Advice about Taking a Photograph

Parent Q&A

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  • Family Photo location

    (4 replies)

    Hi All, 

    What are some options for outdoor family photos in Berkeley? This is our first session in the East Bay =) Thanks!

    We went to Lake Temescal. Lots of options there--water, trees, grass, beach, shade, sun.

    Hi! We took fanuky photos last year in The Berkekey Rise Garden and then also in Cordonices Park right there. They were really nice- the light was perfect and there were many variations in the background that we used.

    Depending on the type of photos and the variety you're looking for in the session: Little Farm in Tilden (woodsy), the UC Berkeley campus (woodsy, big lawns, cool architecture), the Marina (lawns, water, SF views on a clear day).

    Have fun!

    We were really happy with a photo shoot we did at the Berkeley Rose Garden on Euclid. I also think across the street in the more woodsey area of Codornices park, the picnic sites 1 & 2, would be beautiful, but haven't done it there before. Good luck!

  • Looking bad in pictures

    (10 replies)

    I hate the way I look in photographs. When the camera points at me, I always seem to freeze, fake smile, and look dreadful. Just today I looked at a picture of my husband (who looked great), my son (super cute), and myself (awful), and I wanted to crop myself out.

    I think my needs are two-fold: First, I need help to look my best, not my worst, in front of the camera. And second, I am starting to wonder that maybe my ''bad photo face'' is my real face, with some photos just showing the worst side of reality. In which case, how do I learn to love the way I really look?

    --Say Cheese!

    I hear ya! I used to be so jealous of my selfie-obsessed friends w/big toothy grins for pics looking great anytime. One day i spruced up and turned away from the mirror, relaxed and smiled, then turned to see my real expression. I realized i had been lifting eyebrows in pics (creating tension on my forehead-looking stressed & fake smiles all around). My real candid smile wasn't bad. Tip for social media: post goofy pics to offset the serious ones. Force yourself to post randoms or allow people to post pics with u.
    The truth is, we all are our own worst critics. After u tire of seeing a zillion pics of yourself & become accustomed to ur image- it will be altogether WAY less of an issue. If ur still struggling, primp every morning and throughout the day until ur fearless of the lenses...or just dont give a rip. ;) Good luck!

    Rather than crop yourself out, can you use a photo editing program? I've used the one that comes with my Mac (it used to be iPhoto but I think it's just called Photos now) to get rid of my wrinkles.  My son can use Photoshop to whiten teeth, widen eyes, and tighten arms! 

    Yes, it's cheating, but who cares.  

    Dear Say Cheese,

    I feel for you because I have the same problem.  I am an odd odd odd looking person in pictures.  I don't have a fake smile but my skin is blotchy, my chin and nose look strange, and I look down right unattractive.  I always cringe when I see a picture of myself.  I've been told by people who were actually in love with me at the time tell me they would never have dated me if they saw my picture first.  That said, in person I've been told I'm relatively attractive.  Some people just don't photograph well, I believe it has to do with bone structure.  I have strong features and the camera highlights them.

    On the other side, I have met people whose faces are not that attractive in person but photograph really well. 

    Your bad photo face is not your real face.  Right now, we're such a photo addicted society its hard to see yourself pop up all over the place but a photo is a just a static two dimensional representation of you.  It can't capture how you laugh, and move, how you carry yourself.  It really is the whole package that makes someone attractive or not. 

    All the best,

    Not a selfie-fan.

    Two thoughts.  When you look at the camera imagine that it is the eyes of your son and smile with all the love you feel for him.   That love will shine through your eyes and your inner beauty will show.  (Google "how to smile with the eyes").  

    Second: do you look like your mother or father or someone else you love?   Practice smiling at yourself in the mirror and seeing that loved person in the mirror.  I have the same gray hair and wrinkles as my mother and so when I see myself in pictures I give myself the same love as I feel for my mom.  

    Self love is hard on so many fronts.  Good for you for working on it!

    I had the same problem for years. I hated how I looked in pictures, so I got totally tense when a camera was around. Vicious cycle because of course being tense does not make you look great.

    Here is what helped: At work I got into a role where I had to work events where my employer's photographer would take pictures. He is a great photographer and somehow you don't notice him. I never noticed being photographed but when I saw the pictures, I actually looked good in them, because I wasn't tense but instead just busy doing what I was supposed to be doing. Over time that made me more relaxed around cameras and these days I get pictures of myself that I do like.

    I felt the same way as you once we had our kid. I felt it was combo approach for me: actually changing my mentality and doing somethings kit it.There are some great FREE photo apps for the iPhone such as BeFunky where you can whiten teeth, create shadows etc. Beyond that, try to think of something really happy, try to pose with only 3/4 frontal, look down from lens and just think about your wardrobe in general and cull what is really not flattering. Then also try being less judgemental of yourself. Like anything, it takes effort as we get older.

    My wife is the same way.  Constantly closes her eyes.  What works for us is to take a multitude of shots very quickly, and she's usually relaxed or not self-conscious at least one.  If there's another person in the frame, you made to photoshop, bit it's not too hard if you try to keep the camera/phone/whatever aimed at the same background. Good enough for us at least. 

    I recommend the book "Living with Your Body and Other Things You Hate."  It talks about not needing to always love how we look, but to move our focus back to the things we truly love and that really matter.  I try to remember--the people who love me are okay with me as I am so I don't always need to love what I see in a picture.  We are all going to get wrinkles, scars, sicknesses--be uglier than we are now for sure--yet we still deserve to be loved and feel beautiful as human beings.  Pictures turn us into objects--and when we judge ourselves by pictures, we are self-objectifying.  Our lives mean so much more than what a picture could ever capture.  I'm sure your husband and son think you are the most beautiful mama around.

    I would love to help you! I'm a photographer and I've recently started my business. It's called Shapeshift Productions and I'm focused on helping people love the way they look on camera. I have an anti-Photoshop policy (except for things like colour correction and cropping), and I'm a body image activist who is dedicated to helping people feel great about the way they look. Please get in touch if you're interested in working together - sounds like an exciting challenge for me!

    I often find myself feeling the same as you and not being confident in front of the lens. 

    Over time, I came to realize that the more photos I took, daily, through the day, every week, month and eventually years, I'd have so many that out of all of them I would finally find more and more that I came to like. Perhaps its because I slowly learned how and or when I did something in the photos that I liked. I also learned a lot about angles and how to take selfies and truthfully, it changed how I appeared in photos, COMPLETELY. If I take photos straight on eye-level, i often don't look good, or if theyre anywhre below eye level for the most part. I now always angle the photo at least 45* over my head and tilt it towards me. This makes me look way skinnier, catches my bone structure and reflects light so much better (I imagine, for every one else its a matter of finding that common angle that works well for you) and as I play with it, when I take a selfie I'm actually taking like about 30 photos before I settle on one that I like then delete the rest.... I also noticed that if I do full body shots its very important to not do side shots (if you feel large) and try to keep your body fully facing the camera instead or at the very least a 3/4 forward body shot. one other very important tip that works well for me, is to keep my arm OFF and away from my body, ie, hand on the hip and arm/elbow is outwards instead of straight down. This makes your arms look less large as it doesn't flatten as much as it does when its laid down against your body when its down... and don't angle your head as you pose. this often creates that fake, posey look and often ends up being worse than normal. Experiment with many shots, of you not thinking about these things (or old photos) and again with those tips in mind and see how different you look and seem to carry yourself in the photos. Continue to play with it, take many shots of yourself even if you hate them, with time it will help you learn what positions you like yourself best in and you can keep those in mind when posing. It helped me so much over time now I know how to be without tensing up in front of the camera and be hopeful I"ll probably like one or at least a few of the shots that were taken.  It's definitely a process. It took me about 4 years to get to this place but now that I'm here, i actually like doing selfies and have come to like my own body more even though it is not where I want it [my body] to be.  One more thought -- I've also constantly and still do, remind myself, that my kids don't see me the way they do. What they see is their MOM. the mom that they LOVE and want photos with. I want them to have many pictures of themselves with their mommy that they'll have when I'm one day no longer here. Its the memories that they want to capture,... they don't see what we see when we look at ourselves... and that is so important to me.... now that my kids are a few years older and I look back, I'm so grateful that I not only took these pictures but that I didn't delete them because it brings back the good memories of the times we had together then, the love in that moment, and to be able to realize that I do have a new profound outlook on myself, on my love for myself and my acceptance of my body over the years as I work on this. I've never admitted or shared this before. I hope it helps you. <3

Archived Q&A and Reviews


How to take a photo of a large family gathering

Nov 2013

My extended family would like to have a group photograph taken this year at our annual Christmas brunch in SF. There will be 40-50 people, aged about 3 - 90. With such a large group we thought it'd be best to have a professional photographer, but the one quote we've gotten is for $275, which is more than we'd like to spend. Does it really have to cost that much for someone to take a few pictures? Any suggestions would be appreciated--either for people who could do a good job for a lower cost, or even advice on doing it ourselves. We have amateur photographers with decent cameras in the family, but I don't know if special equipment (or skills!) would be needed. The event will be at Harding Park Golf Course near Lake Merced, most likely in an indoor banquet room (the room has a nice balcony overlooking the golf course but rain is a definite possibility). Thanks! Kathy

Hello there,

$275 is reasonable if the photog. has large group experience (ask for samples).

50 people inside will be a challenge, not so much for lighting (there is Photoshop) but just the logistics of being able to have all faces visible.

A tripod is essential as are many shots. A Photoshop expert can move faces from one photo to another if a tripod is used.

Make a test with auto exposure and review while poeple are still assembling. Then switch to manual exposure based on auto results.

Shoot slow, it will take 15-20 min. to set up - so do not rush the shooting. Pause to talk with the people, suggest people move, review first shots.

Have people move further apart as they tend to bunch up. Do this again after a few shots.

Generally kids sit/kneel in front, grandfolks sit in second row in chairs, others in the back row.

Darker complexion people closser to brightest lighting.

If good weather shoot from the balcony with everyone down below looking up.

Hope this helps! Andrew

Family Portrait - what to wear?

October 2006

We are scheduled to take our 1st family portrait/pictures. I'm uncertain what we should wear? I do not like the pictures I received from friends where they are all dressed the same (khaki's and blue shirts, jeans and white shirts, etc. etc.), the outfits are usually blah and don't express everyone's personality. Does anyone have any advice? I would hate to cancel the sitting because of my indecisiveness. Say Cheese

we recently had our family portraits taken. we also didn't want the same outfits for everyone, but also didn't want any clashing colors. so we kind of settled on a color palette (navy blue, white, green), just to make sure one wasn't wearing fuschia next to someone in red. i think that's the important thing. people can wear different colors, as long as they look good together. the photos turned out great

The reason you see people in blah matching clothes in portraits is because that is often what is recommended by photographers. The theory is that the faces in the portaits are what you see first if the clothes aren't competing for attention. And I have to say, I have a portrait of my sister's family in which they all wore ''whatever'' and it looks like crap. It just looks like a snapshot from an event, not a nicely composed professional photo.

Have you considered black and white portraits? The clothing color would be less of an issue in that case. You could also have everyone wear clothes in the same color family, say a range of blues, purples, deep magentas, etc. That's what we have done with my husband's family and it looks nice. No patterns on the clothes, though. It really stands out and it is the first thing people see. If your kids are young, they could be naked or just wear overalls with no shirt...that is a popular look.

Another argument in favor of the khakis or jeans with plain shirts is that the photo doesn't look totally dated in 5 years as styles change. That is something to consider, too. A photo with toned-down clothes looks timeless.

As a photographer myself I recommend to my clients to stay away from loud, distracting clothing patterns. No stripes, polka dots, plaid, you get the picture (no pun intended :-)

I typically suggest staying with solid colors in a similar color palette so that you're not clones, but you are a cohesive unit. When you look at a family portrait your eye should typically go right to the subject's face, not your shirt.

For lifestyle portraits of kids and such I think bright colors and some patterns are fine. It depends on the type of photograph you are having made. Will you be in a studio or out and about in a park? In any event, have fun! Kristy

Some of the best family portraits I've seen are ones where everyone is in complimentary colors, but individual outfits. A friend of ours does this, and I asked her how she plans it, and she told me that she picks a color palate and then gives everyone their choice of clothing from within this palate (every child has the choice of 2-3 outfits.) This works very well since everyone doesn't have to be in the same color for the pictures (as long as the colors are complimentary, the pictures turn out great!) and this allows for the individuality it sounds like you are looking for Good luck.

For your family portrait, I suggest wearing unobtrusive plain colors that will not draw attention away from the person. The point of family portraits, at least to me, is the faces and eyes of the people, so you don't want the clothing to detract from the faces. For my family, with light skin and fair hair, we wore darker solid colors and were in a dark-ish background at a studio, and the portrait is lovely. If you will be in a studio, they will choose the background that you want or that they think looks best, but if it will be outside or in your home, take the background into account in color, light or darkness, and busy-ness. The one thing you do NOT want to wear, in my experience, is any kind of print or plaid. I recommend solid colors or a VERY subtle pattern at most. The photographer in our case specifically suggested dark reds, blues, or browns. I hope this helps. happy with our picture

I'm guessing you are opting for a color photo, but if black and white is an option, that is one way to avoid most color- clashes. As for the ''matchy'' outfits some people wear for photos, I too get creeped out by them. We've had some luck by just staying within the same general palette, and steering clear of busy patterns, logos, etc. Assuming it's 2 adults + kids, I think it's easiest if one parent at least wears something ''boring'', ie. white-ish shirt/blouse, jeans/khakis, and then perhaps the other adult who wants to wear something more colorful doesn't have to worry about clashing. Keep in mind that ''most'' of the time, the photo set-up will hide adults' pants/bottoms. And then you can work the kids' wardrobe around the adults Besides, their clothes are smaller, so any clash won't be as noticeable as between adults. More than anything, just have fun. We have some awful photos taken last year after I'd just given birth, and my husband is missing a button AND has his cell phone hooked to his pocket, while my breastmilk was leaking through my shirt. We didn't even order them but always crack up at them when we see them at my in-laws anon

Why, holiday sweaters, of course! J/K. I am with you about not liking the all in jeans and khakis thing. It is a misled attempt to look ''timeless'' when actually it screams ''late 1990s Gap ad''. I think you should wear (and dress your family in) whatever you wear for a special occasion, or just what you wear on a regular day. Look like you are all going to the same place, but don't dress in the same exact outfits, colors, or patterns. (Exception for the kids--they can dress alike if you want.) Avoid anything that is going to be too distracting or really clash with someone elses outfit, but that doesn't mean you are bound to blue, black, and beige. anon

The reason photographers recommend people wearing the same thing for a portrait is the picture looks cleaner and you focus on the people, not the clothes. Especially if you have a lot of people in the photo. While it's great that everyone has their own individual taste in clothing, I'm not sure if the family portrait is the best time to express this. I was against the matching thing for a long time but in comparing portraits of my family over the years, I have to say, when we all dressed alike (or close to it) they looked more modern and everyone just looks great. it doesn't have to be khaki pants and white shirts tho. It would depend on if you're doing it in a studio and what type of back ground and such, but maybe everyone can wear black. I've seen photos like that and you mostely just see the faces. Or, bottoms can be individual but all the tops should match. anon

We took a family portrait with 14 people, grandparents, parents and kids. Our portrait was taken outdoors in a park so we dressed casually. Some wore jeans, others wore khakis. Everyone wore a different shirt or top, but in a range of shades of blue or purple. (These were the colors we decided on as a family.) Choosing 1,2 or 3 different colors was suggested by our photographer. You can choose the colors you like, but keep them complimentary so they don't take away from the photo. You want people to look at your smiles, not your clothes anon

I recommend plain white or black shirts for portraits. No logos, no stripes or frills. The clothes don't date the picture so much and you focus more on the faces of the people. K

I'm with you - sometimes those identical outfits are a little too perfect. BUT... when I was a teenager, 5 of us went to take a portrait. 4 were each in bright primary solids, and I was in a burgundy flowered blouse. The pics were HORRIBLE.

So maybe you can just agree to wear outfits that complement each other and are in the same color families. Like any variation of navy/burgundy/forest green - if that's your style. Or each person picks their favored outfit, and you decide ahead of time if they'll all look harmonious together or just liek an eyesore, and then you make some compromises. My Eyes Hurt

A good family portrait should draw attention to your lovely, smiling faces, so the clothes should not be distracting. Solid colors, simple lines, and timeless styles will serve you well. Patterns don't always photograph well and can look busy, and super-trendy outfits may look super-dated a few years from now. I agree that you don't want to be too ''matchy-matchy,'' but on the other hand if you're taking a color portrait you may want to put on all your outfits and check that the colors work well together and don't clash. I've also heard that though many of us like to wear black, it's not the best color to be photographed in. Have fun!

For our family photos, my husband and I wore black and we dressed my daughter in bright colors. The pictures turned out really nice. The black and white photos were really crisp and the color ones were great because my daughter stood out. anon

Being more photogenic

Jan 2006

Does anyone have any advice about taking better photographs? When I look at pictures of myself everything seems to look bad ... double chin, weird smile, slightly crazed eyes ... people consider me to be attractive in person yet all of the features that look ''exotic'' in real life just look odd in pictures. Any advice? Funny Face in Photos

I've struggled with the same things! I almost always look better in candid photos than in staged ones, so the first thing I do is try my best to relax. Easier said than done when you're already stressed about looking funny in the photo, but try! If possible, I find a longer photo session, rather than just a single shot, helps me relax. Also, through experimentation in front of a mirror (sounds crazy, but try it!) I've found out a number of things: I look best when I turn my head to a 3/4 angle; I generally look better with a half-smile than a full one in posed photos; holding my shoulders back and down a bit gives me a flattering posture. If you plan to smile try to laugh so your eyes are engaged and the smile looks genuine. And photographers are always telling me to keep my chin up, so that must be worth something, too. It can be hard to balance relaxing and thinking about all these details, but I have found my photos have improved quite a bit since I started all this stuff. Good luck! looking better

My job requires that I am photographed constantly, after so many strange smiles I have learned what is key. Before the photo is snapped, relax your face - then focus on something really pleasant, like picturing your child doing something funny, the instant your photo is being snapped. Works everytime. For double chin, you need to look up slightly and turn your head to the side slightly. kim

People make fun of me because I have the same face in every picture but it is because I figured out years ago what looks good in a pic. Part of your problem is probably people are snapping shots when you are not expecting it. So start by watching out when you see a camera around. Analyze the problems with your pics and practice a face in the mirror that fixes it. For ex., double chin--keep your tilted slightly chin up, never down. Notice if you have a good side and tilt your face that way toward the camera. If it is that important, you have to do what models do and develop a look. Or, just toss out the bad pics! Photogenic

Photography has been an important hobby of mine for the past twenty years and one thing I have learned is that the relationship between the photographer and their subject/s is the most important factor in the quality of the photo. I would suggest having a friend who you trust, and are close to, and who knows their way around a camera, spend an hour or two having fun, laughing, while they snap away with the camera. As hard as it might be, forget about the camera and have fun. I think you will be surprised at the results. steve

Here are a few tricks. 1) To avoid double chins, have the camera angling down, like from above your head. 2) Instead of facing the camera head on, a 3/4 view of a face is usually more flattering. 3) Whatever is closest to the camera looks the largest, so if you want your bottom half looking smaller, lean forward some how (like over a chair or a bench); 4) cover up the parts you would rather not see (e.g., stand your kids in front of your thighs). 5) Relax and look natural - think of something funny so that you have a natural smile on your face. 6) Lighting is key - photos taken in the shade or on a cloudy day give the skin good color. Try to avoid using the flash. 7) Put on lipstick - it makes a big difference. Helena

I think most people think they are not photogenic. I think I am very unphotogenic, especially as I age. For me, the way to deal with this is to try and not care so much. Our society has taught us that we should look a certain way. Therefore, when we don't measure up, it is yet another way to find fault with ourselves. Be easy on yourself. Try to think of yourself as unique. That is probably how the friends who you say think you are attractive see you. They are not looking at a photo. They are looking at the whole picture. That us what you need to do. Have you seen yourself in videos? That presents a much truer picture of how you look to others. signed, Been There Susanne

Long ago I learned that you should tilt your head slightly down - you'll have to play with the amount to find a balance between a double chin and a wide nose - I think cocking your head slightly to one side works too as long as your chin isn't too high. Jill

High Pressure sales & Photographers

Dec 2006

We got a family photo session taken with a photographer. The photo session took 3 hours- the kids loved it- so the photos turned out great. I tried to get my husband to commit to how much we wanted to spend before going into look at the results but all he could say was lets see how they turn out and if they are great- get them. Well they were great and I felt physically sick after ward and my husband was in shock at the cost. During the viewing I would say no, the photographer would say really? you have to get that one and my husband would say lets get it. I have learned to choose a photographer that allows you to buy the proofs, or proofs come with the sitting fee, and allows you to view the photos privately or on line. Any other suggestions out there? Has this happened to anyone else? Sucker

I would advise that in the future you and your husband agree as to how much you are going to spend before going shopping. The photographer used your husband's desire to spend more than you would have liked to on the pictures to sell them and it worked. When my wife and I go shopping, we always decide in advance how much we are going to spend. That way when people try to sell us on things, we come across as a united front and we can't be manipulated. Anon

Your posting made me feel sad! As a photographer who deals with clients and sales all the time I was bummed to hear that you had this experience. Please don't think all photographers are this way! What should have happened is that the photographer should have prepped you for the cost by saying something during your intitial consultation. For example, ''typically my clients spend around $1000-$3000 for final art prints''. My clients receive a ''proof magazine'' (12 images up on 8.5x11 size prints which are spiral bound) and online hosting for 60 days included with the session fee. That's my way of doing it, but there are so many different ways that photographers package their offerings. No way is right or wrong, they are just different. Kristy