If you’re reading this article, there is a good chance that you’re “the photographer” in your family. While this reputation may do little to advance your chances of earning a Guggenheim Fellowship or getting your photos on the walls of MoMA, it is usually accompanied by a set of expectations from relatives during the holiday season. Among them, the all-important family portrait. If you, like me, have a tendency to forget your “fancy” camera at home to avoid impromptu photoshoots of sweater-clad Pomeranians with Aunt Angie, this article is for you. Far from a studio inventory—the suggestions that follow are aimed at helping you create successful family portraits using the tools most likely to be placed in your hands this holiday season: mobile phones and tablets.
The first step after wrangling everyone into the same area for a photograph is fitting them in frame. Most camera-equipped mobile devices are built with wide-angle lenses by default. However, if you are shooting in a cramped room or you have a family the size of a football team, you may want to go even wider. There are several add-on lenses designed for mobile devices to help you squeeze more space into your picture. Many options pair a wide-angle or fisheye with a macro lens—so you are as equipped to take close-up shots of Grandma’s cookies as you are the entire dinner table.
Once you have composed your group, don’t forget to include yourself! A tabletop tripod with an appropriate adapter, such as the Joby Griptight ONE GorillaPod, will hold your mobile device in place while you join the rest of your family. To avoid messing with self-timers and becoming a blur on the edge of the photo, use a remote shutter release to better control the exact moment when your photo is taken.
Just because you’re celebrating the festival of lights doesn’t mean your grandmother’s living room will be lit like your studio back home. When confronted with challenging indoor lighting, you can add a little boost in the form of a light such as a Lume Cube or two. A variety of mobile lighting solutions exists in the form of strobes and/or continuous sources of light. Some attach directly to your device while others may be triggered via Bluetooth.
There are plenty of reasons to take holiday photos outside. Maybe Aunt Sally is a hoarder and you don’t want your picture to look like it was taken in the loading dock of a surplus store. Maybe you took your family to a tropical island and you want to rub it in the faces of your co-workers when you return home. Taking your family’s portrait outside is no different than any other outdoor photography venture. Working with natural light can be a blessing or a curse, depending upon the weather and your location. If you luck out (photographically) and find yourself shooting on a cloudy day full of beautifully diffused light, you are, more or less, good to go. However, if the sun is blaring—or, worse, if the sun is blaring onto a fresh coat of snow, your photos will benefit from a diffusion panel and/or reflector. A diffusion panel will help break the blow of the sun, while a well-placed reflector will bounce fill light into shadows. Of course, this will require a little extra help—try asking your sister’s no-good boyfriend to hold your reflector out of frame.
While photo sharing has largely become a digital endeavor in recent years, there is still something to be said for holding a physical photograph. Do you long for the days when you could snap a photo and then place your masterpiece on the mantle for everyone to see in a matter of minutes? The Impossible Project has your back in the form of re-furbished instant cameras and film. Worried about relatives judging your photography skills? Get a little more control with Fujifilm’s or Leica’s updated take on the instant camera. In need of a very last-minute gift? Pair your instant camera portraits with some INSTAX mini Spinning Holiday Ornament Picture Frames and gift away! For the immediacy of instant cameras without the camera, try a smartphone printer. Now you can take a photograph on your phone, share it on social media, and print out a copy for everyone to take home—your holiday gifting problems solved!
Do you have any of your own favorite accessories when you take family portraits? Share your tips in the Comments section, below!