We take our own family pictures often. We plan on pulling the plug and paying a real photographer $300 to take amazing family pictures of us once Em is up and walking, but until then, we'll do it ourselves. We usually take family pictures once, sometimes twice a year, and this is a tradition that we've been doing since we got married. Derek bought me my first DSLR camera for Christmas in 2011 because he knew I wanted to get serious about blogging, and we've been doing our own family pictures ever since.

They haven't all been super amazing looking. Some years look better than others. This weekend we took another round of pictures though, and it was that moment where I really feel like I got everything figured out to a complete science. Let's go through the evolution of our family pictures for a moment so you can see where we've been, and where we're headed. 

As you can see, the pictures we took this last weekend came out immensely better than our previous attempts. I always think it's 10 times easier to take pictures for other people than it is for yourself, but here are my tips for making the most of your DIY portrait session:

1) Know what pictures you want ahead of time: I went into taking the pictures knowing I wanted one good picture of Derek and I, and one good picture of all four of us together. Setting the bar low means there isn't a lot of room for disappointment, and I always tell myself, all you need is one good picture. I also know I want pictures of my kids by themselves too, but I plan on doing that next weekend to break it up into smaller bits. Breaking it up means that your kids won't be screaming halfway through the session (hopefully).

2) Find the light and put it behind you: I find the best lighting is about an hour before sunset, so if you can take pictures then, do it. When we got to the park this weekend, the first thing I did was figure out where the sun was, and then made sure we had our backs to it. I don't know how many times we've taken pictures and our faces are so washed out, they look terrible. Also, if you can find a place that has more shade, with the light behind you, that's golden. I find it a lot easier to add more light and warmth to a picture during the editing process than it is to make a picture darker and fix the washed out problem. 

3) Use a tripod: This was the second time we've used a tripod, and the first time we used it correctly. I can't even tell you how much easier it made everything. The first family picture up top where I'm pregnant, the camera was on a tree stump, the next one it was on our car seat, the following one a picnic table, and finally the last two, a tripod. While you can clearly make due without one, you have a lot more options for heights and positions when you do have one. Also make sure the levels are all centered, and have your husband level it off if it's not. I say that because I'm not an engineer and needed him to fix it for me. We bought one from Walmart a couple weeks ago and love it so far!

4) It's OK to use auto settings: While I'm slowly learning to shoot in manual, I almost always shoot our family pictures in auto. Specifically Canon's Creative Auto (CA) setting on the Rebel cameras. I almost always do Creative Auto > Warm with the two warm bars selected > full background blur > self timer continuous:10 > no flash.

To set all this up, once in creative auto I press the "Q" button, right above the "up, down, left, right buttons". Once pressed it will highlight the "standard setting" option. Push the right arrow button three times and "Warm" will be selected. Then push the down button and there will be a meter with three options, I usually leave it on the default of two meters filled in, but you can easily adjust this to your needs. Hit the down button again and this will be your background blur section. The more to the left you go, the blurrier the background, the more to the right, the clearer and sharper the background. I usually always go with the blurriest, or second blurriest option. Next, push down again to the next setting and it will say, "driver/self-timer mode", select it, and then go all the way to the right where it says, "self timer: continuous" and then use the up arrow to crank it all the way to 10. This will give you a 10 second self timer, and 10 shots will be taken, giving you more time and options to get everyone in place. Finally, after that is selected, push to the right once more for the flash options, select that, and go to the right and select the no flash option. You can see all these changes made in the pictures below. 
5) Positioning: Know what pose you want to do ahead of time, and make sure it's one that you can easily run in and out of if you're the one working the camera. If you have a remote shutter then this isn't the biggest deal, but I don't- so this is important. I make sure that my husband is standing in the shot with our smallest baby, and tell my son ahead of time that I'm going to run over, pick him up, and we're going to smile for the camera. Once my husband is in place I have him hold his other fist up relatively where my head is going to be in the picture so I can get the camera to focus on not only him and the baby, but where my son and I are going to be too. Once everything is in place, I focus, and press the shutter, and run in for the kill. I make this sound easy, but this weekend it was literally a miracle that on our second round of 10 pictures, we got both kids looking at once at the very last picture, and called it good. Remember, you really only need one good shot. 

6) Editing: I don't use Photoshop or anything fancy to edit my pictures. My husband has been telling me for years now that I just need to pull the plug and buy Photoshop, but right now I feel like I can still do what I need in Windows Photo Gallery, and it's free on every windows computer, so I'm happy with that. When editing my pictures, I open "Photo Gallery" on my computer, click the picture I want to edit, and then make these typical adjustments:

I click the "fine tune" tab, and then add a little brightness and a little contrast. These pictures were pretty cool toned, so I cranked the photo temperature up pretty far. Then, when you scroll down on the editor just a little further down from the temperature, you'll see saturation, where I add a little bit more to put some color back into our faces. 

There you have it! Those are all of my steps for how we take our own family pictures! If you have any more questions, please feel free to let me know! I hope this post was informative for some of you and has encouraged you to get out there and attempt your own pictures too! This was definitely a long process to get to the point where I really felt our pictures were turning out "good", but practice makes perfect! 

If you're interested, we shot these pictures with the Canon Rebel T5, the 50mm f 1.8 lens, and the Targus 58'' tripod.


  1. Great tips, I need to remember some of these next time we use the good ole self timer. I can't beleive how big your little girl has gotten!

  2. Replies
    1. Also, I think you're being pretty humble because your previous photos look amazing too!