a woman sitting between statues

How to Take Better Pictures of Your Family

It’s summertime and that means vacations with family. We have always taken pictures of our friends and family and now it’s even easier with smartphone cameras. But are we taking better pictures or just more pictures? Are we editing down the unflattering ones or cluttering up our hard drives with terrible pictures. Taking people pictures or portraits is not easy. It takes planning and thought because not every moment is a Kodak moment.

Selfies and posed images might record the moment but they do get a little boring after a while. If you want to take it up a notch this summer or really, any time you are taking pictures of people, try to keep the following in mind.


First, the basics:

Don’t take pictures while people are eating

picture of man eating

Wait till everyone has finished chewing as it’s never a good look.  Having your subject holding a drink can be a personal call as it either adds to the story or takes away from it. A table full of messy half-empty glasses doesn’t always make for a good atmosphere.

Photos taken during conversations are more casual but still problematic

A posed shot can be nice but I like the informal nature of shots while people are talking. However, with talking you get lots of hand movement, closed eyes, and twisted mouths. Use the continuous shooting approach (Burst mode on the iphone) and then pick the best of the bunch.

Watch your backgrounds

The best portraits focus on the person and keep the background neutral. Look for solid walls, a blanket of trees or water for the background. Watch for poles, trees or branches that might look like they are coming out of someone’s head. Use a short depth of field (portrait mode on your smartphone) or use the software in post to put the background out of focus.

Watch out for high contrast

We love those sunny, hot summer days but they also produce very high contrast that puts people’s faces in shadow. Look for shade when you can but watch out for coloured umbrellas. Red, blue or green tints are never flattering. Sometimes it is best to shoot in the early morning or wait till late in the day when the light is warm and soft.

Remember the sunglasses

Unless you want to make the glasses an element of the image, it’s usually better to see people’s eyes.


And then, when you want to have some fun:

Change your perspective

With pets and children, get down to their level. Eye to eye is a much more pleasing vantage point. With adults, it can be tricky. Generally, people look better looking up than down but each perspective can change how that person looks. You don’t want to spend time posing people so often it is better if YOU move to get a more flattering angle.

Different perspective portrait of Mother and Son

Try some action shots

Perspective is everything in action shots. Move around to get a variety of images. Get out on the water to shoot people jumping off docks. Get in the middle of the path and have people bike past you. Don’t just stand on the sidelines. Get into the action and either shoot in continuous mode or shoot video and select the best image in post.

Boy on Swing

Not everyone has to be in focus

Out of focus Portraits

Of course, most portraits work with people in focus and the background blurred out, but it doesn’t have to be a hard and fast rule. Sometimes the shape of people is what makes them interesting. With smartphone cameras, if you want the subject to be out of focus, tap on the screen in the area around the person or blur the image in post.

Fun with Posing

When posing family or friends don’t always ask for the line up. Look for different levels, chairs, ask people to sit on the ground. Think about the dynamic of the group and break them out. Have fun with it. I like to ask for the Vanity Fair pose…if you were a celebrity, how would you position yourself?

Family Portrait


If there is no shade to be had, or the sun is setting, or you find yourself around a bonfire, seek out the silhouettes. Make sure the subject has space between their limbs so that you can see their shape. Try for profiles of a face or ask the person to walk in front of the camera.

Silhouette image of young boys
Close ups

Who says the whole face has to be in the image? With real cameras, you can get quite close with a regular lens or you can use a telephoto. When using smartphone cameras, watch out for the extreme wide-angle distortion effect. The closer the camera to the subject the more the distortion. Sometimes this can be a fun effect, especially with pets, but more often then not, it is unflattering to humans. Get as close as possible then crop the image in post.

Closeup Portrait of Woman

Play with the background and foreground

Think outside the box and look for fun patterns. There are no rules for creativity.

Woman in front of graffiti

Double exposure

double exposure of woman and tree

And the final challenge is double exposure. There are all sorts of possibilities for this one. It’s best to search online for some examples of the effect with people and see what type of images you need to take. Sometimes it works to combine a silhouette with another image to get a pleasing effect. Play with the story a bit and see what happens. Depending on your camera, you can shoot in camera or play around in Photoshop during post. For smartphone cameras, there are apps such as these that allow you to create all sorts of special effects on your phone after you have taken the picture.

I hope that this post has given you some ideas to play with when documenting your visits with friends and family this summer.

Remember to edit out the bad images, celebrate the successes and of course, always remember to back up your image to hard drives and the cloud.

Memories are precious, make sure you take care of them.