“When a writer becomes a reader of his or her own work, a lot can go wrong. It’s like do-it-yourself dentistry.”
We had not taken a family photo in over six years because, as a family, we were never together. Finally, the now grown kids were home and my wife and I were determined to get that moment in time preserved. That decision was the easiest part of the whole affair.
We did not want to spend a fortune and also wanted control over all of our photos so we decided to take our family picture ourselves. Perhaps my professional photography friends will say I am a dummy, knucklehead or worse and that I got what I paid for and they may be correct. Our picture was not perfect but it did not cost anything and we are happy with it. What could have been a disaster, in the end, worked out okay.
Here are a few tips on how you, with a little luck and a lot of preparation, can make the family photo happen for nothing next time your whole family is together.
The family photo should be a democratic affair with a lot of family input from everyone…until the day of the event.
It can be a lot of fun for everyone to share their input on what should be worn and where in the house, yard or community you should take the picture. Let everybody participate in the days leading up to the actual photo taking moment. At some point before everyone starts gathering, however, you need to take charge. The democratic process is over and you are the King or Queen. Make decisions and keep the crowd informed and moving.
Take a few pictures the day before of several sites and let your family comment on which location they like the best. Take the pictures at about the same time of day that you are taking the real picture so that you can look at the light. One of the biggest challenges is to get the light correct and without the help of a professional photographer and equipment you are going to just have to pay attention to it.
In the pictures below you can see that getting the light correct was going to be a big problem for us and sure enough it was. We overcame it somewhat by moving the person taking the picture closer to the family, using a flash and enhancing the picture with a software program.
Get some advice from someone who knows more than you
Find an artistic friend who can give you some advice on which location would be best. Choosing the backdrop and how to center your picture can make or break any photo shoot. I offered eight different locations in our yard with different backdrops and after discussion, we narrowed it down to two locations.
I would have placed the big oak in the practice picture above in the middle but my friend offered her advice on how to balance the picture better so we shifted it to one side.
Consider the older people
It is hard for some to get around. In an outdoor photo, be aware that bugs and humidity are going to take its toll. Have everything in place before you bring out the old folks. Once you have everybody there, keep things moving. Have the younger people prepared ahead of time to assist the older generation with sitting, standing and moving around.
Use a good camera…or two
If you don’t have one, someone you know does. It is important to have a good camera even if you just know the basics. In addition, a Smart Phone with a good camera in it may be used as a backup. I asked two people (non-professionals) to take the picture…one used the camera and the other used my phone. It was not a true”selfie” in the sense that I held the camera while still somehow maintaining my position in the picture, but it was still a do it yourself effort…The only problem with two cameras is that many of our pictures had people looking at different cameras. If you use two, remember to take charge and tell everyone which camera to look at. Of course, if the people taking the picture are standing right next to each other you should be fine.
Plan who is sitting or standing next to whom, before you get started
In our family, we had both older people and a baby to consider. We also had divorced parents both of whom are very involved in our family and we wanted them in our picture. Many people will overcome family issues to preserve the memory for the greater good. Be smart at positioning them so that you do not make stressful situations worse. However, don’t hesitate to try to get everyone there. Take charge.
Work in individual shots
It takes nothing to work in a few individual shots in between the big shots. Just demand it and take charge. In our case we just passed the baby around and got the shots we wanted.
Have fun if possible
When Sally’s chair sunk in the dirt and about tipped over backwards we all had a good laugh. Comic relief always helps so try to keep it as light as possible. You need to go in to this photo-op with seriousness on the preparation and organization side of it. Once you start snapping those pictures you need to also keep things moving. However, remember the reason you are doing all this is to keep the memories of your family frozen for a moment in time. Make sure that there is ample room for smiling and laughter mixed into that moment.
All in all, once we started clicking pictures, we took almost 300 pictures in about twenty minutes. Most of them had something wrong but a few of them actually turned out good enough for us. We finished before everyone was sweating or tempers began flaring. Even the baby seemed to enjoy the outing.
If you want to “do it yourself”, it is possible. It takes a little bit of luck and a lot of preparation. I suppose as the family grows it will get harder and harder to get it done on our own but I have a half of a decade to worry about it. In the meantime, the area above my fireplace will hold the moment in time that we captured ourselves in 2014 and will do so proudly.
The Larson Family August 2014
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