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How to Capture the Perfect Family Portrait for the Holidays

As the holidays approach, families are busy planning parties and get-togethers. Between the cookies, eggnog, and presents, there will undoubtedly be a photo or two to commemorate the festivities. However, because some families are very large, snapping the perfect family portrait isn’t always easy. Follow these tips, and you’ll be sure to have a photograph everyone will be proud to display.

Managing your flash indoors

There’s nothing cozier than a warm fireplace and the twinkly lights on a trimmed tree, but mismanaging your flash can disrupt the comfortable mood. The internal flash on your camera can be too harsh and bright in such a setting with low lighting. Try these tips to manage your flash:

  • If your camera is designed to handle low-light settings, forgo the use of the flash altogether.
  • Use a diffuser and reflector in combination with your internal flash.
  • Use an external flash and bounce it off the wall to diffuse the light.

Managing your flash outdoors

If your family portrait is outdoors during the day, using a flash may be the difference between an okay image and a crisp photograph. Whether your family is posed around outdoor holiday display or sitting on a horse-drawn sleigh, using a flash outdoors softens any harsh shadows and offers a captivating fill light.

Choose your lens wisely

When packing your camera bag for a holiday get-together, consider how many people you are going to be photographing. If you know you need to fit a lot of individuals into one photograph, a 70-200mm lens might not be wide enough. Many photographers opt for a 50mm lens for family portraits.


From knowing where and how to position people to getting everyone to pose at the same time, posing is a common struggle for many photographers. Follow these tips to make sure your posing is on-point:

  • Make sure everyone’s faces are clearly visible in the viewfinder. Depending on how many people are in the portrait, make a “front row” out of stools for shorter family members to sit. Taller family members can stand in the back.
  • Fill the frame: leave as little empty space around the family in the viewfinder as possible. If you skip this step, your subjects will appear small and look far away.
  • Ask everyone to inch closer to each other to avoid unsightly gaps in your image.
  • Get everyone to pose at the same time: make it clear when you are about to click the shutter and when you are merely adjusting settings. No one likes to hold a smile for very long. When you are ready to snap, press a squeaky toy and countdown from 3.
  • Avoid awkward angles. Don’t shoot from the floor or low levels. If many people are in the photo, have the center subjects face you straight on. The subjects on the left and right should be angled toward the center, but not a complete side profile.
  • Get creative! If the family has an inside joke or a special tradition, capture those moments too.

Utilize a tripod

When you include the tripod as a tool in your photography arsenal, you eliminate blurry photos from shaky hands. Also, the use of a tripod allows you to take the time to compose your image in the camera, making sure you get the image you want.

Set the white balance

If you are taking a family portrait outdoors in the snow, you run the risk of ending up with blue-tinted snow, which results in a dreary photograph. Use a gray card and create a custom white balance, and you’ll achieve brilliant, bright white snows.

As families come together to celebrate, incorporating these tips will ensure your holiday photos turn out perfectly.

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