Great Large-Family Photos

People often wonder how I manage to get nice photos of my large family.

I saw an interesting article over on Velocity, Science in Motion containing a calculation to figure out how many photos you’ll have to take of a large group to make sure you’ll get at least one blink-free photo.


came up with a rule of thumb for calculating the number of photos to take for groups of less than 20: divide the number of people by three if there’s good light and two if the light’s bad.”

This is an interesting theory. I totally agree with the general premise–you’ll have to take a bunch of pictures to get a good group shot. However, this equation does not take little children into consideration. Any mom who’s tried to take a good Christmas picture of a handful of kids knows that blinking is the least of her worries.

No, little kids have a much larger repertoire. There’s turning away, face covering, sibling-whacking, the dreaded nose-picking, pained grimacing, and of course outright howling, among other things.

Using Velocity’s calculation, 3 or 4 photos should be enough to get a decent shot of my crew. I laugh hysterically at that idea.

To get this gem of a family photo in 2005, my sister took 27 pictures. Yeah. I took around three dozen to get this Christmas picture of our children for our 2006 Christmas picture.

Based on those photo shoots and many others, I would like to propose a different photo-shoot rule for large families. To maximize your chances of a group shot, double the number of people in your group and then add 6 extra shots *per child* under the age of 8.

So, eight kids with two under the age of 8? Double the total number to get 16, then add 12 more shots to compensate for the youngest ones in your group. 28 shots oughta get you something.

Got 4 kids under the age of 6? (insert maniacal laughter) Three dozen shots might get you something good. Maybe.

Even though I have a digital camera and could theoretically stop and check each picture, I don’t waste my precious minutes. In the time it takes to look at what I’ve got, I’ll have kids wandering off and picking fights and getting grumpier by the second. It is far better to just snap like a maniac till the little ones start losing it. Then move everyone to a new location and repeat.

The first picture on this post was taken in the second ‘setting’ of that photo shoot. The picture of the kids in the tree was the third location in that shoot. Varying your location increases your chance that you’ll get good lighting somewhere, and it also keeps it a little more interesting for the kids.

Happy shooting!

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  1. Add to the repertoire the kids who will wait until “Cheese!” to cross their eyes or stick out their tongue, or kids who think “smile!” means squint up your eyes and grin like a Cheshire cat, you know, the smile where you can count every single one of their teeth?

    This year what worked for us was to have the girls count to three with us (because “three” causes the same smile as “cheese”) and to tickle the baby on “two.” Still required taking a lot of pictures.

    I love that top picture of your gorgeous family!

  2. I love your pictures, and formula is definitely more accurate than the one in the article when kiddos are involved.

  3. I love those photos. I love pictures so I think it is amazing that you DID end up with two very wonderful well taken pictures.

  4. Brenda on the S OR Coast says:

    I’ve gotta say, I’m a huge fan of photo-editing software for this purpose! =)

    I take five or six shots, as close to the same pose as possible, and then pick the one that has the most people looking their best. Then, I crop faces from the other photos to fill in the less-than-flattering faces. With a little practice, I’ve had fantastic results. No one can ever believe it when I tell them the photos are doctored.

    We’ve also used this strategy when we didn’t have an extra adult around to take the picture. Hubby takes a shot of the rest of us, then he stands where we were and I take a shot of him and then combine the two on the computer.

    I don’t know if it’s quicker than having someone take 88 photos of our family, but it’s much less stressful for me! =)


  5. That’s a pretty accurate calculation IMO. This is exactly why I hit the “step” button on my digital camera. Its the little one that looks like 3 photos lying on top of each other. It will snap 2 or 3 shots in a row (in a frame-by-frame manner). There is bound to be a decent one in the group and it helps with the shutter delay in digitals. Great pics! Your family is so adorable!

  6. Ya know, this is interesting, because for my family I find that if I do not have a serviceable picture after the first 10, it just ain’t gonna happen. Plus if the kids know they’re not going to have to stand for 50 shots, they’re much happier to stand at all!

    Your shots are excellent, I must add. But I wonder if the top picks were actually in the first 10 or so? I mean, how do you keep things from degenerating past that?

  7. Ah….if I read more carefully, I would have answers to my abovementioned questions. Sorry! Varying locations does indeed sound like an inspired plan.

  8. I’d like to add another suggestion for anybody wanting good shots from the professional places: If your little ones have any issues with strangers or new places, arrange to arrive early and let them play a little bit before the phots taking begins. It may cost a little more (you may need to pay an extra sitting fee, for example) but it’s definitely worth the money to actually get photos of happy children.

  9. So, eight kids with two under the age of 8? Double the total number to get 16, then add 12 more shots to compensate for the youngest ones in your group. 28 shots oughta get you something.

    Although I only have two kids, and all over the age of 8, I still think this is VERY GOOD advice. And, remember how many photos professionals don’t print.

  10. beautifulheritage– sometimes you do get the best ones first. But both the ones I shared came late in the shoot. The kids the tree one was #34. The family one was #26, I think. In both cases, my sister and I shot very rapidly– as fast as the camera would shoot, while doing all sorts of silly things to keep interest— so it really did not take very many minutes!

  11. Good advice! We struggle to get pictures of just 2 kids!

    The family photo in the woody setting is beautiful! Even if it did take 27 shots, the final result is well worth it.

  12. This is why we take a bunch of picutes of them really fast in the same pose and then photoshop the best face of each child into the picture. This year for our Christmas card we only had to edit the baby’s face….we have the other kids trained to hold a fake smile for a few seconds.

  13. RIGHT ON. This is exactly why I have a 1 gig and another 2 gig card for my camera. I wouldn’t ever fill them with one shoot (mostly because the kids wouldn’t sit still for that long) but it’s nice to have the option of lots… Thank goodness for digital, I must say.

  14. We subscribe to the photoshop option. Donn’s a professional photographer, and he can switch heads so well that you’d never know. For Christmas we gave Ilsa a pic of her and her best friend taken last summer in the US. One of her eyes was closed. Donn copied the open eye, flipped it, and replaced it, and you can’t tell! Brilliant.
    But I love your mathematical equation. And the photos are fantastic–they really are.

  15. Oh girl, those jeans look awesome! I totally love them!

    Your nine accessories look great too.