10 Tips for Asking Strangers to Take a Family Photo

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We took a LOT of photos this summer. Like, somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,000. That is…not insignificant.
Quite a few of those were with our whole family, because if we managed to keep all of us alive until that point in the trip, you better believe we were going to document it.
We don’t have a ton of fancy camera equipment, but we like our camera and it worked great for our purposes. We shoot with a Nikon D5300, which is a good amateur body. We like that it has location settings on it, so it will tag photos to a certain city. We upload all our photos to Google Photos, so it’s nice that we can search based on location later.
I prefer two main lenses – the 24‑70mm F/2.8 and the 35mm F/1.8G. Before our big trip, I shot almost exclusively with the latter. It’s a terrific little lens, especially for shooting my kids, is portable, and has great texture. I hadn’t used a fixed lens before I got it almost 3 years ago, but I’ve loved seeing through it very similarly to how we view the world through our eyes.
For our Europe trip, though, I knew I’d be shooting a lot of big cathedrals and wide landscapes, so I wanted a lens that would capture more within the frame. It was definitely an investment, but I managed to find a barely used one on eBay for an amazing deal, so we went for it and I’m SO glad. It was an amazing lens to carry around and I really feel like it worked for most purposes. We took the portrait lens along, as well, but ended up not even using it because that zoom lens is just so versatile.
Turns out, though, that seeing a giant long lens on a camera is really intimidating to a lot of people. So while you can often find someone willing to take a shot with your smartphone camera, it’s a bit more of a challenge to find a willing helper to take on a DSLR – not to mention the photo actually turning out decently after that. And sometimes even just getting someone to take a photo with a phone can be tricky!
I’m certainly no photography expert, but especially since we didn’t carry a tripod to shoot our own photos (no room!), we did learn a few things from regularly asking for help with photos.
After asking approximately 8 million strangers to take photos for us, here are 10 tips I’ve picked up along the way (with some bonus tips specific to using a DSLR at the end!):
1. This may be obvious, but SET EVERYTHING UP IN ADVANCE.
Have all the settings ready to go so that the person helping out just needs to point and shoot. Figure out your exact spot and get the rest of your family positioned. Wait for a good moment with (hopefully) thin crowds. Try not to hand over your camera right as a big tour group comes and stands right behind you. And hand over the camera in the same direction you want them to shoot (vertically or horizontally).

You know the tiny little grandma who is clutching her ancient flip phone in her hand? She’s probably not the best bet for taking a photo. Glance around for someone who looks like they know what they’re doing, preferably someone with a DLSR. If you’re using a smart phone, find someone who looks savvy with the “tap” on a smart phone screen. If using a DSLR, look to see if you see someone who’s taking time to compose a shot with theirs, rather than just shooting around on auto.


3. STAND TO THE SIDE of the spot where you want them to stand.

For the longest time, I would stand in the exact spot from which I wanted them to shoot, expecting them to move over once I handed over the camera. Even when I said, “You can stand right about here,” they didn’t seem to get the message, and ended up just to the side of where I wanted them. Sometimes, it doesn’t really matter, but sometimes you really want something centered. It’s easiest to stand just to the side of where you want them to be, so the shooter is positioned in the correct spot right from the start.
When we were at the Arc de Triomphe, we asked a lady if she could take a photo of our family. The Eiffel Tower was in the background and we thought it would be magical. We handed over the camera (just the smartphone! Not even the big camera!), she snapped, then handed it back. She apologized, “I couldn’t get the Eiffel Tower in it, but I got all of you!” *facepalm*
One of THE most helpful things you can do is to show them a practice shot. Instead of trying to explain how you want the photo framed, just take a picture of the rest of your family and show it to them! I find people tend to do much better when they can see exactly what you want in the frame.
Have you ever had a stranger take a photo right when you’re moving your hair out of your mouth or your toddler is falling over to the side or one kid is punching another? Me, neither.
Really, though. Count. It will help them, it will help you, it will help your kids. Counting is your friend.
You know how hard it is for you to shoot in low light the way you want it? It’s even harder for a stranger. Try to keep things simple – don’t expect them to hold perfectly still at dusk, or capture everyone jumping at the same time. Be happy with what you get. 😉
7. Ask them to take A LOT OF PICTURES.

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve asked someone to take a photo, and they take ONE. One in which one kid is inevitably licking another. It’s easier to just tell them to take as many as they want. You can always delete later.



Most people we’ve asked will ask you to take a look to see if the photo is okay. I used to say, “Oh, I’m sure it’s fine!” and not bother looking, only to realize later it was…definitely not fine. Usually people are more than happy to take another! I’ll usually say something like, “Oh, do you mind getting more of the building to this side of the photo in?” Or, “Do you mind shooting up a little higher so there’s less ground in front of us?” It’s usually easier to adjust with someone who’s already taken one rather than starting over.



But if it’s really so far off that there’s no hope, just find someone else! We’ll usually wait until the first person walks off, then just ask another. Try, try again.

10. Either way, BE GRACIOUS.

No one owes you a photo. Ask politely, thank them if they say yes (and don’t be offended if they say no), and offer to take one for them, too. And pat yourself on the back knowing that THEIR family photo won’t have any heads cut off.

And here are a few bonus tips if you’re shooting with a DSLR!

It’s tempting to set your lens to that F/1.8 to get gorgeous bokeh, but not only is that tricky for a group shot, it makes it way more likely that whoever the random stranger is that’s taking your photo will focus on the wrong thing and everyone will be blurry. It’s much easier to get it right if you set to an F/5.6 or so. You may lose a bit of background blur, but by narrowing your aperture (in other words, raising the f-stop number), you’ll make it much easier for the person who’s never held a camera before to get your family in focus (way more important, in my book).
On that note, you may want to consider taking your camera of full manual and switching instead to aperture priority mode. That way, if the light shifts a bit, you won’t need to keep running up and adjusting, and it makes it a bit easier for the person shooting.
Even if you’re shooting in manual, set your camera to a higher shutter speed than you normally would. This will help compensate for a bit of hand shake!
I hope that helps someone out there! Now you can be sure I’ll hassle you to take our photo if we ever see you on the street. 😉



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