Snap happy: Take fine blink-free photos of all the family
Photographers Barry and Margaret Moore offer tips on making everyone look good
A family affair: Take charge of where people stand or sit. Otherwise there’ll be a crush and some people get hidden by others.
We regularly photograph family groups of all ages and stages, including – up until lockdown – generations all together in our Photogenic studio in Dalkey. We’re often told we have a “magic” touch. There’s no doubt that experience plays a big part in our ability to make everyone look well, but there are lots of simple things that everyone can do to make their own family group photographs that little bit better.
Photography is a bit like cooking – you can do it yourself or call in the professionals. And just like cooking, there are skills or “recipes” you can use to get a great shot of your family, even the elusive extended family group photograph (when we’re all allowed to gather together again).
The type of camera you use is rarely the most important thing about photographs because family photography is mostly about managing people. Here are a few tips on how to get better portraits on those family occasions:
Take the picture before anything else
If you really want a photograph with everyone in it – the whole family – there’s only one way to give yourself a chance to get it. Take the picture before you do anything else, as soon as everyone has arrived at your picnic, barbecue or party. Then you’ll have everyone’s attention, children won’t be tired or fractious, people will still be in good form. Once people are eating/chatting/drinking, it’s much harder to gather them all together again.
Make a nice arrangement
Take charge of where people stand or sit. Otherwise your family will simply sidle into place in a long and boring line-up or there’ll be a crush and some people might get hidden by others. If you have any group of people to arrange, think of creating three rows and start with seating the grandparents at the heart of the photograph and seat a few people either side of them. Then stand adults/older teens in the back row and children/younger teens on the ground in front. I always like to tuck the smallest children in close to the grandparents too.
Have the camera/device ready – and don’t keep checking it
We’ve all been there, waiting patiently for the picture to be taken and, click, nothing happens. Cue groans and moans. So, make sure your phone or camera’s memory isn’t full, that your battery is charged, that you have the right setting – I call this “pre-flight checking” and it’s something we still do before every studio session, even after almost 30 years behind the camera.
In particular, set your device to take a good-quality, high-resolution file, so you can make a decent print of the photograph.
Then take at least four shots of group photos and don’t keep checking the screen to see if the picture has “come out” or even worse “checking for blinks”. Someone will always blink in a big group photograph, that’s life.
Snap the everyday moments
Being ready with your camera or device also applies if you like taking casual photographs of your kids and family. Sometimes when you least expect it, an opportunity presents itself and it’s wonderful to capture quickly those lovely, candid moments in the kitchen, doing art/homework, telling stories etc. Try to remember to take turns taking photographs or you might end up with pictures where the same person is always missing. It may not seem important now, but I promise you, in time it will matter a lot.
The weather won’t help
Gusts of wind, strong sunshine, heavy rain will mean unruly hair, squinty eyes and running for cover – not what you want in any family portrait. You can avoid the squinty eyes by placing people with the sun behind them and using your flash by taking it off the auto setting (yes, use flash outside – it’s called forced or fill flash). There’s not much you can do about rain and wind but setting up in a sheltered area can help and a little bit of drizzle never did any harm – rain and tears don’t really come out in photographs!
If you do end up indoors, try to use the light of your window if you can. If it’s evening time, keep to small groups and get in close so the group is well-lit. Oh, and sit on chairs, not couches – they’re awkward to arrange people on and not flattering.
There’s always Photoshop . . . or is there?
Once you have a good image and a couple of shots from the same angle and same light conditions, it is possible to use the magic of digital retouching to make a perfect image, remove red-eye and even insert the person who has to take the picture into the group. But keep the retouching to a minimum and let your family portraits reveal what’s real and tell a story that evokes real memories.
Make something lovely to look through
There are so many ways to create books and albums digitally these days, and a lot of them involve software and planning an entire year of memories all at once. It’s a tall order and can be a put-off, which is why so many lovely photographs never get printed.
You can make your own album the old-fashioned way, with sheets of thick card, a hole punch and nice binder. You’ll get all these in any good stationers or craft shop. Make a point of printing a handful of your favourite photographs each month and use simple glue sticks to mount your photos on the pages and write the date and occasions or subjects. (Pro Tip – use pencil to do this as it never fades).
I can remember as a child looking back on our old family snaps once or twice a year, and the stories behind the photos would bring on so many memories and a lot of laughs – those pictures still do that for our family
No matter what though, just be sure to take lots of pictures, any pictures you can as best you can. In years to come, even our “bad” photographs will be good and looking back over old photographs is one of life’s simple pleasures. It’s a wonderful gift to give your children and family the joy of poring over a family photograph album.