Picture Perfect

Professional tips for taking the best family photos.
Photographers captured the smiles of the Adams family (by Lisa Buth), left, and the Youssef family (by Jeff Dunn).

You’ve finally convinced everyone to take a family photo: your busy husband, camera-shy son, and can’t-sit-still-for-a-minute daughter. Or you have a family reunion coming up and want to be sure to capture that multi-generational photo opportunity—either by hiring a professional photographer for their artistry and expertise; or by grabbing your own camera. Quick: What to wear? Where and what time of day to take the photograph? How to pose? Lisa Buth and Jeff Dunn, two St. Croix Valley area professional photographers, offer tips on how to beautifully capture the moment.

Since a portrait tells a story, Dunn recommends choosing clothing that adds to that story. A mistake people often make is to buy something new. It’s much better to wear something you love, Dunn says.

Buth likes texture in portrait clothing, such as sweaters, denim, and layering, and recommends people pay attention to footwear. Boots and wedges are visually appealing, although children may be most comfortable barefoot. If a teenager insists on his or her favorite graphic tee, compromise by softening it with a long-sleeved, open-necked shirt on top. The color white, especially for pants or skirts, should be avoided. Even in small-group portraits, says Buth, some color and print coordination is useful. Her rule of thumb is that any color or print should show up in at least two places. For example, if a young girl insists on wearing teal-colored tights, perhaps her older brother could wear a teal colored sweater with interesting buttons.

In larger-group photos, Buth says it’s best if clothing options are a bit more restricted. “Pick three colors and don’t have everyone wear the same thing on the bottom,” she says. Neutral colors work best, although it’s not necessary to have everyone in solids.

Another recommendation for women and girls is to consider that groups are photographed from the front, so no one will see hairstyles such as ponytails on a child. Also, women are often more satisfied with photo results if they have their make-up done for them.

If, despite your best plans, Grandma shows up in a fuchsia dress when everyone else is wearing shades of blue and white, Dunn recommends putting her in the middle of the photo. Our eyes tend to be drawn to the outside of any group.

Now that everyone is dressed, where do you go for the best shot, and at what time of day? Unless a photo is taken in a photography studio, Buth says the best choice is an outdoor location. In any outdoor shot, direct sunlight should be avoided at all costs, according to both Dunn and Buth. “Find the shade,” says Buth. “The 20 minutes before the sun sets passes quickly, but often dusk offers the best light.” She also recommends selecting a darker background, and says that too much green—grass, trees and leafy gardens—can make everyone look a bit green.

In selecting a location for a portrait session, Dunn likes to schedule a consultation, by phone or on-site at his wooded home studio. When taking photographs outdoors, he says, “Look at your subjects’ faces and eyes. If they are bright, you have enough light.”

And what if Uncle Joe insists on an artsy nighttime shot? “Don’t do it,” advises Buth. However, if an evening shot is unavoidable, Dunn says his best advice for nighttime photography is old-school: read the camera’s manual. “Often it will contain very specific instructions and camera settings for low-light portraits.”

Now that your family members are dressed well and gathered together, how do you get the best pose? Using the location is one consideration. Buth likes fun and colorful options such as doorways or in front of old brick buildings in downtown Hudson and Stillwater. Dunn takes lots of shots literally in (with his subjects often fully dressed) and around water.

The photographers both agree that the best poses are when people snuggle in together. “One of the reasons people like selfies is that people have to squish together,” Dunn says. “So get your subjects to move in close. When people show affection for each other, it brings life into a portrait and tells the story of who they are.” And isn’t that the story we want captured in photos of the people we love?