You don’t have to be a genealogist to really appreciate a great old family photo. There’s a certain joy that comes with finding a shoebox in the attic filled with old black and white photos of people living in a world decades before us.
Finding and preserving family photos is essential to telling your ancestors’ full story. Photographs tell us more about how they lived, what kinds of places they called home and who their friends were. Photos are a powerful window into our ancestor’s past, and something we can do too for generations who come after us. Holidays are a great opportunity to take photos of you and your loved ones to share now and to save for later.
For some of us, it is not often that we get together for such a photo-worthy occasion, so take advantage and make sure you capture as much as you can. Don’t think you are much of a photographer? We’ve got some tips to help you snap the best family photos:
Let your family know you’ll be acting as paparazzi
Even when you’re among family, some of your relatives might be a bit uncomfortable with a camera flash going off every few minutes unexpectedly. Make sure that as family members arrive, that you make the rounds chatting with your relatives and let them know that you’re working on taking more family photos. Usually, if you give your relatives a heads up, they’ll be fine with you taking lots of pictures. This also gives those who don’t want their photo taken a chance to speak up.
Get action shots
Although we love the family photo in front of the Christmas tree, or gathered around the Thanksgiving table, sometimes the unexpected photos are the best. Make sure you take photos that not only capture what is happening, but the scenery and the place where everything is taking place. Put yourself in the place of your descendants and think about the kinds of photos you would want to leave behind for them to find.
Take lots of photos
Whether you’re asking your family to pose, or getting a few action shots, getting a great photo is a numbers game and the more you take, the more likely you are to get a really spectacular photo.
If you are posing everyone to take a group photo, make sure you snap several. There will always be a cousin, or aunt who accidentally closes their eyes or looks the other way last minute.
If you’re trying to capture someone doing something – like a child opening a present, or your dad carving the turkey, the same principle applies. Take several photos in hopes you got one good one. If you know there are going to be a lot of moments you want to make sure you catch, be at the ready – keep your camera turned on, make sure you have a full charge, and bring a back-up battery or charger in case you do run out. If you’re like me and prefer to take photos on an old film camera, take a few steps to make sure you don’t miss anything – meter the lighting beforehand and make sure you know how many photos you have left on your roll of film.
Try to avoid using flash
Most phone or digital cameras these days have a flash, which will fire if the lighting is a bit dark. Although this is a nice feature that can often prevent dark, blurry photos, if you’re taking photos indoors for the holidays, the flash can add a harsh, cold light that most people don’t like in their photos. Try and steer clear of the flash by turning it off and turning on any lamps or lighting available. If it’s still light out, open a window and draw back the curtains to let any natural light flow in.
Try different angles
Sometimes placing your subject dead centre isn’t the most flattering or conveys the emotion you want it to. Play around with where you stand, as the camera person, and find the angle that fits. Maybe get up on a chair, or set the camera down on a table across the room and set the timer – find out what works best for the space and people you are trying to photograph.
Label and save
After you’ve eaten all the turkey and all the gifts are unwrapped, there is still one last step that’s critical in taking family photos – labelling and saving! Download all of your pictures from your digital camera and save them somewhere you can access them again and back them up to a cloud server – you never know what might happen and you’ll want to keep your photos safe.
Like I mentioned, I like using an old-fashioned film camera, so when I develop my photos I make sure to ask for a digital copy of all of those photos to save on my computer and the cloud.
Another key aspect is labelling. When we find old photos of our ancestors, we want to have all the details: who, what, where, when, so make sure you include these details in your own photos. Save the images with the titles being something like “Aunt Joanne baking a pie – November 2013” Make sure you include the date and the people in the photo.
This article was written by Pam Velazquez and originally appeared on the Ancestry.com blog on November 25, 2015.