How to Improve Your Family Photos

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With spring vacations, Easter, and Passover quickly approaching, you may be reaching for your camera a little bit more. Heed these tips from Life as MOM contributor and professional photographer, Alex Maldonado.

If your family photo collection is anything like ours, it’s 90% pictures of your kids. 9% pictures of your kids and the parent who is not good at taking pictures and 1% photos that include everyone.

When I first started documenting our family, I was super sure I should be the one taking the pictures all the time. After all, being a professional photographer means I should always be the one shooting. The thing we quickly realized is that when I’m shooting a wedding, it’s OK if I’m not in any of the photos. (My clients kinda prefer it that way.)

But, when it comes to telling the story of my family, I kinda should be in the photos. I’m part of the story. So little by little we have found ways to get me in front of the camera.

Here are a few little tips that have worked for us:

1. Teach your kids.

The sooner you teach your kids to use a camera, the sooner you will start ending up in more photos.

At first, you’ll be blurry and out of focus. Then you’ll be in focus, but half your face will be out of the frame. Finally you’ll be in focus, your whole body will be in the shot, but I’m 99% sure they won’t capture you at a “flattering” angle. Guess what? It’s ok. No one is saying you have to frame it and hang it up in your living room. At least you made it into a photo.

Not only does this technique get you into some family photos, it’s a HUGE confidence builder for your kids and may unleash a passion for photography in them. Over time they will get better and one day you’ll wake up and your kids will be better photographers than you are.

2. Let the “non-professional” spouse take a few.

I know it’s easy to always let the spouse who is good at taking photos to be the one snapping away. I know this because I’m super guilty of this in our own family. I know how to take the best picture so I should be the one taking it right?

The reality is that we usually don’t need the “best picture”. We usually just need a picture of what’s happening. AND, the more I let my wife shoot WITHOUT my critiquing her work, like I”m the photo editor for the Washington Post, the better she becomes.

Little by little I’ve starting appearing in more family photos. (And I kinda like it.) That photo above is one my wife took and it may be my most favorite picture ever of my kids and I.

3. Talk to strangers.

This may be the easiest one, but it’s the one we are most scared to do. Anytime you are somewhere unique, don’t just shoot a photo of your kids there. Hop into the frame yourself. I know all cameras have little self timers, but let’s be realistic; those things are impossible to nail. This may be the best skill you can master when taking a family photo. “Excuse me, would you mind taking a quick picture of all of us?” Did you see how hard that was? I mean really. It’s like one sentence. I’ll wait while you practice saying it out loud. Ready…

“Excuse me, would you mind taking a quick picture of all of us?”

OK, I seriously think only 4 of you did it. I’ll give you one last try. For real. Say it out loud.

“Excuse me, would you mind taking a quick picture of all of us?”

There see. That was not that bad.

What’s funny, is your kids may end up looking at the camera and taking a better photo if someone other than you is shooting.

The main thing to remember is why we are shooting. We are not photographing our family to win a contest or create art. We are taking these frames to tell a story. To document their lives. How sad would it be for our kids to look back on thousands and thousands of photos and only find us in 2-3 of them. So let’s all promise to get better at handing the camera over.

Want more ideas? Grab the Ultimate Photography Bundle, available only through June 29, to get all kinds of professional tips and tricks.

Whaddya think?

Those of you who are already doing this, how about a little encouragement?! Tell us about your favorite picture your kids have ever taken of you.

— AlexM is a Texas-based wedding photographer. He specializes in buying lots of expensive gear for his “clients” and then using it at home to take better photos of his kids. Visit his website or shoot the breeze with him on twitter.Β 

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  1. It’s ok Kate, the first few months fly by. Just take it as a little hint that you may need to be a bit more “intentional” about snapping photos with all of you in them. πŸ™‚

  2. I am always so afraid to ask someone else to take a picture…of anything. I feel like they will think I am weird. Even my husband! I so need to get over this fear and if i want a picture I shouldn’t be afraid to ask anyone. I have very few pics of me and my youngest or even our whole family together. Time to get on that!

  3. Thanks for the great post!! I’d love to see more like it, as our pictures are not very good at all!

  4. I agree with the whole make sure both spouse take picture point. Neither my husband or I are great photographers but it wasn’t till I finally got around to printing off and organizing 4 years of photo’s last year that I realized, I was in maybe 1 out of every 100 photo’s. Now my husband and I are trying to make more of a concentrated effort to make sure he takes photo’s too.

  5. I’m the same way, being the photographer in the family! There are 100’s of the kids, at least 50 of the hubby with or without the kids, and then like 2 of me πŸ™‚ We went on an entire family vacation last year – and I didn’t realize until like a month ago, that I had no just us (without the grandparents) in it and no of just me and my husband! I made it a goal last month when hubby and I went on a mini-break without the kids to ask strangers (and Disney cast members) to take our picture over and over again πŸ™‚ I find the biggest issue with hubby taking photos of me and the kids – is that he just doesn’t THINK to take one. I’ll be motioning for him over to “see” me and the kids and whatever we are doing to share the moment with him, and he grins and is happy, but doesn’t think to take a photo. I’ve started saying skipping motioning him over and saying “Honey, can you bring the camera???” That usually helps him to think to take a photo. And I try hard not to critique him, more explaining to him things I’d like him to think about or do (get in closer, take different shots, different angles etc) He’s learning to take more than just 1 photo, zoom in with that multi lens etc πŸ™‚

    One thing I love about my kids learning to take photos is that 1 out of 12 will be just this beautiful awesome shot that I love! It won’t necessarily be in focus, but it might be of an angle of something we don’t normally see. AND now with digital photos I don’t have to develop every single photo – so I’m much more likely to give the kids the camera and let them go to town! Of course you can take a hundred of them. That’s okay now πŸ™‚ I save them too, in a file that says “Kids photos” so that I know why we have some really weird shots of shoes and fee πŸ™‚

  6. Alex, great ideas. Also, as a side note to your #3 suggestion (asking strangers), it is one of my most favorite things to offer to take picture for other people. If I see an obvious group of people taking a picture and one will be left out, I also ask if they would like me to take a picture of all of them. It is so fun!

  7. I’m terrible at letting my hubby take pictures, which is why I’m not in most of them. One of the best things we bought was a remote, so we can setup the camera and takes some cute ones with all of us too.

  8. jimmielee: a little tip/hint is to just look for someone who also has a camera. that’s a great start when hunting for strangers.

    Debbie: I LOVE doing that. If I could I would spend a day of our vacation just walking around DisneyWorld asking strangers if they want their photos taken. πŸ™‚

  9. Our problem is that our most memorable shots are very solitary: no one around in the middle of the desert to snap a shot of all of us. Two of our kids carry their own cameras now while we hike, and that really helps us to cover all the shots. Their ideas of what is interesting is so different from mine and my husband’s that we get some really cool pictures.

  10. this is awesome! well, i like when my 4-year-old gets the camera and shoots away. she actually has taken a few decent shots. then i have the older 3 take pictures of me for my blog! and now the 2-year-old is getting in on the action, but mostly his pics are of the floor and maybe up my nostrils πŸ™‚

  11. Great tips! I used to worry about what I looked like in pictures–the unflattering angles, etc. that my husband would catch. But at some point early in motherhood, my mom mentioned that she regrets not being in more pictures of our childhood. And we really value those pictures with my mom, even though she always groans and says she looks awful (she doesn’t; she’s gorgeous). So now I try to get more pictures with the kids, even if I don’t like how I look that day. My kids will enjoy those pictures one day, even if I don’t.

    As for asking others to take pictures, I always look for another group or a couple and blurt out something like “Hey, I’ll take a picture of you guys if you’ll take one of us!” My husband is always horribly embarrassed, but it’s the only way we could get pictures of us together on our honeymoon, and I’ve continued the practice ever since.

  12. I forgot to mention that the best part of your Mary Poppins picture is that your wife is wearing an LSU shirt. Geaux Tigers!

  13. Love the tips! I’m the “professional” in the family so of course, I’m not in many photos.

    This weekend a friend of mine took a picture of myself and my daughter which I’m going to hang up on the wall, and put in her First Communion book. My kids need to know I existed! LOL

  14. What a helpful reminder! I just recently realized that I am in hardly any pictures. The last few times out my husband has been intentionally playing around with the camera. I’m in more pictures, and hopefully he is learning a bit about it!

    We have very few family shots though. I need to work on that.

  15. So true–all of this! I’m the worst at asking other people to take pictures. But you’re right that the kids actually look at the camera when there’s someone else behind it! I spent about 30 minutes last summer trying to remember how to get the remote to work for a family picture on our beach vacation, all while my husband tried to get me to ask another family near us whose son my sons had been playing with. I kept saying, “no! no! i’ll figure it out!” Finally, I gave up and asked them. And it’s the best picture of the four of us ever taken (well, since they were six months old…they’re two now). Even better than the professional pics we had done this summer! Lesson learned.

  16. That’s a great article. It is one of my goals in life to take pictures of other people as a family on vacation! I just volunteer. Hope they have great memories and great photos from my random act of kindness.

  17. Yes! It’s easy to always want the “best” photo, but really, when it comes to just capturing a memory of a vacation, a birthday party, or just something funny that happens, then it’s far more important to get a photo of it, period! Our kids have known how to take a pretty good photo for quite a few years now, and that is definitely a good thing, too!

  18. LOL Just tonight I said to my husband, “do you remember what you need to do this year?”

    because I told him at the beginning of the year I want at least one DECENT pic of me with the kids every month. We did great in Jan but nothing for Feb or March so far, except if you count pics of them on my lap and my feet in the pic πŸ™‚ (I don’t)

  19. I always ask strangers to take our pictures for us, I don’t think I’ve every had anyone turn us down. On the flip side, I also offer to take pictures whenever I see a couple or a family snapping shots. The response is usually pretty positive and they are happy to get a picture of themselves together.

  20. Last year I found out the my 6 year old great nephew takes great pictures! They are better than mine! Now when we are at family functions, I give him my camera & tell him to get pictures of everyone. Now I’m in the pictures too!

  21. These are great tips. My husband is usually the one behind the camera, so I really need to start making a point to capture him with the kids (and without).

    We have very very few photos as a whole family- and even less that are any good. The problem we’ve run into with asking strangers to take our picture is that they rarely are able to get a decent shot. And I’m not even talking about anything complicated- just getting everyone *in* the shot, and cropped in a logical way, seems to be too difficult. I’ve even noticed that many people seem hesitant to take more than one shot. I always try to encourage people taking our picture to take multiple pictures, but am afraid of being demanding when asking strangers to do us a favor. Any thoughts?

    1. I’m thinking those folks might not be familiar with digital cameras. Gone are the days when taking shots = more expense. I’d look for folks who with cameras of their own.

  22. Thank you for the great tips and some good laughs this morning. We bought our five year old a camera and although his pictures at first were very off centered, my husband and I joke that after six years we now have a picture together… I could relate entirely to your post! Great thoughts that I plan to incorporate. Thanks!

  23. Recently my 6 year old loves taking pictures! When he went to Disney he was able to get some shots of my husband and I with the characters, they turned out great and we have some memories also! Also at Disney, as the professional photographers to use your camera, they will do it and you get some great family shots!

  24. I love – love – love this post! I am completely guilty of hogging the camera and only “allowing” good pictures of myself to reappear.

    Time to let go!

  25. My hubby knows how important telling our family’s story is to me and it is to him as well so he now takes the camera from me to make sure I am in a few shots. Neither of us is very good about asking a stranger to take a shot of all of us. We got to work on that.