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DIY Family Portrait Tips

April 21, 2020

You don't need a professional photographer to capture your family. Just grab a tripod, a selfie stick or a willing neighbor and follow our tips for taking a great family photo you will cherish forever.

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Photo: Jules Ko Photography

Perfect Family Portraits

Taking a family portrait at home is easy and doesn’t require a lot of expensive gear. Professional portrait photographers Jules Ko in Boston and Alison Hatch in Albuquerque, New Mexico, offer these tips for transforming your photos from snapshots into frame-worthy family photos.

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Photo: Steve Larese

Use (or Make) a Tripod

You'll need something to hold your camera or phone if you want to be in the shot. A tripod makes this easy with cameras, but what if you don't have a tripod or you're using a phone without a tripod socket? When taking selfies with phones, most of the time the subject looks at the screen and uses the forward-facing camera. But the camera on the back of the phone typically has more resolution and is higher quality, assets you may want for a family portrait. You can use objects such as binder clips, rubber bands and folded cardboard to make a stand for your phone. Use a chair or other stable object to position the phone. Commercial smartphone clamps used to hold your phone and thread into a tripod are available as well.

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Photo: Steve Larese

Use the Self Timer

Using the self-timer feature of your camera or smartphone allows you to be in the photo, too. On most cameras, the self-timer is a subsetting located under the "Drive" setting, and is oftentimes just called "timer." (The Drive setting lets you choose how fast you want the camera to take photos such as single frame (one at a time) or Continuous (the camera will take photos for as long as the shutter button is held down). The self-timer setting usually looks like a clock, and it may have a number. This number represents the number of seconds you'll have until the camera takes the photo, usually 3, 5 or 10 seconds. Select the number of seconds you think you'll need to get back to the group and get positioned. Some timers allow you to take several photos after the delay, and this can be helpful to ensure that you've positioned yourself in time and that everyone has a pleasant expression and open eyes. On many smartphones when in camera mode, swiping down on the screen will allow you to access special settings such as the timer, flash and other features.

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Photo: Alison Hatch Photography

Adjust Your Camera Height

Where you place your camera or phone affects your portrait. Too low and you force people to look down which scrunches up necks. Placement too high can result in oddly large heads. As a rule, place the camera at the average of the eyes of the shortest and tallest members of your group. The edge of your screen should be parallel with your subjects and with the edges of walls or other straight objects in the background (not tilted). This will minimize distortion, especially with wider-angles lenses such as those on smartphones.

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