DIY Famliy Portraits for the late-comer

Christmas is only a couple weeks away already, and if you haven’t booked your family holiday photos for the year, it may already be too late to get them done and printed to send out to the Family/friends. Even right now I have a few clients that are on the fence about getting them done due to scheduling and getting everyone together. But not to worry, if you have a DSLR handy or available you are in good shape to do a quick and easy DIY portrait session at home!

Before we get too far into this, I just want to state that I am a Nikon Photographer, and I do have some experience with Sony. However, I am not familiar with the Canon menus, it shouldn’t be a problem. If all else fails, you will want to revert to your owner’s manual to find the settings I will be talking about.

First things first, think about what you want in the background of your photos. The Christmas tree (maybe lay some wrapped presents around), outside in the leaves (that may be more of a Thanksgiving shot), or maybe just something basic like the couch with some nice décor on the wall. Whatever it is, just choose that before you start gathering the family together. Composing the shot first always helps to create a beautiful image. If you have floor lamps that are moveable this will help immensely. If not, think about a spot where the light is going to be mostly in front.

35mm Lens & Speed-light

Three things you will want to have preferably: Tripod, Speedlight (not necessary but helpful), and a 16 to 35mm lens. If you have the kit lens that comes with most basic setups, this lens will work. If you don’t have a tripod, use a flat table top that is sturdy and roughly 2 feet tall. You don’t want anything that is too high, especially if you are using your Christmas Tree as a backdrop. If you are outside, a tripod will be much more reasonable option than dragging the table outside (lol).

For this example, I am going to use the living room Christmas Tree with some presents in the backdrop as my description, if you are going to use something else, just use this as your basis. If you have two lamps available, perfect! Place them to each side of where you will have the family sitting. These will provide perfect soft cross light. In the case that you don’t have a speed light, bring those lamps slightly forward leaving equal distance on each side of you.

Perfect, the backdrop is lit and ready to go, break out your camera and start shooting. I’m just kidding, unless you’ve pretty much got the basics from here you can stop reading and move on, but for the rest, here are the final tips for setting up the camera.

Setup your tripod and have someone sit in the area that you are shooting the photo to compose the image the way you like. Now if you do not have a tripod, this is where the flat table surface comes in handy. Most likely this table will be short so you will want to use a magazine or something sturdy to angle your lens slightly up. You never want to shoot children from high angles looking down, make them look and feel larger than life. Not to mention you would lose the entire background and ambience. Slightly depress the shutter button to focus in on your subject. Once you have a good focus, lock the focus. On Nikon cameras this should be on the bottom left in front by the lens connection flange. Switch this too manual and it will lock your focus down.

Auto-Focus/ Manual Focus dial

Now rather than setting your options to Auto mode, let’s get a little more technical. Go into your menu and set your ISO to auto. There isn’t enough time to break down how ISO works right now, so the best option is to have it on auto. If you are using a Speedlight, you can manual set your ISO to 320–400. Also you will want leave your white balance on Auto since this will be a JPEG image. Every lighting situation is different so it is almost impossible to give you specific settings without being present. Dial down your Aperture to around 2.8–4. This will help you to get a sharper/ more focused image. The aperture dial on Nikon is usually located on the front just below the shutter. If not, revert to the camera menu for this.

Now, you will want to have your shutter speed around 50–80, possibly 80–125 depending on you lighting. Take some test shots first and see how dark the ambient light turns out. Photography is not an exact science, contrary to some beliefs. Light has a huge factor on this, and we all process light differently in our brain, that’s a scientific study I never participated in during college.

Plug in your Speedlight and check to see if it is set to manual. If you are not using one of these, than make sure that your lighting in the test image is slightly bright. If not, adjust one or two stops darker (increase your shutter speed). The flash will fill in the dark areas perfectly. You will want to shoot on manual flash for this in order to control the light. Set the power to 1/128, possibly 1/64, however that will most likely be to powerful. Angle your flash about 45 degrees toward the ceiling. This will bounce light off your ceiling to create a soft fill light. If you are shooting outdoor, use your pop up fill card to help.

You’re all set, go into your menu settings and adjust the self-timer. Remember to give yourself enough time to get into the shot! Everything here can be tweaked and adjusted to fit your taste, remember that photography is an art, and this is your image! I hope that these tips and tricks work for you and your family. Have a very Merry Christmas! If you don’t celebrate Christmas, have a great Holiday and Happy New Year!