Portrait & Headshot Photographer • Plymouth, New Hampshire

Cheese is for Eating: Five Steps to Taking Better Photos of Your Family

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, most of us have been at home with our families for a couple of weeks now, and we don’t know how long it will last.  I’d like to encourage you to photograph your family.  One day, the photos you create will be priceless.  

Here are some things that will help you take better photos of your family.  This works with ANY camera.  Grab a DSLR, a point-and-shoot, or your cell phone. 

  1.  LIGHT – Find diffused light.  Diffused light is soft.  It’s the kind of light you see in the early morning, or late evening, when the day is clear and the sun is low.  Soft light is also the light of an overcast day.  Soft light is the light that comes through a sheer curtain.  On a bright day, you can even layer a couple of sheer curtains on a window.  If you’d like to take photos outside, morning, evening, or overcast light is best.  If you’ll be inside, ask your subject to sit near the window.  If the opposite side of your subject is dark, use something white to reflect the light back onto her face.  This can be a poster board, or even a white pillow.  Put it close to your subject, just out of the frame.  
  2. COMPOSITION – Pay attention to what is in the background.  If it’s the TV, turn it off.  When photographing people at home, the things we live with are okay. These things can help to tell the story. Twenty years from now, it will be nice to see your daughter’s favorite green tractor, or your son’s stuffed bear.  It’s okay to have a quick look around and decide what should stay in the photo and what should go.
  3. PATIENCE – You may have an agenda for photos, but your child or other family member may have other ideas.  Try to let it go.  You can try again later!  If you persist when your family member is adamantly against being photographed, it will be even harder to gain cooperation the next time you ask, and you may end up ultimately conditioning them to dislike being in front of a camera. Try to keep it casual. They will feel pressure if you feel stress.
  4. NO CHEESE – Cheese is for eating. Never, ever tell anyone to “SAY CHEESE!”  Never. What you’re after is a genuine expression, a real connection.  Don’t force anything and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.  A portrait cannot be taken.  It must be given. It’s your job to help the person in front of you to decide to give it.  How?  Put the camera down. Leave it down most of the time, but be ready. Give them your complete attention. Talk to them.  Ask questions. Listen.  Care about the answer. Tell them stories. Watch. Only pick up the camera occasionally.  Take your time. You will learn to anticipate expressions. Your energy sets the tone.  If you want a toddler to laugh, tell a silly joke.  If you want a calm expression from your teenager, be calm.  
  5. NO PERFECTION – Perfection is the enemy of creativity.  Go easy on yourself and your family members.  Not every photo will be perfect.  It’s okay!  Just create.
Family photos - diagram

With practice, you’ll begin to notice beautiful light, nice compositions, subtle expressions, and true connection with the person you’re photographing.  Oh, and don’t forget to get in the photo yourself sometimes!