When I was a kid around this time every year my mom would drag us all out for the annual Christmas card photo. And every year we’d end up fighting and grumpy. When I had my own family I would do the same thing, with the same results. Trying to take family photos with a grumpy family is no fun.

Eventually, I learned a few secrets for hassle-free family photos that don’t leave everyone fighting and annoyed.

1) Keep it short – My last family Christmas card photo took 30 minutes

This will require a little organization and preparation. You’ll want to know ahead of time where you are going. But don’t just pick out the location. Know where at that location you want to go. If I’m hired to do a photo shoot for a location I’ve never been I will go there a day or two before and scout the location. I want to know where the good backdrops are and where the light looks the best. Once you have not only the location but also the specific areas of that location you can move quickly to get the shots you want.

             These examples are from Jenny’s senior photo session in Rhododendron Gardens in Portland. It had been several years since I’d been there, I didn’t remember much of it, so I arrived early to scout the location. I found so many great locations my little photographers heart nearly burst with excitement. A charming pond, large grassy area, a bridge with so many possibilities and even *gasp* a waterfall!! I chose the locations I wanted to shoot and mapped out a loop through the 9-acre gardens that would allow us to efficiently use the location in the time allowed.

2) Don’t force it – This only makes people grumpier

In my various photography jobs over the years I’ve seen it time and again. The kid is tired, upset or just downright mad and the parents stand there, “come on smile”, “we’ll get ice cream if you’ll just stand here” or my favorite a threat of punishment if the child doesn’t smile. If you want good, relaxed and natural family photos you cannot force people into submission. You have to work with them.

This grandkids photo session was so much fun!! For this photo, the girls wanted to have everyone climb the tree. The young man had no interest in this venture. I’ll admit I was disappointed he didn’t want to climb the tree and his family tried to convince him. But I didn’t want to force him into something he obviously didn’t want to do. So instead I had him stand at the base of the tree and the expression on his face just makes this photo! Because I listened and didn’t push him I ended up with a better photo because his personality shines through giving this image a fun and comical quality.

3) Plan for a time when everyone is rested – Especially young kids

Several years ago I worked for a Santa at a local shopping mall. I spent Thanksgiving thru Christmas taking pictures of kids sitting on Santa’s lap. I saw it happen time and time again, kids tired from shopping or being out late unable to handle one more holiday thing. Then their parents would set them on a strangers lap and tell them to smile. Instead, the kid would have a meltdown. While it can make for some hilarious photos, most parents would get frustrated their child would not cooperate. When your kids are tired, it’s time to stop.

This sweet family hired me to take their family photos several years ago. Oh my, it’s hard to imagine how old these kids must be now. We wandered all over their little town, taking pictures and ended up in this field right around sunset. That’s about the time the little guy decided he was done. I was able to snap this photo and that was the end of the session. I think it’s a fun family photo that shows what having young kids is truly like. But it’s probably not one you’d want as a 20×30 canvas on your wall. 😉

4) Let everyone have input – Giving kids a voice keeps them involved and they are less likely to get bored

When I took my family out for our annual Christmas photo shoot, everyone would get a turn posing and taking the photo. Kids can come up with some really fun ideas. You never know what you’ll end up with when you hand over the control. Sometimes their ideas are better. 😉

This family was so much fun to photograph because they had so many great ideas. The tree image above and this jumping image were both their ideas. I find these images way more engaging than everyone lined up smiling for the camera. When people are involved in the process, they have more fun and thus more genuine smiles.

5) Give them something to do

Having something to do helps people to relax. When the camera comes out, people automatically tense up. So give them something to do with their hands or something to look at.

Several years ago I was visiting my friend in South Dakota, while there she asked me to take their family photos. We had a fun day running around the park taking pictures. We decided to take a break from the heat and take a couple photos in the shade of this tree. Their dog plopped down and they all turned to look at him, and I snapped the shot! This is one of my favorite images because it shows them connecting as a family with their dog.

My sister on occasion will ask me to take their family photos. With 3 boys and a dad who likes to goof off, they can be quite the challenge to photograph. This year I figured out the secret . . . . give them something to do. They had a lot of fun throwing leaves multiple times so I could get this shot.

6) Play together and have fun

             Sometimes we make photography to serious. Stand here, smile, and take the picture. We miss the connection and interaction we have as a family when we shoot this way. So loosen up, have some fun, and be silly. You’ll enjoy these pictures much more in the future, than the stiff and posed images.

Have I mentioned that taking photos of my sister’s family can be tough? I learned this lesson when we tried getting family photos on the football field. It was going ok until we brought in the football for a prop. With this football-crazed family that was the wrong thing to do. My photo shoot suddenly became a football game. But I got some fun shots of this athletic family. This one is one of my favorites from this session because my at the time, 1-year-old niece lined up to take on the whole family. It makes me giggle every time.

My friend wanted her family photos on the beach this year. While I was taking photo’s of one of the boys, mom and daughter started playing one of those clapping games. I swung my camera around to capture photos of them interacting. The game quickly dissolved into some silliness that resulted in mom grabbing her daughter to pull her in for a hug. I snagged this image. I love the connection and joy of this photo.

Family Photo’s don’t have to be the thing everyone dreads. Be silly, get everyone involved, but most of all have fun and enjoy your family.

Bonus tip!

7) Hire a professional – You knew I’d throw this one in 😉

This could probably be a blog post all its own. By letting a professional do all the heavy lifting, you can take a lot of stress off you and your family when it comes to getting family photos. In addition, a professional will bring years of experience, education, and knowledge to the photo shoot to ensure you get family images that you love.

Contact me today to book your family photo session! (shameless plug) 😉

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  • Dale Hardin

    Hi Teresa.

    Really liked this blog a lot. The content and lessons are superb and the message clear. I also like the “pin it” icon instead of the roll over effect. To these old eyes, I wish the text was a bit larger and darker but that is just me. Your audience will have no trouble at all.

    I am very, very impressed with the professional look of your work and it’s obvious you’ve given it a lot of thought and effort. So proud to see you doing so well and to be your friend.

    Lots of hugs,


    • TeresaHuntPhotography

      Thank you, Dale. 🙂ReplyCancel

A few months ago I ran across a photo on Pinterest that captured my attention. It was a shot of a young girl in a white muslin dress, standing in a dark forest holding a lantern that could have had a fairy inside. It was so pretty I immediately wanted to recreate it. I sent the picture to my sister and asked if I could do something similar with my niece. Her response, “Yes please”.

I kept that picture stored in my phone for months letting the idea fade from insecurity.

Then one day full of confidence and inspiration I decided to gift my niece a Princess Photo Shoot for her 7th birthday. I immediately went shopping, I looked EVERYWHERE for a similar dress. While I found several dresses to purchase for the photo shoot, I couldn’t find one to match my inspiration. I finally settled on a lace flowered dress for my niece. She looked so amazing in this dress all disappointment over the other dress faded. And then there was the dress my niece contributed to the shoot . . . . OH MY!! It was a dress fit for a princess. I loved it so much I tried to convince her to give it to me. 😉

As it often goes when doing a photo shoot to match an inspiration piece, things turned out so very different. My favorite images from this shoot look nothing like the inspiration I started with. And even my copy of the inspiration photo turned out completely different.

My niece and I had so much fun taking these photos, we’ve decided to do a photo shoot every year. 🙂 I hope you enjoy them as much as we enjoyed making them.

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One of the perks of having an aunt who’s a photographer is getting 2 senior photo shoots. Avery’s first shoot was at the coast, where he spends much of his summer. For Avery’s second shoot where else would we go but the football field?

From the moment Avery discovered football, that’s pretty much all he talked about. For a very non-sports aunt, I had a hard time pretending to be interested. As he grew older I would use my football ignorance to annoy him. I have to admit, I got a bit of glee out of his exasperated expressions and noises. But in reality, I am very proud of my football-playing nephew and take every moment I can to brag on him . . . for example he was playing on the varsity team as a sophomore! Pretty awesome huh!

Avery, you have impressed me as you have grown into the intelligent, considerate and awesome young man you are. I can’t wait to see where life takes you.

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Today on the blog I’m proud to introduce my nephew Avery. I’ve watched him grow from a Buzz Lightyear obsessed toddler to a football obsessed teen. Over the years Avery has impressed me with his sensitivity for others, his insight and his ability to stand strong for what he believes in.

Avery chose to have his senior photo’s taken at one of his favorite places Wi-Ne-Ma, a summer camp on the coast, where he spends several weeks each summer. It was a really bright day, not a cloud in the sky, which is rare for the Oregon Coast. It was some of the most challenging light I’ve worked with. My nephew was a great sport when I asked him to reshoot most of his photos later in the day when the sun was lower. Overall, he was so much fun to photograph . . . It’s not often I get to use inside family jokes on a photo shoot! 🙂

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School’s out, summer’s here and it’s time to play! I recently returned from my annual trip with my photography club. This year we went to Chicago (blog posts coming soon), home of great movies like While You Were Sleeping and Transformers. Ok, the 3rd Transformer movie wasn’t that great, but if you like a lot of explosions it’s not too bad. 😉

As summer gets into full swing, and we all escape the confines winter places on our lives, I thought it would be a good time to share some tips for capturing your vacation as the amazing and fun trip it was. Whether you go somewhere exotic or explore your own back yard, these tips will help you look back on your vacation photos with rekindled memories and all the exciting emotions of the time.

1) Slow down – I generally get to a location and start taking pictures like a crazy person. I have to remind myself to slow down and really see where I am. Slow down, explore, and look around you in all directions. This will help you find better angles or maybe see something you would have missed by only focusing on what’s in front of you. It will also allow you the chance to really enjoy this new location.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to visit Hawaii for the first time. Of course, I went on one of those BIG tour buses around the whole island of Ohau. This Buddist temple was one of our stops. The top picture was the first thing I saw when I arrived at the location. Notice how the building looks flat, and the sides of it are cut off. If I hadn’t explored the location I would not have gotten the bottom image. Notice how you can now see all the textures and layers of the building. In addition, the different angle has allowed me to get the entire temple in the frame. Much of the time the first, most obvious shot is not the best or most interesting. You have to explore!

2) Find new angles – The majority of all photographs are taken at eye level. By getting down low, up high, looking down on a subject or looking up you will get a different view of the subject that is not normally seen. This will make your image stand out from the rest.

These pictures taken at the National Cathedral in Washington DC show how getting up high can change the look of your image. The photo of the sanctuary on the left side was taken at my eye level. You get an idea of the size of the room. But the photo taken from the balcony gives you a different view that really shows off the size and grandeur of the room.

Here’s another example of how changing your shooting angle makes an image stand out. On the left, you have the obvious shot of the Washington Monument. To capture the shot on the right I stood under the flag and pointed my camera straight up. By shooting from this angle, I got a unique but still recognizable photo of this national icon.

3) Don’t forget people – The people you go on vacation with are as much of the experience as the location. Family, friends or even tour companions add flavor and fun to your vacation. When taking photos of those you’re with, go for more than the cliché “here we are in front of this cool monument/building/landscape”. Get the photos of everyone interacting, get in close for expressions or go wide for the environment. Years from now, it’s the photo’s you take with your people that will elicit the feelings of the fun and excitement of your time together.

When my photography club gets together we generally try and get photos of the weird and embarrassing positions we get into when we take pictures. I thought about posting some of the funnier photo’s I’ve taken of them . . . but I decided to be nice. I want to get invited on the next trip. 😉 So I chose 2 of my favorite images. These were both taken on our first trip to Las Vegas in 2011. The photo on the left still makes me laugh. Thousands of dollars of camera equipment hanging around their waists and they’re both taking pictures with their phone! The photo on the right is one of my all-time favorite photos. This photo shows most of the members of my photography club as we took a break in the shade on a hot day at Hoover Dam. It’s been my computer wallpaper and hangs on my desk at my day job. I love it because to me it represents the community and family I have in this group.

4) Get the details – Most vacation photos are the wide shots to show off the location. These are great for giving a sense of the environment. But don’t forget to get in close and capture the details too. Doing this will give your vacations photos a unique and richer feel of your trip. The details of the side of a building, getting a close up of a unique flower in a foreign landscape, or even the close-up expression of a travel companion rounds out your vacation photos, giving your wide environment shots more life.

Two years ago I had the honor of visiting the 9/11 Memorial in NYC. It’s sobering to see the giant empty squares were 2 tall iconic buildings once stood. I was amazed at the depth of the memorial fountains. While the wide shot on the left shows off the size of the memorial and the city environment, it’s the photo of the flower in one of the engraved names that evoke the feeling of solemn remembrance I had while I stood there.

5) Include signs – This little trick I learned from a member of my photography club who always asked where photos were taken. He loved to look up the location on Google and do a virtual tour. Also, I have a terrible memory so I had to start taking pictures of the signs, just to remember where the photo was taken.

While in Las Vegas with my photography club we spent a day in the Valley of Fire. An amazing and beautiful location. One of the places we stopped had these very old etchings in the rock face. By taking a picture of the sign, I can now remember not only the kind of etchings but also some of the history.

6) Give everyone a camera – This can be a hard one if you’re the photo fanatic in your family. I‘ve learned the hard way not to give my dad my camera. If you think I take a lot of pictures, you should see what happens when my dad gets ahold of my camera. LOL!!! But in truth, letting everyone have access to the camera can produce interesting results. One of my favorite parts of hanging out with my photography club is how we can all go to the exact location and come out with such different photos. Everyone sees the world so differently. Another advantage of giving others a camera, you end up in the pictures too. This way you can prove you were there! LOL!!

Remember the weird positions I mentioned my photography club likes to capture? Well, my friend, Rita caught me trying to be a contortionist to get a shot of the supports of a bridge. I’m pretty sure I hurt myself bending over the steel like that. The picture on the right illustrates both of my points about giving others access to the camera. 1) People see the world differently: I walked right over this puddle. Rita instead had us all line up so she could get this awesome reflected shot. 2) I’m in the shot proving I was there on Ellis Island 😉

After every photography outing with friends, I usually end up asking for copies of the pictures taken of me. I do this because I’m a memory saver. Ya, I have all the photos I took of the location and the fun we had. But I don’t have photos of me in those locations. I enjoy seeing the pictures of me through my friend’s eyes. Dale captured these 2 pictures of me. The one on the left is a very common place to find me when I’m taking pictures . . . on the ground. I love the angle of the photo on the right, the lines of the large picture window pulling you into the frame. It’s not a shot I would have thought of, but I’m glad Dale did. 🙂

7) PUT THE CAMERA DOWN – This may seem like an odd tip on how to capture vacation photos. But I say this from experience. Years ago I had the opportunity to visit The Arizona in Pear Harbor.  I moved up one side of the memorial and down the other taking pictures. As I completed the last of my photos I decided I wanted to go through again and really take in the experience. Unfortunately, by the time I’d made this decision, it was time to get back on the boat. So while I’ve seen The Arizona and have the pictures to prove it, I don’t really feel like I’ve been there. Take the time to be present on your trip. Put your camera down from time to time, it’s ok to miss some shots to really experience your vacation.

Enjoy your next vacation, be present, capture the people and the fun. You are freezing time and saving memories.

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