What are your memories of a family photo shoots? Are they of dressing up in your best clothes and sitting uncomfortably for hours in a hot studio while being blinded by the camera flash? Or were you a bridesmaid at a wedding where you endured hours of being photographed in a dress that resembled a Christmas tree decoration? If so, then you may not have fond feelings for photo shoots. However, it doesn't have to be this way. Armed with a digital camera and a sense of fun, you might find that family photo shoot time can mean fun for everyone.
One plus with using a digital camera is that the pressure to get the photo right the first time is eliminated. If someone blinks or coughs or if your son makes donkey ears behind your daughter's head, simply take another shot. You don't have to print anything that's not great.
However, a digital camera can't perform miracles and some preparation before hand will ensure that family photo shoots go off well. First (and most importantly), make sure you know how your camera works. If you're not comfortable with it, practice first and don't get everyone together until you're sure you can work the camera confidently. This includes understanding how to set the remote timer if you plan to set up the camera to shoot on its own. Also make sure you have a tripod or some surface handy to put the camera on to keep it steady.
Play dress ups
When choosing clothing for the shoot, organize it so everyone's clothing works well together. A simple solution is to get everyone into a white T-shirt and blue jeans or black T-shirt and black jeans or another combination that looks smart. Alternately, just plan for clothing colors that all work well together - all pastels, all darks etc. and avoid colors that clash or are similar but not the same. Settle for solid colors in preference to patterns or florals. Also avoid clothes with logos on them unless you're photographing a team and they're all wearing team outfits.
Location, Location, Location
Scout out a suitable location to use. The local park in springtime is a good place to shoot because there are plenty of flowers to add color and there will be chairs and tables or swings and roundabouts that everyone can sit on. If you must shoot indoors find a room with light walls, lots of natural light and shoot on a sunny day with all the windows and blinds open. Also ensure you have an uncluttered and neutral background behind your subjects. Place people close to the light source to ensure they're well lit.
Never plan a family photo shoot at night - the flash will wash out the colors in everyone's faces and the photos won't be flattering. On the other hand, when you're photographing outside on a sunny day, turn your flash on (yes, On!) so it is forced to flash. When you do this, you will ensure that people's faces aren't marred by unsightly shadows.
If young kids insist on taking their favorite doll or toy with them, all the better - they will be more comfortable if they have familiar items around them. In this case, color coordinate the child's clothes with the colors in the favorite toy (or vice versa).
When photographing, spend time with each child and take a series of photos of them by themselves (with and without the toy). Pair up the children too and take photos of them interacting with each other. Provided you have plenty of storage on your camera's card, shoot lots of pictures taking time out occasionally to make sure they are focused and framed attractively.
If you're photographing active young children, put your camera onto sports mode to speed up the shots so you freeze the action and don't get out of focus pictures. Enlist the help of a friend to look after the younger children while you take photos of the older ones. If that friend is also able to use the camera, he or she can take photos of all the family together.
If your make your shoot fun and if everybody is laughing and enjoying themselves, you will get some wonderful candid shots that show your family as they really are. And don't forget to take plenty of photos - any empty space on your memory card at the end of the day is a wasted opportunity.
Helen's 4 best tips for great family photos
The family clown
When one of the kids insists on sticking our their tongue or acting up, allow them two or three shots doing just that. Then insist that they are sensible for the remainder of the shoot. Keep the "silly" photos in a safe place - you'll get your revenge when they turn 21 when you show off these photos to all their friends.
When someone is nervous and won't relax, try some funny exercises. Ask them to scrunch up their shoulders and face really tight then, on command, tell them to let go. Capture them as they relax into peals of laughter and you'll get a wonderful shot. Diverting their attention to something else while you take their photo can help too.
Move in (and out)
For more interesting photos take some up close and others from further away. Also vary the angle and shoot from front on, a higher position and then get down low and shoot upwards. Mix up your shots and have everyone looking into the camera for some and looking elsewhere for others.
Photos don't have to be taken using formal seating arrangements. Try everyone sitting on the grass or have the kids lie down and take the photo facing down onto them. Sit an adult backwards on a chair or cross legged on a table or look for other interesting and varied poses. Talk to the person you're shooting, tell them they're doing great and keep them relaxed - remember this is fun!