10 tips for family photography: A girl holds her hands up in a spray of water, the droplets blurred.


10 tips for family photography

Helen Bartlett
Helen Bartlett

Family photographer

Helen Bartlett is one of the UK's most respected family portrait photographers. Her work uses only natural light with no flash. Helen produces all her work in black and white to create timeless family photos.

We asked her to share some of things she has learnt during her long and prestigious career. Read on and discover how to capture beautiful images of your own family over the festive season and beyond.

1. Keep your camera to hand, not your phone

"The first step towards taking great photos is to make sure you always have your camera with you. Smartphones take decent photos these days, but a good camera will give you much more control over your images. The other downside to phones is that it's easy to get distracted by emails or work. A DSLR or good compact camera makes you focus on taking pictures. Most cameras also give you higher quality files to work with which is really important if you want to print your pictures. I’d suggest keeping your camera in your bag or on the kitchen counter so it is always nearby when you want it."

A smiling boy with a Lego play set.

2. Photograph your family’s Christmas

"On Christmas Day, it's great to capture the family routine. For example, if everyone opens their stockings in bed, make sure you have a camera at hand to photograph the delight on everyone's faces (or the slight disappointment if they got the wrong gift!). If the weather’s good, go outside, as kids are often at their most natural here. Why not go for a family walk and bring along the new toys? Creating these situations offer great opportunities to capture your family in the most natural way."

3. Start early

"I tend to start my shoots at 8am. Children are best photographed first thing in the morning, when they are well rested and have had a good breakfast. As the day progresses, children will get tired, toys will be fought over and co-operation can go out of the window. So try to do any formal or group shots early in the day. Then the rest of the time you can all relax and get fun natural images without worrying about how to get a toddler to smile for the camera. Work around the children’s schedule for the best chances of good photos. Shoot lots, shoot every day and by the end of the season you can make a book of your family adventures that will be great to look back on."

A family group posing in front of a tree.

4. Remember to put yourself in the picture

"Most families will have one person who is always behind the camera; when I grew up it was my dad. Make sure that you swap around so that all family members feature in the photos, as these images will be important to your children as they grow up. To capture a full family portrait, put the camera on a tripod (or place it somewhere steady like a table or a park bench) and use the self-timer setting. For a fun, different perspective, why not hand the camera to your children and get them to take pictures of you? This has the added benefit of getting them interested in photography."

5. Focus on normality

"Gone are the days when a camera was only brought out for special occasions and holidays. Today, we can get a lot more shots of natural activities. Photograph how your family snuggles together on the sofa at the end of a long day. Capture that gleeful look as your children jump into your bed bright and early and ready to play at 5am. Move into the background and use a longer lens or your camera’s zoom function to photograph the children playing so you get really lovely, natural images."

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6. Use locations for storytelling

"Try to capture storytelling elements in some of your images. It’s great to get a perfect portrait shot but taking a wider view can be just as rewarding. Photograph your child in their bedroom with their toys. Give scale to an image of them playing in the park or local woods by shooting vertically to get the height of the trees. Use your environment creatively, looking for shapes and shadows, reflections and framing elements to add something special to your shots."

"Children are best photographed first thing in the morning, when they are well rested and have had a good breakfast."

A baby’s face seen through a hole in a card sign that reads ‘Peek-a-who?’

7. Look for interesting angles and compositions

"Sometimes you can capture the essence of someone without showing their face. Interesting angles and viewpoints can make for really interesting pictures. Maybe capture the details of your baby’s tiny hands or the fact that your toddler insists on wearing his wellingtons on the wrong feet. Experiment with your camera’s settings. Use high shutter speeds to capture all the details of movements. Or show your child as a blur of activity by dialing the shutter speed right down and using a tripod to keep the camera steady as your child rushes past. Don't be afraid of using a higher ISO when you're shooting indoors. I don't ever use a flash and prefer using available light so photos look natural. Try shooting black and white images, as these look timeless and will hopefully be enjoyed generations to come."

8. Get down to their level

"Get down to the children’s eye level to see the world from their point of view. Try sitting or laying on the floor. This approach can also minimise background clutter and distractions from your shot. You can often fill the background with sky or trees or walls rather than with the entire contents of the toy cupboard spread out by your feet, though it’s also good to get a shot of a child delighted with the mess they have made!"

A baby’s face seen through a hole in a card sign that reads ‘Peek-a-who?’

9. Print your pictures

"Whether you have a home printer or get your photos printed online or at a shop, do make sure you print them out. You can even make your images into mugs, posters and more. This way they can be enjoyed every day. Paper prints can be preserved and kept safe, and they won’t get lost on a computer or memory card."

10. Make it fun

"Make sure your children enjoy having their pictures taken and they will be more likely to co-operate. Don’t expect too much from them, especially when they are tired, and do get them involved in the whole process. Take the pictures of their favourite things, their cuddly toys, the picture they have just painted. Play games, sing songs, climb trees. Take advantage of Christmas, birthdays and other special occasions to really get them in their most excited mood!"

A happy girl

"Remember, photographing your family is the most fun you can have with a camera and I hope these tips will encourage you to get your camera out more this season and take pictures that you will treasure for years to come."

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