How To: No More Awkward Family Photos

Pictures that capture your kids’ true personalities and appear natural yet thoughtful can seem very few and far between—and frustrating to achieve. But since a great family picture is worth way more than a thousand words, here are some expert tips from Rye-based photographer Cristina Coco on shooting more of those priceless photos. 

The Right Light

Open shade—the edge of a shady area with open space in front, so your subjects are brightened by light, but not directly in it (such as under trees or behind a stone wall)— casts light onto faces while avoiding the harsh shadows and squinty eyes of direct sun, Coco explains. “I usually look for open shade with the sun behind my subjects to get the softest skin tones.” 

New photographers should also take advantage of the soft light on overcast days. “My favorite time to shoot is the two hours before sunset because the light is soft and warm,” she adds.

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A white wall a few feet from a window is the perfect spot for strategically lit portraits.

Indoors vs. Outdoors

To capture the most natural pictures outside, get down to the kids’ level—think leaves in your hair—and shoot from that perspective, where images are more playful, Coco advises. Avoid cranky little ones and stiff, posed pictures by exploring Westchester’s many parks, lakes, and historical grounds together, a fun outing for everyone and a great way to make lasting memories. 

Alternatively, indoor settings are better for “more intimate, thoughtful images,” Coco says. Inside, “about three feet from a window is great to highlight the face without blowing out the subject [making the face too bright].” White walls are helpful, too: “They act as a reflector and can add extra light to your subject.”  

Models at Their Best

Since their “say cheese” smile is not the same as the everyday ones you love, Coco recommends having the kids pick a “super-silly secret word” they can yell out when you count down, to evoke a burst of laughter. Keep shooting: “First you get the cute whisper photo, then the screaming photo, then the belly laugh,” she advises—“click, click, click.” 

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Likewise, play a game, like “telephone,” to capture siblings whispering in each other’s ears, or cousins giddily awaiting their turns. And remember: The best captures of your kids come when they’re doing what they do everyday—playing, running, and laughing. 

Equipment Basics

Coco’s work calls for better lenses supported by larger camera bodies, but non-pros can still get high-quality images. “There are so many great beginner cameras out there,” she says. “Canon has the Rebel T3i, or Nikon has the D7100. There are a bunch of mirror-less cameras now as well with a much smaller body. I’ve got my eye on the Samsung NX300 for an everyday family camera.” 

She’s also a fan of Samsung’s “smart” point-and-shoots that can upload pictures onto social media or email them directly from the camera. (She has the Galaxy GC120.) With the average mom or dad’s point-and-shoot, Coco recommends upgrading every two to three years to get the most out of new camera functions. 

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