How To Take Great Family Photos On An iPhone, According To Photographers

Get ready for some frame-worthy photographs and treasured memories courtesy of you and your mobile phone.
bernie_photo via Getty Images

There comes a time at every family gathering when someone attempts to take a group portrait. It’s not inherently painful, though often it can be. And you usually end up with a photo that everyone under 35 will undoubtedly untag themselves from.

Getting everyone in the shot likely means you’re all crowding around someone’s phone. While there’s nothing wrong with a little #selfie action, Mario Forgione, a landscape and portrait photographer based in Boston, pointed out that the front-facing camera on a smartphone is generally lower quality. “You probably would be better off using the camera [on the back of your phone] to take a family portrait,” Forgione said.

Knowing your basic smartphone camera features goes a long way toward taking a better picture. “You can tap on the screen and target something, put it into focus,” Forgione said. “You can select grids if you want on your camera and you can use that to center people or offset your subject. Then, oftentimes it gives you a slider to move up and down for exposure.”

Forgione suggested reading through Apple’s how-to guides or even watching YouTube videos to help utilize your phone’s camera to its fullest potential.

“Familiarize yourself with little tips and tricks of how the camera works beyond just ... pointing and shooting,” he said. “Phone cameras in general have gotten so much better over the years. It widens the ability to take a good photo.”

Philadelphia-based photographer Devin Fitchwell agreed, encouraging would-be photographers to take advantage of any new camera updates. “Don’t be afraid to use portrait mode!” Fitchwell said. “Always take a bunch! If it’s a small group, [take] horizontal and vertical” [shots].”

Fitchwell, who often shoots weddings and large events, emphasized the importance of setting up the group shot on your phone and ensuring you’re focusing on the right things. “For groups, tap the focus on chests,” he said. “For up close, do the face. If you are shooting on wide, back up. No one wants to look distorted.”

To help you take a photo your family members will be happy to be featured in, Forgione and Fitchwell shared easy tips and fun gadgets ahead.

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Set up your shot
The first step to getting a good family photo is thinking about the composition, Forgione said. "Take the extra time to look at the way your photo is set up," he said. "Are there objects in the field that you don't want to be in the photo? Is there a better way to frame your image than just taking a straight-on photograph?"

To help you set up your shot, Forgione recommended grabbing a table tripod that can hold up your phone, allowing you to see what the picture will look like before you take it. "You can all get in the shot that you want and compose the way you want it and take the photo with a timer, so that way everyone could be in the photo," he said.

Fitchwell agreed, encouraging all family photo takers to set up the shot and then use the self-timer. "Self-timer is your friend!" he said. "[Make sure you] get everyone to look at the phone, not you."

This 12-inch table tripod and wireless remote shutter works for DSLR/digital cameras, GoPros and smartphones up to 3.9 inches wide. It has bendable, waterproof legs and can double as a selfie stick.

Promising review: "The remote was a snap to set up. It works well. The mini stand is sturdy holding my iPhone 13. I’ll be gifting to friends and family!" — GreenGuy
Give your subjects room to breathe
When setting up a family portrait, you want tall folks in the middle or back, and kids and pets in the front, Fitchwell expained. Furthermore, if you're holding the camera horizontally or "wide," make sure to back it up.

"For group shoots, leave a half a person of room on each side [of the frame], and two to three heads of room up top," he said. "Have everyone on the same standing line or heads in at the same focal plane."

To get everyone in the shot, may want to spring for a full-size tripod like this one, which measures up to 64 inches. You can use the self-timer setting on your phone camera or the wireless delayed shutter remote included with the tripod to get the perfect shot.

Promising review: "Blown away by the quality and versatility of this selfie stick/tripod! Took me 45 seconds to put together phone including. Well made and very sturdy. Can’t beat the price! I couldn’t decide on this one and another top seller one with more reviews but SO glad I ordered this one!! Buy this one you won’t regret it! Also remote is Bluetooth and pairs with your phone super easy as well! All in all 10/10." — Alexa Woods
Don't be rushed by the self-timer
"A remote shutter wirelessly activates the shutter of your camera, so you can take a picture while being in the field of view of your camera," Forgione said. "It gives you the opportunity to set something up and step away from the camera and still take a picture."

A delayed shutter is a tiny remote that lets you take the picture from where you're standing, instead of pushing the button on the phone itself or setting a timer and making your entire family wait 10 seconds. It also helps you take a bunch of pictures quickly, without needing to run back to the camera to reset the self-timer again and again.

These days, many tripods (like the two listed above) come with their own remote shutter. You can also grab one for super cheap on its own, like this one that works with iPhones and Androids.

Promising review: "Pairs easily and works as advertised to take a picture or start/stop videos. Just what you need if you want to be in the picture without holding the phone in your hand." — zoombag
Ensure there's good front-lighting
During holidays or group events, most people try to take pictures in poorly lit parts of the house. To step up your home photo game, Forgione suggested investing in some LED lights, to brighten everyone's face in the shot. "A lot of hip kids these days use the O-ring lights," he said.

This ring light kit comes with a 61-inch tripod with a smartphone stand as well as a delayed shutter remote and two color filters. It also works for DSLR and digital cameras.

Promising review: "I am a content creator and I bought this ring light in 2020, it is now December of 2022 and my ring light still works like the day it arrived. it’s perfect for travel since it comes with the case & I love that i can change the light covers to offer different lighting settings for my pictures and videos. such an amazing product!" — Giavonna
Or go for some ambient lighting
Or, if you want to take a family photo all your kids won't immediately untag themselves from, Forgione recommended getting a softbox. "A standalone softbox and diffuser adds good ambient light to your setting and can really accentuate the photos you take," he said. "You shine a light through it. It's a nylon white sheet that like diffuses the light and makes it more soft. You can get those kits pretty cheap now, and it's just an alternative way to light a scene or get some lights on someone for a portrait."

This RALENO softbox measures 16 inches by 16 inches and comes with a folding, expandable 60-inch tripod and 90 CRI LED Bulb.

Promising review: "Easy to assemble and very good quality for the price. I'll probably buy a few more. Easy to store when not in use." — RRichards

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