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How to Photograph Family Gatherings

By Kristen Duke on November 8th, 2013

Whether during traditional holidays or a spontaneous visit, family gatherings create memories of time spent together.

I want my children to have fond memories of visits with our extended family. I love them so much, and I want my kids to love them, too. My brother always jokes with me that if we don't have a picture of it, it's like it never happened. Well, that may not be entirely true, but a vast majority of my childhood memories are from pictures that remind me, or emblazon that memory deeper into my brain. So, yes, I want my kids to remember the importance of getting together with family and how good it feels, so it's important to me to document those times.

When we get together as a family, I am generally the documentarian. I like to remember details, and I capture our family gatherings from a storytelling perspective. I think about what I want to remember in 20 years and what I want my kids to remember when they are older. Here are some tips on how to capture family gatherings as a storyteller.

1. Capture the places where you gather. Whether it's your mom's home for every occasion or a rented cabin, you'll want to remember where you stay because the location helps tell the story of your time together. From the beds to the couches, to the back porch or the kitchen, taking pictures of people in those spots are memorable and tell a story of "living".

How to Photograph Family Gatherings

We stayed on this property in the cabin on the right, and the red barns were filled with as many outdoor toys as you can imagine. This picture warms my heart as I think about the memories shared there.

2. Photograph the food. Family gatherings often have delicious food involved. Whether it's for a holiday like Thanksgiving or just an evening dessert, we tend to always have the best food when we all get together. It's fun to enjoy family with good food and vice versa. Capture your favorite dishes, or maybe a traditional family food on camera.

3. Photograph the kids playing. I have fond memories of playing with my cousins as a child, and we even have a few fun pictures of the silly things we'd do together. I've got a picture of me as a kid with a red face from crying and grumpy arms folded in front of me, and I love that photograph! It's great to capture the kids playing games together or building a puzzle. Remember to take candid pictures of them playing — not just smiling and saying, "cheese!"

How to Photograph Family Gatherings

4. Get sibling shots. I love my brothers, and as we get older and have families of our own, I still want to capture our sibling love. So nearly every time we get together, I make them take a photo with me. They are pretty good sports and are easygoing about it, which makes me happy because I treasure the sibling pictures.

How to Photograph Family Gatherings

5. Capture relationships. Photograph Grandma cuddling on the couch, Grandpa reading a book, or Uncle teaching the kids to play horseshoes. I want my children to have a personal relationship with other family members, and as they grow, they can look back at photos and see how much they are loved by others besides just their dad and me.

How to Photograph Family Gatherings

Next time you get together with extended family, whether it's over the holidays or for Sunday dinner, think about these five suggestions for documenting the time together. Don't tell anyone to stop and pose — capture life as it happens.

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About the Author

Kristen Duke is a self-taught photographer, author, teacher, and mother of four. She has been a professional portrait photographer for 10 years. Kristen also brings photography and DIY projects together in her creative and colorful blog, Capturing Joy. She also encourages readers to get pictures off of the computer and onto the walls of their homes in a series called Decorating with Portraits.


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