Posted by Pam Velazquez on November 25, 2013 in Website


You don’t have to be a genealogist to really appreciate a great old family photo. There’s a certain joy that comes with finding a shoebox in the attic filled with old black and white photos of people living in a world decades before us.

Finding and preserving family photos is essential to telling your ancestors’ full story. Photographs tell us more about how they lived, what kinds of places they called home, who their friends were, etc. Photos are a powerful window into our ancestor’s past, and something we can do too for generations who come after us. Holidays are a great opportunity to take photos of you and your loved ones to share now and to save for later.

for some of us, it is not often that we get together for such a photo-worthy occasion, so take advantage and make sure you capture as much as you can. You don’t think you are much of a photographer? We’ve got some tips to help you snap the best family photos:


Let your family know you’ll be acting as paparazzi

Even when you’re among family, some of your relatives might be a bit uncomfortable with a camera flash going off every few minutes unexpectedly. Make sure that as family members arrive, that you make the rounds chatting with your relatives and let them know that you’re working on taking more family photos. Usually, if you give your relatives a heads up, they’ll be fine with you taking lots of pictures. This also gives those who don’t want their photo taken, a chance to speak up.


Get action shotsThanksgiving dinner - Preparing

Although we love the family photo in front of the Christmas tree, or gathered around the Thanksgiving table, sometimes the unexpected photos are the best. Make sure you take photos that not only capture what is happening, but the scenery and the place where everything is taking place. Put yourself in the place of your descendants and think about the kinds of photos you would want to leave behind for them to find.


Take lots of photos

Whether you’re asking your family to pose, or getting a few action shots, getting a great photo is a numbers game and the more you take the more likely you are to get a really spectacular photo.

If you are posing everyone to take a group photo, make sure you snap several. There will always be a cousin, or aunt who accidentally closes their eyes or looks the other way last minute.

If you’re trying to capture someone doing something – like a child opening a present, or your dad carving the turkey, the same principle applies. Take several photos in hopes you got one good one. If you know there are going to be a lot of moments you want to make sure you catch, be at the ready – keep your camera turned on, make sure you have a full charge, and bring a back-up battery or charger in case you do run out. If you’re like me and prefer to take photos on an old film camera, take a few steps to make sure you don’t miss anything – meter the lighting beforehand and make sure you know how many photos you have left on your roll of film.


Try to avoid using flash

Most digital cameras these days have a flash, which will fire if the lighting is a bit dark. Although this is a nice feature that can often prevent dark, blurry photos, if you’re taking photos indoors for the holidays, the flash can add a harsh, cold light that most people don’t like in their photos. Try and steer clear of the flash by turning it off and turning on any lamps or lighting available. If it’s still light out, open a window and draw back the curtains to let any natural light flow in.


Try different anglesThanksgiving Dinner

Sometimes placing your subject dead center isn’t the most flattering or conveys the emotion you want it to.  Play around with where you stand, as the camera person, and find the angle that fits. Maybe get up on a chair, or set the camera down on a table across the room and set the timer – find out what works best for the space and people you are trying to photograph.


Label & Save

After you’ve eaten all the turkey and all the gifts are unwrapped, there is still one last step that’s critical in taking family photos – labeling and saving! Download all of your pictures from your digital camera and save them somewhere you can access them again and back them up to a cloud server – you never know what might happen and you’ll want to keep your photos safe. Like I mentioned, I like using an old-fashioned film camera, so when I develop my photos I make sure and ask for a digital copy of all of those photos as well to save on my computer and the cloud.

Another key aspect is labeling. When we find old photos of our ancestors, we want to have all the details: who, what, where, when, etc. so make sure you include these details in your photos. Save the images with the titles being something like “Aunt Joanne baking a pie – November 2013” Make sure you include the date and the people in the photo.


Use these tips this holiday season to ensure that you have great photos that you can add to yours and others’ family trees!




  1. Kirk Sellman

    If you have a timer on your camera, be sure to include yourself in some pictures, or have someone else take the picture.

  2. Cathy Weatherby

    I loved this article, with one exception: to label someone as “Aunt Joanne” may not be very helpful to future viewers. I have found photos labelled “Grandpa” or “Grandma Smith” and that doesn’t tell me enough. To use a first and last name would be more helpful.

  3. peggy

    as to the name suggestion, i would also add to include Aunt Joanne’s maiden AND married name. If it’s a name that repeats in the family, add date of birth or ‘dau of’ – something to positively ID who she is and where she fits. As one trying to ID old photos, this info would have said years of detective work!!
    another suggesiton is: make a printed copy of your photos, 100 years from now, maybe nobody will be able to access our digital info, but an inexpensive paper book with a photo of each person in your main tree, will still be there.
    great article, thanks!

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