in the photo. Remove furniture and other distracting objects from the scene as much as possible.
Composition of the image is also very important. The individual members of the family should be lined up with some consideration given to the color of their clothes, their height and their family status. It is common to place the matriarch and patriarch in the center of the photo, lined on both sides by other family members in height order. While there really are no hard rules, the image will look better if the subjects form smooth lines.
Taking The Shot
Once everything is set up, it is time to take the photograph. If there is a third party that will not be in the photo, they should have a steady hand. Also make sure that more than once picture is taken since very few photographers rely on a single image. If there is no third party, try to put the camera on continuous shoot and let it run for a few shots before turning it off. If possible, use a tripod to stabilize the camera or make sure that the surface it is resting on is flat and solid.
Many families take their portraits outside. Shooting outside shares many of the same rules that indoor shooting follows. Most importantly, make sure that the sun is behind the camera, not behind the subjects. When choosing a site to shoot, choose a location that is neutral. Landscapes that are too vast or beautiful can take away from the importance of the family in the photo.
There are times, especially during family gatherings, where portraits are not the only type of photograph that is desired. Shooting spontaneously to get images of natural interactions between family members can create amazing photographs. The key is to use a long lens and zoom. Stay out of the action to capture just single uninterrupted moments. A fast camera lens will also help here since it will capture just a fraction of a second with very little chance for motion blur most of the time.
Once the photos are taken, the best results will come if a little post processing is done. Most digital cameras come with a free photo editor, and if not there are many free ones available online. For analog photos, they will need to be scanned into a computer, but many photo developers now offer this service. The easiest way to increase the quality of a photograph before printing is to adjust the levels and then adjust the contrast. These two simple acts will bring out the natural beauty of the photo.
The final step to making the photo look as professional as possible is to have the image matted and framed. Choose a matt that matches the colors of the photo. Sometimes having a colored matt with a white bevel works well with darker photos. Choosing a frame is a personal choice, but generally simple frames work best with photographs.
Following just a few simple rules and listening to any artistic inclinations that arise can help to create professional looking, timeless family photos.
A stickler for quality, Tom Walker handles and reviews the best ink cartridges available at his job at Cartridge Save. He also makes sure that he channels quality into all his work, and enjoys writing a variety articles for practice.