As the holidays roll around, many of us will be seeing family sometimes for the first time, or for the first time in a long time, and as such, we want to capture some good photos of them while they are here with us. Most family photos you see are the same old, same old...big group, hastily rushed into a corner last minute, big flash, half the people looking away, and that's it. Maybe someone got a blurry shot of the food, and grandpa asleep on the couch in a turkey coma, but they aren't the best of photos. So here are some tips to help you get a few more interesting shots of the festivities.
Make sure you have a clean memory card, plenty of back up batteries, your charger, tripod, flash, etc. all ready to go. Even if you have a basic camera or will be using your cell phone camera, make sure you have enough storage and a charger/extra batteries. The last thing you want in the moment is for one of these things to not be present or die and you have no back-up.
2. Turn off the flash
Do NOT be that annoying person with a flash on the whole night. The best light is if you open up some windows and let the natural light flow into spaces. Most cameras, even camera phones, can handle a little bit of low light these days. When in doubt, rather then use the flash, turn on or bring in more light in the room. Obviously if the room is a bit darker and turning on a light isn't an option, by all means, use the flash, but use it sparingly. You don't want a bunch of people who look like frozen deer in headlights in every shot, nor do you want people constantly shoving their hands in front of the camera to block out the annoying flash.
3. Get on the level
It is so much easier to stand up at whatever height you are, and just snap away, but that doesn't really capture people, especially children, in the best light, or their best element. Instead, go all different levels. Capture a rowdy family game by standing on a chair and shooting down on the action of the two sides screaming at each other and accusing each other of cheating. When your baby cousin is crawling, go down to the floor on his level, and snap his drooling face up close. Put the camera on the actual food table and get some very steady and clear close up shots of the food.
4. Plan your family group shot ahead of time
You can help coordinate the family look by telling everyone to all wear a certain set of colors, or simply inform everyone that before lunch or dinner is served, a family photo will be taken. This way you can make sure everyone is there, no one had to leave early, people aren't overly tired or in a mood, there is still light out, etc. Gather everyone for the photo in this order...all the elderly first, place them seated, then all the able body adults, then your teens, then your children, and then toddlers and babies. The kids have the least amount of attention span, so don't bother trying to pose them first unless it's a shot with just the kids. Elderly persons usually are more authoritative and can help wrangle the younger set so it's good to place them first (plus they aren't really going to move out of position much). It helps if you have a family member helping you to wrangle everyone into their spot. You will not have a lot of time before people get bored or hungry or whatever to take these shots, so you will need to be very focused yourself, getting people in place, be in charge of how your camera works, and then take a few shots, and then that's it. No one is or wants to stand there for hours while you try and get it together.
5. Get creative
As with the levels, you want to try and use different POV's. Shoot through something. Focus on something like a candle in the foreground which will then blur your background. Set your camera up on a tripod and just let it automatically shoot in series, a shot every say 2-5 seconds or so of the family doing some activity or even eating (make sure you are focused first). You will have an awesome time lapse at the end. Shoot the whole evening from the POV of your kid. Shoot all shots at or around their level. Shoot all in black and white. Create a photo booth with just your camera and a few Thanksgiving themed props. It's up to your imagination.
6. Get the little details
The birthday flowers your uncle brought, the invitation, the front door wreath, Aunt Sandra's famous cranberry sauce, your nieces new missing front teeth, a shot of all of the hands of your grandma, your mom, and your sister, and her baby. Your aunts new haircut. Don't just focus on big moments, but get the tiny ones that really add up and help tell the story of the day.
7. Avoid posing every shot
Everyone looks artificial posed in a group, all smiling, all sitting up perfectly straight. Take a break from those types of shots, and get some natural unposed ones. Don't ask family or friends to pose, just shoot them when they are unaware you are shooting them. This simply requires you be alert to the actions happening around you. If you stay in one spot for a while, where a lot is going on, and pre-focus your camera, you will get those shots of the kids smiling, grandma imitating your dad, your cousins being booed for their cheesy dancing, and so on.
8. Stop and be present
Not so much a photography tip, but as the person snapping photos, it's easy to get caught up in the action and your photo taking, but at one point put the camera down, or hand it off to someone else, and just focus on being present. You don't want to not show up in any photos or have any memories other than from behind the camera of the day. You don't need 800 shots of the same pie.