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How to Take your Own Family Pictures

This time of year is the busiest for Taking Family pictures, and I know I personally get excited at the idea of picking outfits, deciding on a location, and dreaming about how I’m going to display the pictures in my home. So today I’m going to talk ALL about those topics. I asked a few blogger friends if they’d allow me to post on their site for a little blog hop all about tips for Taking Family Pictures. Scroll to the bottom to HOP (and a fun giveaway)!

I live in this dichotomous world in my head.  I’ve always been an uber thrifty DIY gal, who loves to shop garage sales. However, I’m also a professional photographer who charges according to my expertise, which aren’t necessarily garage sale prices.  I think that every 2-3 years, investing in a professional photographer is ideal. There are many price ranges out there, and with a little research, with a little research, you can find someone in your area that meets your needs. I also know that taking Family Pictures just isn’t in the budget each year for most people, so I’m going to share some tips on How to Take your Own Family Pictures.

How to Take your own Family Pictures

{Image of my taken by my friend Jennifer Polson, more of me from my Birthday Shoot HERE}

For many years, I took our family pictures. Now, I’m blessed to have a handful of photographer friends that we trade services. {FYI–Lots of photographers are up for trades, so if you have a skill, offer it up. I personally love to have meals brought to me as a trade from friends–it doesn’t have to be an expertise!}

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I think it’s more important to have the time in your life captured…than making sure it’s captured professionally. I want to cry when I hear that some families have never had an official family photo, and so many moms just don’t get in pictures at all with their families. I’m here to offer some advice on how you can get it done this year–promise me if it hasn’t happened for a while, that it will happen for you this year!

Use a Tripod

Ok, this isn’t a novel idea, but I use this a lot (even still) and think it’s worth the small investment for the random times it’s used.  I have this one with a bag carrier, found on Amazon for $14.99. It’s a handy tool for years to come.  Many times I’ve set my tripod up, and RUN into the picture. The toughest part about this method is making sure all the kids look in the right direction, and not at you running back. If you have a remote, you can snap a few shots in a row, instead of running, but the distance is limited. You can also tape a stuffed animal or something else on top of the camera to encourage the kids to look at that object. In the family photo below in 2008, I set up the tripod and camera on a trail near our home….and ran in ( fun little fact: I was expecting #4).

Tripod Family Picture

{More pictures of this session HERE, a friend came later and took a few more}

Last summer at my extended family reunion on the beach, I went into it knowing I was going to have to figure something out. I decided to find a kind soul on the beach, and ask for a big favor. I set up the entire family, got the tripod/camera in place, then nervously looked around. I thought to myself, “who is the lucky person that I will pluck from their family fun to do me a favor?” There was a nice lady not too far from us, who was in her chair reading a book. I went up to her and asked if she’d mind snapping a few for us. The reason I didn’t do the running thing this time is because there were so many of us, I needed her to just snap 30 in a row to make sure we were all looking. I said that, too. Just take a bunch in one minute, then you’re done!

Below is a collage of 3 images taken that day, and I’m in all three. The first, the kind lady on the beach took. The second with the trucks, I ran back and forth for a few (didn’t have my remote). The third action shot, I took a bunch of the fam throwing the ball, then my  husband took one of me, and I pasted them together later.

How to take your own family pictures

{More pictures of the beach session HERE}

So it can be done, you just have to work at it a little bit! It’s worth it to me, because I want my life to be documented, too. I want to be in the pictures with my family, not just take them of my kids! See more about that in my push to Capture the Joy in front of the lens.

Set up the Camera, and Have a friend Take Them

I mentioned that I swap with photographers now, but before I knew friends with such skills, I’d ask my non photographer friends to come snap away after I’d set up the camera. After a 60 second deomonstration of where to click, and what to keep in the frame, we were good to go! My 4 year old can even do it, I just tell her to not move her feet, and just keep snapping keeping my entire head in the frame.

One year, I got a Santa costume, and my husband dressed up with my kids in their jammies. I took a series of  pictures with them together, but I wanted to be in some, too. I LOVE these pictures, but they were before I had honed my shooting and editing skills. It doesn’t make me love them less though, you don’t have to be a fabulous photographer to enjoy fun pictures of your family, right? So, I asked my friend to come over and just snap away. My white backdrop was set up in the backyard, it was windy and it kept blowing over, but we still got some fun pictures of Mommy kissing Santa Clause;) (This is a similar backdrop stand to what I have)

I saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause

{More Santa pictures HERE}

Just 2 years ago, my sweet photographer friends Heather and Tricia took our family pictures, and I love them, but my son was sick, and we didn’t get a smiley shot. I didn’t want to bug them again, so I asked my friend Caroline to just come snap ONE pose for me, and she took this after I set it up, I love it!  It was the main image on our card that year.

family pictures on a bike

{More of these family pictures (both times) HERE}

 I traveled to Utah, and really wanted some pictures in the snow. I had the most fun and colorful outfits for my family, and my sweet friend Kelsey just snapped away after I set up the camera. Though it’s hard to tell we are in the snow!

pictures snow

{More Snow family pictures HERE}


Say NO to Auto

I’m not sure who out there is shooting with an SLR or a phone camera, on Auto or Manual, so this needs to be said. You can get decent pictures from phones. Some of you may even be satisfied with pictures taken on Auto from your fancy cameras and that’s great too. Just capture the moments. If you’d like to take better pictures, and you do have an SLR, I’ve got a treat for you today. A little cheat recipe, if you will.

I wrote a book called Say NO to Auto that teaches you to shoot in manual in 3 simple steps. If you haven’t heard of it, check out all the details HERE. I’m going to be giving some away some books and my workshop video today, too! 25 winners!! But first, a little secret recipe to help you get on your way.

Say NO to Auto Beginner Photography Book

{Secret Recipe} Once your family is dressed and ready to go, get your gear. If it’s a sunny day, and you’re in the outside shade with 4-6 people clustered in a shot (similar to the green/navy blue picture above), then set your camera to these settings:

ISO 200 * f stop 4.0 * shutter speed 1/250

Set your focus on the center of the group, making sure you have a good border of background (you aren’t zoomed in too close to the group).  Take a test shot. If it’s an over exposed image (too bright) crank your shutter speed up to 1/300 or so. Still too bright, keep cranking it up until you get an even exposure. If it’s a cloudy day, start at ISO 400. This is a very basic place to start on your journey towards shooting in full manual mod. I’ve got that recipe plus lots more tips in my book, enter to win below!

 Do you have Family Picture Sessions on the brain this fall?

 Join me today at these other sites on the web for more inspiration with Taking Family Pictures:

Infarrantly Creative–Decorate with Pictures

Capturing Joy–What to Wear for Family Portraits

The Idea Room–How to Enjoy and Not Just Endure Family Pictures

The House of Smiths–The Best Backdrops and Settings for Family Photos

Capturing Joy–How to Take your Own Family Pictures

{If the direct links above don’t work, click on the home page}



I’ll be giving away 17 e-books and 3 printed copies, and 5 winners of my soon-to-be released Say NO to Auto Workshop on VIDEO!  If you win a book, you can choose between my beginner and my intermediate books. Info on those here. If you buy one of my books and then you win the giveaway, I will re-emburse you!!!

(enter giveaway below, wait for the page to load all the way)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Kristen Duke

Kristen Duke

Thank you for stopping by my little spot on the web! If you enjoyed this post, you can subscribe to my future posts via RSS, Facebook, and if you are looking to improve your photography, see my beginner books HERE.
Kristen Duke
Kristen Duke
Kristen Duke
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  1. Yours! Obviously :)
    Michelle recently posted..Randoms.My Profile

  2. I found your post to be informative. Crossing my fingers I win your book.

  3. We always use a tripod to take our family pictures – I’m going to try your settings this year!

  4. The tripod tip and also loved the idea of bartering. I do that with people but have not done it with someone to take our family pictures.

  5. Loved your “Secret Recipe”

  6. I like the post on your blog, about taking your own family photos.
    I’ve toyed with this before, and I really need to do it more often!
    Thankfully, a photographer friend of mine did our photos this year, but we did go out to get an extra one on our own- my hubby took it with my instructions ;)
    Heather @ Raising Memories Blog recently posted..Peanut Butter Balls & Baking PackagingMy Profile

  7. I really liked your post about photography settings. I finally got my first DSLR this month and am excited to shoot Christmas card photos of my son and some friends’ kids. But, I have no idea where we should go! That post gave me a lot of good ideas. :)
    Aimee recently posted..2013 Year at a GlanceMy Profile

  8. Thanks for the great tips! Blessings!

  9. ashlee myles says:

    I love following your blogs. I am in the 2nd year of my photog business and have learned a lot from you!

  10. Well, I haven’t read all of them yet since it is way past my bedtime, but I found yours very helpful. :) We just had family pictures taken by a good friend of mine. We hadn’t had them done in about 4 years!

  11. Yours – of course! I have been slowly learning over the last couple of years, but always find it helpful when someone just says – set your settings at…. Thanks for the suggestions!
    Shawna @ MomsGonnaSnap recently posted..The Simple ThingsMy Profile

  12. Leah Henderson says:

    Tripod. always a must!

  13. Jill Sunshine says:

    Love this post! Also loving your what to wear for photo sessions! Thanks so much for all you do.

  14. Alicia Bliss says:

    I love your post! I love the idea of taking your own family photos! I will defiantly be setting up the tripod this fall and snapping my own family pictures! Can’t wait!

  15. Getting off auto, I love the suggested settings.

  16. Sorry to have to bring tears to your eyes, but we are one of the families you described. We’ve been married eight years and have four kiddos and have never had professional pictures taken, no NB baby pics, no pics of my home births nothing! That is SAD, I think I might just cry too :’(
    We don’t have a fancy camera, only a point and shoot Sony digital camera but it has a few manual settings! I will make use of your tips and hope to have beautiful pics of my sweet family soon. And thanks for this giveaway :) – Ana

  17. All of your tips are great! But I especially liked the clothing suggestions. I struggle with that the most. I’ve been using my DSLR camera for 3 years now and I finally am comfortable shooting in manual mode (instead of Program or AV). So, with all of your tips, I will have a decent family photo to send out for Christmas! I am especially excited since we have a new addition to our family this year and she’ll be so cute dressed alike with her older sister! :-) Thanks for the giveaway!

  18. The manual mode section was most helpful! I am new to manual (I’ve been using Aperture) and it’s already been awesome, but with family pictures I needed a few tips. So thanks!!
    Alli Miller @ Cupcake Diaries recently posted..Halloween/Fall Porch on a Budget {30 Days of Halloween – Day 25}My Profile

  19. MaryAnn Sapp says:

    The post I found helpful and really enjoyed in the blog hop was “what to wear in family pictures”. I always have trouble with that, so it was wonderful reading all the different ideas and tips!! :)

  20. I like the quilt in the air/ like the parachute at the library– fun idea.

  21. Thanks for this great giveaway! I desperately need this.

  22. Love Say No to Auto! I only shoot on manual, thanks to you! I have tried doing a quick tutorial for manual and ended up with mostly blurry pictures :( So now I just turn the camera to auto and hand it to someone else so I can be in a few pictures.

  23. Miranda Smith says:

    Loved your tips on taking your own family photos! I always find it hard to get the one you want!!!

  24. Thank you so much for always sharing such great tips! Hoping I win;)

  25. Patty Welcg says:

    The secret recipe. I’m going to try it out on my grandson.

  26. I loved your post. Great tips for me to remember and use for our next family picture. It has been 2 years since our last one. I need to just take our picture.

  27. I am getting family photos taken next month so Ai really enjoyed your suggestions for dressing for a shoot, thanks!

  28. Thank you so much this was so helpful, it could not have come at a better time!

  29. I follow your blog and love your ideas and shoots.
    I really liked the post about what to wear for a photo shoot. It’s amazing how much the photo captures the essence of each and everyone on the picture.

    I will definitely try this on my next family shoot. :)

  30. I liked the what to wear post. I will use it as a reference for sure!

  31. I found your secret formula helpful. I tend to depend on auto too much because I don’t have time to figure out the settings. Thanks for the chance to win your book.
    MonicaB recently posted..Just words…new school year.My Profile

  32. I am a beginner photographer. I really like two of your posts… what to wear and the tripod. Great ideas. I’ll be trying them out soon for a family photo shoot in the fall leaves!!

  33. Just discovered your blog and LOVING it!! I’ve learned so many photography tips already, so THANK YOU for that! :D

    I had a question regarding PhotoShop that I was hoping for some insight on though. I’m looking into getting an editing program, specifically for the color pop that you talked about and also for getting rid of unsightly blemishes now and then, organizing, etc. Do you think PhotoShop Elements could do most of what I want with that or would I have to go for the higher levels of photoshop?

    Thanks so much!!! :D
    Sarah (Kale & Cupcakes) recently posted..How I Do “Budgeting.”My Profile

  34. I really enjoyed all of the blogs in this series – thinking I like this one the best though as it gives me some ideas for fall family pics.

  35. Great ideas and thanks for the give away

  36. Great post!
    I captured our first DIY family picture this August. The kids got a kick out of me running back and forth!
    Will any remote do, or do you recommend one in particular?
    Have a great day!
    Jody recently posted..I Cut My Hair For Angel Hair For KidsMy Profile

  37. I love the different ideas to use as backgrounds. I have to start keeping my eyes open for an interesting spot!
    Loretta recently posted..Sun-Dried Tomato HummusMy Profile

  38. I liked the “What to Wear” post…

  39. Katie Boscarino says:

    Your blog is always so easy to follow and understand!!

  40. We do the tripod + remote pretty much for all our pictures together, and it works great. All my pregnancy pics (which include the hubbie) were done like this.

    On another note… your oldest son looks exactly like his dad in the first picture!
    Aline recently posted..For my babyMy Profile

  41. Ive never had professional photos done, ever. Even my engagements and my wedding pictures were just friends who offered to take some with a decent point and shoot. 5 yrs and 2 kids later and I still don’t have it in me to pay for pictures. I’m also really picky and I hats to have my picture taken so that probably has something to do with it. I take what I can with my DSLR that someone GAVE me and the few tips I pick up along the way. But like you mentioned I’m always behind the lens. These are great tips as far as having a friend help. I do have a tripod and a remote but its getting the 2 yr old and the almost 1 yr old to look AND look happy. Ive considered many times buying your say no to auto book but financially we always seem to be in a rut. Winning a copy would be awesome. And if not, maybe Christmas.

  42. Your tips have been awesome! I’m new to the family picture scene and now looking to do a little photography of my own when I can.

  43. Ive never had professional photos done, ever. Even my engagements and my wedding pictures were just friends who offered to take some with a decent point and shoot. I take what I can with my DSLR that someone GAVE me and the few tips I pick up along the way. But like you mentioned I’m always behind the lens. These are great tips as far as having a friend help. II’ve considered many times buying your say no to auto book but financially we always seem to be in a rut. Winning a copy would be awesome. And if not, maybe Christmas.

  44. I have been wanting to learn to “say no to auto”…maybe this would help me learn

  45. Holy wow! Great stuff! Now if I ever win anything………

  46. I can never seem to get the giveaway part to load…

    Anyway, your tips are great! I pester my family to get full family pictures a couple of times a year (the start of the football season or for our holiday card, or Easter). I even try to get the dogs in there, but that is usually a disaster. Even so, the outtakes are hilarious! I just use the timer on my prosumer point and shoot, so I am running back and forth. At every extended family gathering, I am the one handing off my camera to my sister or my mom or a-n-y-o-n-e to take a quick picture. I think it’s important. When on vacation recently with my husband, I just asked someone, like you did, to take a quick snap.

    My sister’s family never poses for pictures, and I think it’s sad. It’s because both she and her husband don’t like to be in pictures. She always comments on how many family pictures we have. I really don’t have that many, but when you have none, even 3 ina year seems like a lot!

  47. Most helpful post – what to wear. I’m TERRIBLE at that – I either end up way too matchy or too random. There were SUCH helpful tips in there – THANKS!!

  48. So overdue for a family photo. Gotta get out the tripod. Thanks for the inspiration!

  49. Loved you post, I used the tripod to take photos when my hubby and I celebrated our first Christmas, first home etc. but stopped when kids were born and I seem to be the picture taker, it’s really an excuse not to be photographed. Time to use the tripod again and put the WHOLE family in the family photos!!! Thanks

  50. I really enjoyed yours and I also enjoyed The House of Smith’s post about the backgrounds. Hope I win!


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