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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. loved the post about how to coordinate clothing for family photos!

  2. I LOVED this post! I’m just learning more about my DSLR all the time, and the more I learn the more I want to know! I’m not seeing anything about how to enter your giveaway, though!

  3. This post was the most helpful for me.

  4. Love this! Thanks!!

  5. The info on shooting in manual.
    Mandy’sRecipe Box recently posted..Cinnamon Oatmeal BarsMy Profile

  6. I liked How to Enjoy and not Just Endure. We love having family photos, but getting them can be so hard!

  7. What a great book for camera newbies that just want good pictures. Hope I win!

  8. What to wear in family portraits. Was the best….most helpful.

  9. What an awesome giveaway Kristen!! Love it!!

  10. I love the reminder and reality that professional photos may not be in our annual budget . . . but there are still great ways to get those family shots every year (and hopefully more often).

    My husband recently returned from a 5-month deployment to Afghanistan. I looked around at the folks waiting to board the next flight and asked a gentlemen that was sitting there if he could please take my camera and just try and get a few shots as my hubby came off the plane. I am so very grateful for those moments that he captured! They are far from perfectly composed shots, but I can see my son’s expression when he first saw his Dad, after all those months. What a blessing!

  11. Deborah K. says:

    Loved the post on back drops and the one you did here with the formula. Best thing ever!

  12. I did it! I took my own family photos this weekend using some of your tips. And I blogged about it! I just wish Blogger weren’t distorting my pics. Just trust me- they look way better in person than on my blog!

  13. Very cool, great tips. My hubby and I are taking a trip soon just to relax on the beach I told him to prepare himself I am going to do a photo shot of us. *smiles* But he is a good guy and used to that sort of thing.

  14. Kristen S says:

    I loved all of the posts! They were all very helpful and had great tips. We have never had professional family pictures because of our tight budget, so taking them myself or having a friend do it is the only option. Your tips and tricks will definitely be used. Thanks so much for all the ideas and the great giveaway!!

  15. Honestly I love that you are encouraging Mom’s to get in the picture as well! I am a new Mom and I have only been in a few pics myself. So, thank you for the encouragement!

  16. It was perfect timing for me to come across this today!! I have to take our own family pictures this year & you have given me courage to do it! I do have an SLR camera, but scared about taking it off auto…so thanks for your tips!

  17. Ilove your tips – and such a beautiful family!

  18. This was great!! I hope I win the ebook, I could definitely use a little kickstart into using manual mode… :D

  19. Thanks for the “secret recipe”! I’m a lazy DSLR owner and always use auto. I’d love to start using manual more.

  20. The Best Backdrops and Settings; as I used to think that you needed this perfect background, but I’m learning you can make a background out of the most unusual things! :)

  21. Randi Hess says:

    I am so glad I found this post this year! I am feeling much better about attempting to take our family pictures this year! Thank you!

  22. I found all of them to be really helpful but this one probably a little more!:)

  23. I am getting my first DLSR camera soon and I can’t wait to start taking pictures with it. I loved all the info in this post and can’t wait to learn more. Thank you!

  24. Your tip about the DSLR camera settings was the most helpful for me, as well as using a tripod!
    Kim recently posted..Praise for TodayMy Profile

  25. Love my camera and being able to capture such special moments together as a family!

  26. This one was really great! I love the tips on how to get yourself as a mom in the picture! It is really hard to get in there sometimes!

  27. How To Take Your Own Family Pictures! I can’t wait to try some of these ideas and save some money!!

  28. I stress every year about our family photos, trying to find a fellow photographer to take them! I loved how you use a tripod, I will have to invest for our next family photos!

  29. What a great post! I have a DSLR and am slowly learning how to use its many features. This book sounds like it would be a wonderful help!

  30. Jennifer M says:

    I liked this post for learning to take family photos. I especially love the cheat tip!

  31. -”it’s more important to have the time in your life captured…than making sure it’s captured professionally” – this point stuck out the most to me – but all the info was very useful – thank you april

  32. Thanks for the camera settings for taking on photo (off of manual)!

  33. I love how you told us what to set our camera to if we were in a certain setting like the pictures above. So helpful for a beginner!

  34. My husband wants me to take pictures of his family (with me in them) for Thanksgiving and I’m really out of my element…I’ll definitely need this!!
    Erin @ Strawberry Mommycakes recently posted..Witch Party Hat TutorialMy Profile

  35. I just got a new fancy schmancy camera right before the birth of our son and am super excited to learn to use it better. I sadly take pictures on AUTO a lot of times because I don’t know how to use the manual mode to take the kind of pictures I want to take. Your website is awesome!

  36. Hubby won’t spring for professional photos this year so it looks like I will be taking them. Thanks for the pointers.

  37. Leandra Bahler says:

    I would love to win the book! It would be such a help to me, because I am just beginning photography!

  38. Thanks for the post, super super cute :)

  39. Kirsten H. says:

    The most helpful for me what what color schemes to wear.

  40. Lauren Wright says:

    The House of Smiths post was very helpful for me! :)

  41. I loved all the information. I have still never mastered taking the camera off of auto.

  42. katie kitterman says:

    the info about shooting in manual!

  43. Would love to win a copy of your book, thanks for the opportunity! :)

  44. Great photos! I just LOVE those beach pictures!
    Jenn recently posted..17 Fabulous Fall Ideas {Inspiration Exchange Features}My Profile

  45. Love all the tips! Gives me the courage to try :)

  46. Great tips and I always refer to my “Say no to auto” book! LOVE it!

  47. Victoria West says:

    I think which settings to put your camera on was the most helpful but enjoyed reading all of it!

  48. Thank you so much for the tips! My family is set for family photos next week; we will definitely use them!

  49. I liked the How to Enjoy and not just Endure Family Pictures. I think my family needs to have more fun and relax during the shoot.

  50. I have to admit that this post was very helpful for me!