A photographer’s 5 tips for taking great family photos this holiday season

Say cheese.

Jessica McDaniel, of Boston Baby Photos, takes photos of three children outdoors.
Jessica McDaniel, of Boston Baby Photos, takes photos of three children outdoors. –Boston Baby Photos

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With December fast approaching, families are posing for photos they hope will produce the perfect holiday card.

But you don’t need to hire a professional to get a great shot. In fact, you can take a great family photo using only your smartphone, said Jessica McDaniel, of Boston Baby Photos.

McDaniel, who has been taking photos of area families for 15 years, offered the following five tips for shooting great family photos at home with your camera phone.

Head outside

If the weather allows, you’ll want to take your photos outside, McDaniel said.


“It’s going to be the prettiest light,” she said.

If you are shooting indoors, you’ll want to shoot before 3 p.m., she said, so you can take advantage of the sun.

“A big room with lots of [natural] light is the trick,” she said. “You want to use the light that’s coming in the windows to help you.”

A big room is important if you are taking a multi-generational shot with many family members, she said, because then you will have enough room to back up and fit everyone in the frame.

With children, be mindful of their schedules and over posing

When you are photographing kids, plan the shoot around their napping and eating schedules, and don’t try to pose them too much, McDaniel said.

“Don’t try to do this when the baby needs a nap,” she said. “Don’t try to do this when they are hungry.”

It’s also important to let the kids “drive the photo,” she said. In other words, don’t force kids into poses but rather let them do what comes naturally to them.

“What you really want is the expressions,” said McDaniel. “So if you drive it, their expressions aren’t going to be what you want.”


Let the kids pick where they want to be, whether it’s a favorite spot outside or the couch, she said. It can be a good idea to give them a prop such as a book. And don’t worry if they aren’t looking at the camera, she said.

“All that matters is, this is going to be a smiley, happy picture,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if they are all looking at you. What matters is you are capturing a moment.”

Avoid the tripod

Forego the tripod and ask a friend to take your family photo instead, McDaniel said.

“A posed photo of everyone looking in the same direction and smiling [while using] a tripod is hard for someone who is not a pro,” said McDaniel. “You can do it. But it’s hard to get kids and adults to all look in the same direction when there’s no human there. There’s no one drawing their attention.”

A lot of times a friend will snap two or three photos and hand your phone back to you. Instruct the friend to take more than that, she said, so you have plenty of options.

“Say to them, ‘If you take 40 pictures in the next two minutes, that would be great,” she said.

Pay attention to the angle and don’t zoom

Make sure whoever is photographing your family stands at a higher point than your family, McDaniel said.

“It’s just a prettier angle to take pictures above somebody,” she said. “It’s more flattering. If the whole group is standing, then you would either put [the photographer] on a little hill or you could bring a chair from indoors.”


Also, when getting a tighter shot, ask your friend to step toward you as opposed to zooming in, she said. McDaniel said this will make for a sharper shot.

Save time by flagging favorites and editing on your phone

Since it is so easy to take photos on your smartphone, the saved photos tend to pile up, McDaniel said. It makes for a cumbersome task when sifting through to find the best from a particular photo shoot later on, so save time and energy by flagging the best photos directly after taking them.

“Take a second and look through and find your favorite shot of that little set that you just did and put the little ‘favorite’ heart on it,” she said.

McDaniel is referring to the heart icon at the bottom of each photo in your iPhone which, when pushed, saves that photo in a separate “favorite” album.

“Then you don’t have to go back through your entire roll [of photos] every time you want to find a photo,” she said.

Expect to spend just as much time editing your photos as you did taking them, McDaniel said. The good news? You don’t need special software to edit your photos because your phone is an excellent tool for doing so, she said.

“The editing on the iPhone is incredible,” McDaniel said.

For example, the iPhone allows you to easily adjust a photo’s brilliance, exposure, highlights, shadows, and contrast.

“All of these things, you can do it all right there on your phone,” she said. “The capabilities are out of control. They are amazing, and you’re carrying it around in your pocket.”