Better Family Photography

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to give a presentation to MOPS, Moms Of Pre-School children group at Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA, on how to take better family pictures.  At first I thought this would be easy for a professional photographer.  It turned out to be harder than I thought.  Having a four year old daughter helped me put myself in their shoes.

I opened up the presentation by taking questions from the moms. Here is what I heard:

  • my pictures are blurry, my son is one big blur across the photograph
  • there is always a big delay when I hit the shutter button and I miss the shot
  • my kids always want to see the photographs right after I take them
  • how can I get them all to smile at the same time?

They also sent me some photos ahead of time and had me analyze them.  What I saw was harsh lighting, boring composition and little emotion.  Over the next few days I will post here on my blog what I recommended.  It was fun.

We want to go from this:                   TO THIS:

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Posted by Washington DC Photographers Len Spoden Photography, LLC


on 2010-04-15 14:37 by Washington, DC Photographer

I broke out my presentation as follows:

- How to Capture the Moments

- Composition

- Lighting

- Cameras

- Post Processing


"Say Cheese" is one of the biggest problems that amatuers have when taking pictures.  That is how I was taught to take pictures when I was young.  As a result we fail to miss real emotion and real events in our photographs. 

- Photograph your children while they play and do things they enjoy.  They don't need to even know you are taking pictures.  Take your camera with you when you go to the park, go for a walk, playing in the family room, or just in the backyard.  Capture the true moments in your photographs.

- Look for mood shots.  Look for pictures of your son or daughter looking out a window, or maybe silhouetted by window light, or holding hands with a brother or sister. 

- Detail Shots capture moments that most people never notice.  Get in tight with your camera and photograph your children's hands, feet, or closeup on their face. 

- Be ready with your  camera to catch the moments.  If you don't have a camera with you and ready to go, you can't photograph to those fleeting moments.

Here is a picture I took of my daughter and our dog as we went for a walk, it is full of smiles, action, and emotion.

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My daughter had just learned how to write her name, I captured this detail shot of her fingers and chipped nail polish.  A great photograph.

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Another photograph that I took while we were visiting my parents with my daughter.  Capturing this smile couldn't be photographed if my camera wasn't ready to do.

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Next post I will talk about better composition in your photographs.


on 2010-03-21 02:49 by Washington, DC Photographer


The typical family photograph has the subject / person in the middle of the photo and they are relatively small versus the size of the photograph.  If it is small children or babies, they are quite often photographed by an adult from high shooting down at the child, getting a picture that looks like this:

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For more interesting family photographs try a few easy changes:

- Get closer to your child.  Have them fill more of the photograph

- Don't always put the subject in the middle of the photograph.

- Change perspectives.  Get low, get high, get eye level.  Experiment with your picture taking.  Keep it fun.

- Simplify the background when possible.  Get rid of all the clutter in the background that can really be distracting. 

Here are a few photographs that demonstrate these points:

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Next post I will talk about lighting in family photography.


on 2010-03-28 21:00 by Washington, DC Photographer


In my opinion, lighting in family photography tends to be one of the biggest problem areas.  Unfortunately, cameras are setup to operate in the opposite manor than I would recommend.  Flashes on most point and shoot cameras and low end digial SLR cameras tend to fire the on camera flash for inside photos and no flash for outside photos.  The on camera flash shot inside produces images like this:

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This photograph has it all, flat and unflattering lighting, red eye, and a dark background. 

To get good lighting you need to use natural light.  Try to get your subject closer to a window or lamp so that you have sufficient lighting.  Have the light come from a 45 degree angle or from the side and produce a photograph like this:

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When you are shooting outside you don't want your subject in direct sunlight.  I remember going to Disney World as a kid and the "photo stops" were places where the sun would be behind the photographer and shining right at the subject.   That seemed to make sense since you want to LIGHT your subject and what better way to light a person than using the direct sun. When you do that you can't a photo much like this one:


If it is a sunny day and you can't find any shade to take a picture under, position the sun either to the side or from behind your subject and use your on camera flash to fill in the shadows.

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If you are shooting in shade with a bright background your camera will think you have plenty of light and underexpose the image like this:

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Here again a little on camera flash outside takes these dark pictures of my subjects and turns them into a perfectly lit photograph where the light is balanced with the background light.

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LIGHTING SUMMARY:  When possible turn the flash off indoors and use window light, and turn the flash on outdoors (with the sun behind your subjects) to fill in the shadows.


on 2010-04-25 15:41 by Washington, DC Photographer


Mothers and fathers have more choices today for cameras then ever before.  Like everything, there are trade offs between features, quality, and portability of cameras.

POINT and SHOOT cameras:

  • PROS 
    • Very portable, can put in pocket or purse.  
    • Most have video capability
    • Most have some kind of zoom lens
    • Affordable
    • CONS
      • Small sensor needs more light and therefore is not as good in low light situations
      • Minimal depth of field makes it difficult to get creative, artistic photographs
      • Overall image quality is not as good as SLR because of small sensor and cheaper lens
      • Focus speed in many P&S cameras can be slow and may cause you to  miss the shot.
      • Canan S90 Point and Shoot - $379
      • Panasonic Lumix LX3 - $399

DIGITAL SLR cameras:

  • PROS
    • Larger sensor provides good low light sensitivity and  will be easier to shoot in natural indoor light
    • Wide aperture lenses, like a 50mm F1.8 lens allows you to shoot in low light situations and gives very nice depth of field (blurred background) to your photos.  I prefer the fast, fixed focal length lens like the 50mm F1.8 over the kit zoom lens that the manufacturers try to sell you.  The kit lenses are slower (don't allow as much light to enter the camera) and their optics aren't as crisp as the fixed focal length lens.
    • Focus is faster so you don't miss the shot.
    • Most new digital SLRs have video.
    • Can use external and off camera flash providing more powerful and flexible lighting.
    • CONS
      • Bigger camera - you may be less likely to take it with you.
      • A bit more expensive.
      • A little more complicated to use.
      • Nikon D5000 with Nikon 50MM F1.8 - $750
      • Canon Rebel Tsi with Canon 50MM F1.8 - $750

Another camera to look into is the PanasonicLumix DMC-GF1 Digital Camera with 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 Lens.

For a more compact version of this camera consider getting the LUMIX G 20mm f/1.7 “Pancake” lens with this camera.  The lens is faster (lets in more light) and is smaller than the 14-45m lens.

It is a camera that has the larger sensor of the digital SLR with much of the similar portability of the point and shoot camera.  It goes for around $700.


on 2010-04-21 00:32 by Washington, DC Photographer


It is very important to manage your photos after you take them, both from the enhancing perspective as well as the store and preservations of your photos. 

I am a professional photographer, so I go to great lengths to ensure that my files / photos are backed up both onsite and offsite.  I won't bore you with what I do because most people won't do it for their personal photos.  So I am going to recommend something that I think is very doable and provides you with a fair amount of backup.

To process your photos use either IPhoto on the Mac or Google Picasa on Windows (also runs on the Mac).  If you want to step up to professional level of photo management consider Adobe Lightroom or Apple Aperture. These programs allow you to import your photos, crop them, change the exposure and correct any color cast you might have.  They also provide a nice way to organize your photos into a catalogue so they are easy  to locate.  They also allow you to export the photos to Facebook and to various printing services.  I use and recomend to print your photos.  What I like is to upload the photos to Shutterfly so if you hard drive crashes and you haven't backed up your  files, Shutterfly will still have a copy.  From Shutterfly you can print your images, make a photo book from them, and share them on Facebook. Unlike other printing companies, Shutterfly doesn't delete your photos if you haven't used them for a year or two.

My four step process is simple:

  • Import photos to Picasa or Iphoto
  • Crop and correct any exposure or color cast issues
  • Upload to Shutterfly
  • From Shutterfly you can share on Facebook, print them, etc.

I recommend you buy an external drive and backup your hard drive.