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How to shoot the perfect holiday family portrait


What You Need:

  • Camera
  • Tripod (or equivalent)
  • Grey card or white paper (optional)
  • Patience
  • Holiday cheer

Time Needed:

10 to 30 minutes

Difficulty:

Medium

Step-by-Step

  1. Choose a setting that suits not only your subjects, but your camera.
  2. Use a tripod, or find a suitable surface to serve as a substitute.
  3. Set a good white balance, using a grey card or a sheet of printer paper.
  4. Test your exposure, to make sure you don’t get results that are too bright or dim.
  5. Prefocus, so that you don’t have to worry about getting blurry results.
  6. Set a timer so that you can jump into the frame and get situated with your family.
  7. Make sure no one is blinking!

If you’ve got a nice camera and you’re home with your family for the holidays, there’s a pretty good chance someone’s going to ask you to take a group photo. And if you’re like most of us, you probably don’t travel with a tripod or a remote shutter release. You need to get creative to nail that shot.

Luckily, there are a number of useful tips and tricks you can apply to get a perfect shot in this most challenging of situations. Don’t be daunted by your family’s demands. You’ve got this under control.

1. Choose Your Setting

Setting

Picking the right setting for your photos can make a big difference.

First things first: Before you start snapping away, you need to consider your scene. You can’t shoot a family portrait just anywhere.

If your camera is weak in dim light, consider shooting outdoors during daylight hours. If you live in the northern part of the USA, you’ll probably have some snow on the ground. Take advantage and get it in the shot. Likewise, you can profit from the Christmas lights strung all over your eaves. If they’re slightly out of focus behind the family, they’ll provide a soft, festive glow.

If, on the other hand, you have a powerful modern DSLR or mirrorless system camera, you can stay inside where it’s warm. Consider arraying family members around a crackling fireplace, the brightly lit Christmas tree, or the dinner table. Try to avoid strong backlighting, though. Under ideal circumstances it can lend shots an ethereal quality, but more often than not you’ll just get a blown-out background.

2. Improvise a Tripod

improv tripod

Lots of objects make great tripods. Look around and you’ll probably find something suitable.

Even if you didn’t pack one for the trip home, you’re going to want something tripod-like so you can get in the shot with everyone else. Little-known fact: A tripod is just a platform you can set your camera on. And guess what? You’ve got plenty of those around your house.

Outside, you can use a railing, picnic table, or even a stump to frame up your shot. Inside, there should be tables and shelving galore. Books or used Christmas present boxes will do the trick to get the camera at the desired level.

Of course, you should be sure that your platform is nice and steady. We’d also recommend taking the strap off your camera for this operation—little kids and pets have a habit of grabbing onto them when you aren’t looking, and that could lead to an expensive repair bill.

6. Set a Timer

Self-timer

Credit:

Reviewed.com

Most modern digital cameras offer 2- and 12-second self-timers by default, usually alongside other drive mode options.

Unless you happened to bring a wireless remote along, you’re going to want to make use of your camera’s self-timer function. This will let you get everyone—including yourself—properly positioned with time to spare. Most cameras offer 2- and 10-second timers by default, and some even let you set a custom delay of anywhere from 1 to 99 seconds.

If your camera has an intervalometer function, you can also use it to capture a series of shots over a set period of time—10 shots in a minute, 200 shots in 10 minutes, etc. With this technique, you can create a photobooth-style montage of varied poses for your family scapbook.

7. Make Sure No One Is Blinking

Blink

While perfectly exposed and well-framed, this shot finds one person blinking and another looking off-camera.

If you just want that one perfect shot, though, there’s one quick trick that can help you make sure you get it.

You’ve probably experienced the tragedy of a perfect shot ruined by one guy blinking, yawning, or otherwise failing to nail the ideal expression. You can head that issue off at the pass: Simply ask everyone to close their eyes until just before the shutter fires, then open them at the last second.

Most cameras use a flashing light on the front of the camera to signal when their self-timer is about to expire. We’d recommend you keep an eye on this and give your family an audible signal when it’s time to open their eyes and smile. Some cameras have a beep that goes along with the flashing light, making things a lot easier.


There are plenty of other tips and techniques that contribute to a perfect family portrait, so if you have any to share, please let us know in the comments.



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