Download the Essential Family Tree Forms Library!

Can’t get enough forms to organize family facts? This download contains over 100+ templates, checklists and worksheets to track your research—from conflicting death dates to DNA matches, censuses to source citations.

Get the Picture

By Diane Haddad Premium
Family history is about preserving today’s stories and images, in addition to those of years past. The holidays are prime time to exercise your digital camera to that end. But before the parties start, brush up on your picture-taking skills. With these tips, you can add to your family’s store of great photographic memories.

Advance planning 

Get familiar with your camera’s settings now so you’re not fiddling with buttons during Kodak moments. Charge the battery and make room on the memory card. Have it ready to go—it’s easy to forget stuff when you’re juggling 25 presents and the green bean casserole.

You can be proactive if you’re hosting: Make sure there’s sufficient lighting in the room. You might even assign someone to take pictures, just as you asked people to bring dessert and drinks.

Pick your spot before Grandma sets the turkey on the table or people start opening gifts. Keep your camera nearby to capture spontaneous moments, too. (Just remember that many people don’t like to be photographed while eating.)

Pic tips


Avoid these common picture-taking mistakes:

  • A tiny subject surrounded by loads of space. Zoom in to fill your frame.
  • Letting the flash turn relatives into overexposed ghosts. Set your camera on portrait mode and put a little distance between the flash and their faces.
  • Moving the camera when you click the shutter. Hold your breath and press your arms against your sides.
  • Using the camera on your phone instead of a “real” camera. The shots probably won’t be as good.
  • Not checking out the background before you shoot. Make sure no lamps are growing out of Dad’s head.
  • Forgetting all about your camera until halfway through the event.
  • Not letting yourself be photographed. You’re part of the family, too.
Now that you’ve done some homework, heed these tips when it’s time to pull out your camera:
  • Take a lot of pictures, trying the same scene zoomed in and out, and with and without flash. The beauty of digital photography is that you don’t have to worry about wasting film—you can shoot first and keep or delete later. Sometimes chaos is part of the scene. In that case, show the wrapping paper mess around Grandpa as he opens his new laptop. And the background may tell the story, such as a baby gazing up at a decked-out tree. But don’t be afraid to zoom in on your subject and fill the frame.
  • For a visually pleasing photo, try to compose the shot so your subject is slightly off-center.
  • If your digital camera has a delay after you press the shutter, click the shutter a split second early.
  • Let a shy subject get comfortable around you before you start shooting. It helps if the person has something to do, such as rolling out cookie dough or playing with a toy. You’re more likely to get a natural-looking picture.
  • Want tree lights, menorah candles or other subtle lighting to glow? You’ll need to turn off your flash—which, of course, means a longer exposure time. To avoid a blurry shot, use a tripod or steady the camera against a table or other surface.
  • Don’t use the flash for nighttime pictures of outdoor lights, either: It’ll drown out the lights. Switch to your camera’s nighttime setting and follow the aforementioned tips for a clear picture. Shooting at dusk, before darkness sets in, also can help.
  • Learn your camera’s timer feature so you can get everyone together. Position people at different levels (some sitting, some standing) and take plenty of shots to increase the chances of everyones’ eyes being open at the same time.

Photo ops

Start the day with a good idea—or better yet, a written list—of the pictures you don’t want to miss. Include these on your shot list:

  • party preparations: cooking, decorating, wrapping gifts, setting the table
  • the dinner table, Christmas tree and other party areas before and after the gathering
  • present-unwrapping, menorah-lighting and other activities (try switching to the “burst” or continuous shooting mode for a photo series)
  • close-ups of ornaments, cookies, Hannukah gelt, dreidels, etc. (experiment with the macro mode for details)
  • the kids in their holiday finest
  • favorite family dishes and the cooks who prepared them
  • group photos (how often is the whole gang together?)
  • outdoor lights and decor

From the January 2012 issue of Family Tree Magazine

More great genealogy resources from Family Tree Magazine: