Tips and Tricks for Taking and Editing Family Photos

Claire Zulkey for Intel
Illustration by Ramóna Udvardi

There’s no need to spring for a pricey photographer to capture the perfect family moment for this year’s holiday cards. With a bit of practice, the magic of technology, and a computer that comes with a powerful processor like the 8th Gen Intel® Core™ processor, you can become your family’s own in-house one stop photo studio.


Parents strive to treat their families to amazing experiences. Catapult, in partnership with Intel, is the field guide for the modern mom, offering tech-based at-home activities that will build lasting memories.

Good Editing Starts Before You Shoot

Suzanne Shumaker, an architect and lifestyle photographer (and mother of two) recommends relying solely on natural light as an easy basic for capturing a beautiful image. “Turn off the lights,” she says. “Move the family close to the windows and hope for a moment.”

Want to get lighting right? The eyes are your guide: “The difference between a good and a great picture is to look at the eyes: If they’re not in focus it will go in the trash,” says family photographer Liz Hansen (capturer of this viral image). Position your family to catch a little light in the eyes, Hansen says, “so they’re not dead and dark. You want to see a reflection — the sidewalk, the sun, a window light,” However, she says, in post-production “people sometimes take the sharpen tool and brighten them and you get these alien baby eyes— don’t do that! If you over-sharpen or under-sharpen, you’ll get a creepy look.”

Be generous with your clicks: “Shoot lots of frames of every grouping!” says Koos. “You can swap out closed eyes and funny expressions in Photoshop and other editing software, but it’s much faster if you can get it right in camera.” When he photographs a family grouping, he makes sure he has at least five to 10 snaps of every pose “just to make sure that I have one frame where everyone has their eyes open and looks good.”


Be yourselves: Shumaker strives to find special family moments when she’s shooting, but never to create them. “I’m not into posing my family,” she says. “My goal is to create a keepsake for my family, so I want to seem more organic and carefree.” Like Koos, she recommends to just keep clicking: “You’ll find something special,” she says.

Expensive Editing Programs Not Required

You can capture and edit great family photos without going to town on software like Photoshop which may just be overwhelming. PicMonkey is a perfectly fine place to start, say the experts. If you want to go a little bit deeper, Hansen recommends Adobe Lightroom, which is great for experimenting. “It has these sliders you can move back and forth: Put a picture that you like in there and start moving sliders in there and you’ll see what stuff does.” She warns however that when you’re done experimenting, work with a minimalist approach. “If you want your pictures to look professional and not like an amateur, less is more. Pull it back.”


Overall, remember not to waste your time on images that are a lost cause. “I never spend more than five minutes editing — anything that takes longer, it feels like I’m forcing something,” says Shumaker. Hansen’s takeaway: “If you keep in mind [that] the purpose is to enhance good pictures and not fix bad ones you’ll end up with better photography.”

Whatever your software, the following editing tricks will improve just about any photo:


Use your crop tool: “Pull in on a face. Cut out that tree!” Hansen says.

The middle is boring: Use the rule of thirds: Instead of putting the most important thing in the center dead center, offset it slightly to create a more interesting composition.


Play up light and dark: “Most pictures need a little contrast added to them,” says Hansen. “A lot of them can look a little flat and dull until you bump up the black to enhance the shadows.”

Make colors pop: “If you can up the greens and blues in a landscape, a little boost can help with the flatness,” Hansen says. Just make sure you keep an eye on the people while you play with color because too much saturation will make skin tones look unnatural.


Pretty ‘em up, just a little: Jordan Reid runs the lifestyle blog Ramshackle Glam and isn’t against a little touching up when it comes to photos of her husband and two kids. “I’m not especially talented at precision editing — I don’t even own Photoshop, which I’m pretty sure is unheard of for a blogger — but I almost always do a tiny bit of tweaking on my favorite photos.” Reid uses the Facetune app to lighten and/or brighten her images: “It just makes [the image] pop, and usually makes a filter unnecessary.” She also likes how Facetune’s blur tool can blur out a busy background: “It can bring the focal point (your family, obviously) forward and salvage a shot that may have otherwise been kind of ‘eh.’” Facetune can also help wipe away the random scabs, stains, and dark undereye circles that occasionally show up in family pictures.

Go easy on the filters: Family photographer Jeremy Lawson believes is that sepia-toned filters are a don’t if you want your family photo to look timeless: “I’m over it. A lot of people are really against using the vintage ones now — I think that was a big thing several years ago.” He warns against relying on overly blurry, liquid filters too: “I call it the Kardashian filter.” In general, while there’s nothing wrong with having fun on social media and with trendy features, if your goal is to create family images that look professional and timeless, the filtering needs to be practically invisible.


Print Smart

If you worked hard to get your image just right, don’t be stingy with your print size: “Think big!” says Hansen, who says that while an 8x10 might seem large compared to most prints, “The faces will be tiny — put one on the wall and stand back and you won’t be able to see the eyes at all.”


However, a big image requires a good printer — using your local pharmacy for big braggy family prints is like fumbling the ball at the one-yard line, according to Hansen. “Don’t take your picture to Walgreen’s,” she says — there, the printers rarely, if ever, have their ink properly calibrated. “You might take something in one day and it looks great, the next it looks weird.” She instead recommends ordering prints from Mpix.

If you’re working to create a beautiful holiday card, Hansen says that old standbys like Shutterfly and TinyPrints are perfectly sufficient for a 4x6 Christmas card although she says warns against creating a collage. “If you shove too many pictures on there they get small. I prefer one big picture on the card, and maybe some more on the back.”


Don’t stop clicking just because the holidays end. No filter or editing software can replace good old-fashioned experience and intuition (yet). And remember: Prep for all of this editing with a powerful computer that’s equipped to handle any photo projects, like the Lenovo Yoga 920, which is powered by an 8th Gen Intel Core processor.

Claire Zulkey is a freelance writer and mother of two in Evanston, IL. You can learn much more about her by going to Zulkey.com.


This post is a sponsored collaboration between Intel and Studio@Gizmodo.

Intel, Intel Core and the Intel logo are trademarks of Intel Corporation or its subsidiaries in the U.S. and/or other countries.

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