It’s that time of year – the weather is starting to get a bit cooler, stores are decked out with holiday decorations, and family gatherings are approaching. With families coming together from near and far, many will attempt the annual dreaded family photo. While it can be frustrating, we have some tips to help you take better photos and survive this holiday season. (Note: These tips can also apply to general group photos)

Planning the Image

1. Notify everyone of group photo – Before everyone meets up for the holidays, make sure to let everyone know that you’re taking photos of the group. Pre-planning will go a long way when taking a good photo. Set the date and time in advance so you can be sure everyone is present and accounted for when the time comes.

2. Styling your photo – Give wardrobe suggestions beforehand so people have time to prepare. It’s best to provide a desired color palette for your family in advance. Choose two or three coordinating colors that give people more than one option when choosing their outfit, but will all complement each other nicely when everyone comes together. This will give your family photo a styled look, but helps you avoid everyone wearing the exact same color. Wearing all one color tends to make your final portrait look more like a group of employees rather than a family. In addition, make sure that people don’t wear distracting patterns or designs. For example, t-shirts with text, loud plaid, or floral patterns should be avoided. They may look good in person, but it will not look pleasing in the photo and will probably stick out.

3. Go outside – Take pictures outside if you can. You can get the best lighting when you take pictures outside. Also, watch the color and angle of the light. Don’t wait until it’s too late in the day to take the picture because it will be too dark outside. Try to avoid taking pictures when the sun is the highest in the sky. Taking pictures in the middle of the day when the sun is at its highest will give you squinting eyes with harsh and unflattering shadows on your subject’s faces. The best time to take a picture outside is mid-morning (8:30-10:30am) or late afternoon (within the last two hours before sunset also known as the golden hour).

Posing Your Group

4. Set up your camera before you begin posing – Once you have your family posed, you want to immediately take the picture. Now is not the time to delay or you will run the risk of losing the attention span of toddlers and diehard football fans.

5. Important members in the middle – For group photos, put the leaders of the family in the middle of the picture and then branch out from there. In a large photo, make sure that family groups are standing or sitting together. For example, make sure that an aunt and uncle are standing with their kids. It will really help when people are looking through photos years later.

6. Adults first, then kids – In the photo, get the adults in place first and then bring the kids and pets in. Since most children and pets have a short attention span, you’ll have a better chance of getting a good shot if you don’t make them stand still for a picture for too long. It might be helpful for especially young ones or pets to be held, if possible, in an effort to prevent them from running off. You never know when your golden retriever will see a squirrel and then get distracted. Also, since kids will be kids – don’t expect a perfect picture. If grandma or grandpa has a hard time standing, then give them chairs to sit on and build a scene around them. It’s important not to stress unnecessarily during this part of the process. You don’t want red faces and tears when you get ready to take your picture.

7. Get closer – When taking group photos, make sure that everyone in the picture gets close together. Especially if you’re taking a family photo, make sure that people connect (ex. Put an arm around the shoulder, etc.) so that no one looks left out. Let’s remember, you’re family. Pretend like you like each other.

Setting Up Your Camera

8. Shutter speed – With your DSLR, make sure that your shutter speed is above 1/60 so you don’t get blurry faces or a streak of color where a toddler should be. You’ll want to manually focus the camera before you actually take the shot so you’re sure that everything is in focus especially if you’re going to use a wireless shutter release or timer.

9. Tripod and timer – Use a tripod and timer when taking a group photo. Why? Well, you want to make sure that you’re in the photo, too. You don’t want to look back at old holiday photos and realize that you aren’t in any of them. You can also use a remote trigger such as an app for your camera or a self-timer. (Most cameras have a way to wirelessly trigger the camera. Check your camera’s manual to find instructions on how to set your timer.) Whatever you do, make sure that you’re not missing from the holiday pictures.

10. Don’t be afraid to use flash – You may think that not using flash may help your holiday photo since your place is decorated with lights. However, holiday lights don’t give off as much light as you may think. By using a pop-up flash on your camera or an external flash, your ISO won’t go up as high. You’ll be able to get a clearer picture with less grain and usually better color. If you have multiple flashes and a way to trigger them, then set up flashes to light the opposite side. Crisscross the flashes to light the group and don’t point the flashes directly at the people in front of them. By crisscrossing the flashes, your picture will be lit more evenly.

Taking the Image

11. Cropping – Leave room to crop! When you’re taking a picture, leave room in the frame on each side of the group to crop to 8×10 so you can make prints later on.

12. Take more than 1 photo – This is an important tip because someone may be blinking or not paying attention. If you only take 1 photo, then that’s all you have. Check the photo before telling everyone that you’re done and remember to tell people that you’re going to take multiple pictures. Make sure to keep everyone there until you’re finished so that you aren’t missing some people between photo takes. Many cameras have the option to take a series of photos back to back using the self-timer, saving you from running back and forth to the tripod each time and keeping little ones from losing patience.

Enjoy the Process

13. BONUS – Have fun! – The holidays are a time of celebration and a time to spend with family and friends. It’s the time to be thankful for what you have. Group or family photos don’t have to be a chore or a grueling experience. Remember to relax, breathe, and have fun with it. Oh, and send the photo to everyone once you’re done so you don’t get people constantly asking you for a copy of the photo.

Of course, if this is all too much for you, then just spare the stress and hire a local professional photographer who would be more than happy to take photos for you. They can take the strain off of you and your family during this busy, stressful holiday season. You can find professional photographers in your area through Professional Photographers of America’s “Find a Photographer” service:

Happy Holidays!

For more tips and tricks, subscribe to the Ikan newsletter or to the Ikan YouTube channel.