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“What do you do when you’ve only got 5 minutes to get a family picture before everyone loses interest?”

This question came from one of the women in my photography class last night.  She went on to point out that for my pictures someone has agreed to be a willing participant in a full hour of family photos whereas most parents would be lucky to get 5 minutes for a family picture.  Wow.  She is completely right.  So here is the answer I gave Cathy in hopes it helps some of you!

So there you are in your front yard, 5 minutes before you have to leave for whatever family event has you all dressed up, looking nice, and miraculously going to the same place at the same time.  You grab the camera.  Your teenager rolls her eyes.  Your eight year old starts wandering off.  One parent looks to the other and says “we should get a picture” the other inevitably shrugs and says “you can try.”

The 5 Minute Family Photo

Step 1:  Skip the prison line up photo with everyone standing in a line.  Instead move everyone to your front steps and have them sit down.  You’ve already created a more interesting shot than normal because you’ve changed up the posing and chances are good you’ve got some great leading lines from the porch railing and brick steps that will enhance the composition.  (No front porch?  Or blinding sun in your eyes?  Harsh mid-day overhead shadows?  Skip to the bottom for alternate  at-home locations)

Step 2:  Arrange everyone so that heads are as close together as possible and grouped in triangles.  Like this . . .
Fast family picture, quick family photo, five minute family photo, my friend teresa photography

(Yes, even animals count as “heads”)

Step 3:  Make sure everyone is touching.  Arms can go behind eachother’s backs (waist level not shoulder level).  Hands placed across the lap, on resting on the shoulder of the person in front.  Forearms can rest on a propped knee (or the knee next to them).  Little kids can sit on laps.  Adults can should sit as close together as possible, touching hip to hip.

Fast family picture, quick family photo, five minute family photo, my friend teresa photography

Step 4:  Step back in to the yard and KNEEL to take the picture.  No, it is not “practically the same” if you take this picture standing.  Feeling too pretty (or too old) to kneel?  At least squat as low as you can.  Your objective is to be on EYE LEVEL with your family over there on the steps.  Bonus points to the family photog that just grabbed a stool from the garage and popped a squat.  This WILL make or break the shot.  No substitutions here.

Step 5:  Can you see everyone’s faces?  Shirts are laying straight?  Hair is out of the eyes?  Take an extra 5 seconds NOT looking in the camera to detail check everyone.  This is not the time for absolute perfection this is the time for fixing major distractions.

Step 6:  Can’t believe I’m saying this, but put your camera in Auto mode (or Program mode, if you know what that is).  You’re not trying to create a background with perfect bokeh (the blurry background created by controlling aperture) or freeze fast motion (shutter speed).  You just need a solid picture of the family.  Auto will do the trick.

Step 7: Fire away!  Remember that YOU are the only one who can see how the pictures are turning out so it is YOUR JOB to be as encouraging to your photo subjects as possible.  Lots of reassurance that everyone looks great and that you’re “almost done” will make this go smoother.

Step 8:  Bonus – If you have a few extra minutes with ADD and the Eye-Roll Gang then push for a few extra photos:  Giving mom or dad a kiss on the cheek, kids hugging each other, tickling the younger kids to make them laugh, everyone making silly faces, everyone on Dad’s lap.  Once you’ve got the safe shot then these extra pictures are easily done without changing your set up.

Steps 9 and 10:  Upload that picture to Facebook and share this post on your Facebook wall or Pinterest board.

As always, leave any questions in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to answer you.

Alternate At-Home Photo Locations:  Ideal photo locations will be shaded from overhead sun and have a spot for people to be seated.  Some ideas would be:  a backyard deck, the shaded spot under a large tree (just make sure everyone is in the shade) or along the side of your house where you have shade that time of day.  If seating isn’t available you can sit on the ground and use some people kneeling and others sitting to stagger heads.