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How to Photograph Your Everyday Family Life

Raising kids is beautiful chaos

From breakfast to bedtime, raising kids is chaos. But there are hundreds of beautiful moments along the way if you train your heart and eyes to see them. Right in the heart of the chaos, you can beautifully capture mundane everyday moments of family life in photographs.

Golden hour family photo - How to Photograph Your Everyday Family Life

In order to capture your everyday family life in photos, there are four areas you will want to cover:

  • Gear to use.
  • What to photograph.
  • Creative skills.
  • Discovering lifelong projects.

1. Gear

“Photographers, like few other kinds of artists I can imagine, have an insanely personal relationship with their gear.” – David DuChemin

I will begin with gear because you will dramatically increase your chances of great photos throughout the day when you are well prepared.

Minimal Gear

I’m a fan of using minimal gear for anything that I’m photographing, including my own family life. You might find that constantly worrying about upgrading your camera or using too many different lenses will actually distract you from the little moments that are happening all around you.

Settle on a camera and then forget about all the new options that come along. Pretty soon you’ll discover which lens is your favorite. Use that lens often, but try a different one every now and then to expand your creative abilities.


“The best camera is the one that’s with you.” – Chase Jarvis

Many families invest in a DSLR camera such as the Canon Rebel, but then it’s too difficult for them to use. So they often find themselves using their phone instead.

Don’t feel bad about using your smartphone to take pictures. Though the technology may differ, any camera is better than no camera. The principles of creative photography are the same no matter what camera you’re using.

Because it’s so easy to carry, your phone is normally the camera that you are ready to take a picture with any given moment.

A silhouette of two children playing in curtains. - family life

I began capturing family moments with my iPhone 4s as a challenge to take interesting photos no matter what camera I had with me.

Keep your camera close

Whatever camera you’re using, make sure that it’s normally within arms reach. When you see a great moment happening you can reach for your camera and turn it on as you’re lifting it to your eye. I also leave my lens cap off at all times. I’ve never damaged a lens and don’t want to fumble over lens caps while a great moment passes me by.

Keep your battery charged

How many times have you seen a family member miss a great photo because their camera battery died? I see this happen during every single special occasion just as the best moments are happening!

You should always have a spare battery and have it charged and ready. I don’t wait for my first battery to be drained before I charge it. As soon as it begins to drain I switch them.

Don’t leave your camera in manual mode

How many times have you quickly picked up your camera to take a few pictures only to discover that the settings were totally wrong? Perhaps you used your camera in manual mode outdoors in the bright light and then forgot to set it before capturing a quick moment indoors.

The indoor photo will be underexposed or completely dark. To avoid this I always leave my camera set on aperture priority. I do this because I don’t want to forget to adjust the settings if it was left in manual mode.

A clean 50mm lens

I recommend that everyone own a 50mm lens. They are wonderful for achieving bokeh and perform well in low light.

Portrait of a girl at a fair. family life

This photo was taken with a 50mm lens at f/2.5. The background is blurred, but you can still tell the context.

But no matter what lens you are using, make sure to keep it clean! The easiest way to improve photo quality is to keep the lens clean from fingerprints and dust.

Picture of a toddler with messy fingers trying to touch the camera. family life

Messy toddler hands force me to clean my lens several times a day!

2. What to photograph

With minimal gear, charged batteries and a clean lens the question then becomes, “What should I photograph?” The answer is literally, anything.

Capture the obvious moments that are important to you. Maybe first steps, first foods, siblings playing, day trips to the beach. But begin to consider the less obvious moments as well.

“I look around the edges for those little askew moments — kind of like what makes up our lives – those slightly awkward, lovely moments.” – Keith Carter


“If the home is a body, the table is the heart, the beating center, the sustainer of life and health.” – Shauna Niquist

A child coloring at a restaurant. family life

Remember going to restaurants with your parents and the server would bring you a coloring book? Those are the little things to photograph.


Kids washing a big window. family life

I love it when the kids help with the chores, especially when it adds to my series of window photos.

Playing outside

Especially when photographing outdoor adventures, consider taking enough photos to tell a story.

Two kids using a swimming pool as a boat. family life

One year the bay flooded and came right up into our yard. The kids got the idea to drag their swimming pool along and use it as a boat! I wasn’t about to miss out on that photo op!

Discovering huge fish in our yard. family life

After launching their boat they discovered that some huge fish had come to live in our flooded yard!

A photo taken from within the water. family life

Wanting a different perspective, I decided to wade into the water myself.

A low angle photo of a girl holding a worm!

To come up with an interesting series of photos, try to capture events from beginning to end. Use a variety of angles and perspectives, and go for the close-up!


“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” -J.R.R. Tolkien

Little girl eating a snack.

Grown-ups eat without thinking, but snacks really make kids cheer up! She is lit by a window off to the side and warm colored light just above her head.

Playing inside

A little girl playing the piano.

Is there a child alive who can resist playing the piano? One thing I was careful to do with this photo was to frame it in such a way as to cut out the background clutter. It forced me to get nice and close.

Image: For a totally different perspective try looking through toys to take the picture.

For a totally different perspective try looking through toys to take the picture.

A child playing with glow sticks.

My kids love glow sticks and I love the challenge of low light photography! This is when a 50mm lens with a large aperture of f/1.8 comes in handy! I bumped up the ISO to 5000 and slowed the shutter speed to 1/15th of a second to get this shot.

A photo with lots of texture.

The texture in this photo is brought out by a window back-lighting the scene.

Day trips

A kid flying a kite.

Sometimes play for me is photographing a challenging scene like this.

A child getting onto a plane.

Museums are a way to work exciting new things into your photos.

Picture of a boy at a train yard.

My son loved playing with his toy roundhouse and crane. This photo allowed me to capture the real-life versions of the toys my son loved playing with.


“The shared meal is no small thing. It is a foundation of family life, the place where our children learn the art of conversation and acquire the habits of civilization: sharing, listening, taking turns, navigating differences, arguing without offending.” – Michael Pollan

A steaming plate of food.

Backlight or sidelight helps to capture steam in a photo.

Golden Hour

Walking at golden hour.

I love to time our family walks so that I can take some golden hour photos.

A child playing with toys indoors as the sun sets outdoors.

I love golden hour so much that I’ll even photograph it indoors.

Sick days

Image: Even when my daughter is sick, she lets her funny personality shine. We kept a bowl by her be...

Even when my daughter is sick, she lets her funny personality shine. We kept a bowl by her bed just in case, but it made a good helmet too!


A sunset seen from indoors.

Photographing a sunset outdoors is the obvious choice. But when your living room window offers a good view, don’t miss the chance for a different perspective.

Kids sleeping

Photo of a sleeping infant.

This is a perfect example of using an iPhone to take photos of your family life. My DSLR would have made a lot of noise. So I grabbed my iPhone 4s and turned the sound off to take this photo.

A boy sleeping with a latern.

A higher ISO and slower shutter speed were used to capture this low light photo.

3. Creative Skills

“The real tools of our craft are not the camera and lens: they are mood and composition and the visual language of the photograph. Spend more time learning those and no matter what camera you use, you’ll make compelling photographs.” – David DuChemin

In order to capture all these moments, you need to master some essential skills. We’ll discuss creativity, basic camera settings, patience, and editing.


Choosing different camera angles will instantly make your photos more exciting and add variety to the hundreds of moments you’ll be capturing.

Try angles such as bird’s eye view, face to face and low angle.

Image: I used a bird’s eye view to photograph this scene of my kids drawing.

I used a bird’s eye view to photograph this scene of my kids drawing.

Image: I used a high angle to capture the scene as it began to turn chaotic!

I used a high angle to capture the scene as it began to turn chaotic!

Image: Finally, I came in for a slightly low angle “face-to-face” shot before things spu...

Finally, I came in for a slightly low angle “face-to-face” shot before things spun completely out of control. By using a variety of angles and getting in close, everyday family life can be just as fun for the photographer as the kids!


Backgrounds are good for two things; telling a story or getting in the way.

If the background does not help add anything to your photo then try to make it disappear. In all the photos in this article, I tried to eliminate the background as much as possible, or use it to create a context in the photo. Look back and decide which one you think I chose.

If your background is beautiful or adds to the story of your photo then be careful to make the background a strong part of your photo. Allow me to illustrate with Lego!

A Lego man with a plain background.

This shady Lego character was photographed with a clutter-free neutral background.

Lego man with a Lego train behind him.

This is the same Lego character, but this time there is a Lego train in the background adding some context to the photo.


When you are in low light situations and you’re using a new camera you should raise your ISO as high as possible (3200 or 6400). A higher ISO will help your camera to absorb more of the dim light and help your photo to be brighter.

True, a higher ISO may introduce some grain or digital noise into your photo, but isn’t a grainy photo better than a blurry photo or no photo at all?

A child sleeping with a book.

This naptime photo was captured with an ISO of 3200.

Sharp photos

If you’re in low light and using a lens with a large aperture (f/1.8) and a high ISO (3200 or 6400) then the last thing to consider is your shutter speed. If your shutter speed is too slow your photos might become blurry for two reasons. Perhaps your subject moved. This happens all the time with kids! Or perhaps you moved the camera, even slightly, as you took the photo.

You need to steady yourself as much as possible while you take the photo and wait for the moment (however brief it may be) when your subject is still.

You could also embrace the creative side of a slow shutter speed!

A portrait with background motion blur.

This was taken with the iPhone 4s on a cloudy evening. I knew the shutter speed would be slow. I walked backward while my daughter walked toward me. This kept my daughter sharper than the moving background. Motion blur is fun to experiment with, try it!


Look for inspiration among street, food and portrait photographers. Anything you can learn from different photographers will help you to photograph your everyday family life better.


I cannot over-stress the absolute importance of patience as you photograph your everyday family life (especially with toddlers). So many possible moments and photos will be ruined if you refuse to be patient.

Perhaps you have a photo in mind but the kids aren’t cooperating. Losing your patience will only lead to anger on your part and frustration from the kids. Your kids will learn that picture time is no fun and cringe every time you bring out your camera.

Edit and Print

Finally, you need to prepare your photos for print. Consider adding your favorite photos to a photo book or making larger prints for your home. Do not skip the printing stage, this is what gives your photos a real life of their own rather than just existing on a hard drive.

4. Discovering Lifelong Projects

As you sift through your photos over the years, you may notice that patterns begin to emerge.

Many people start photography projects from scratch, but you can also create photography projects based on photos you have already taken.

I had taken a number of photos of my kids playing near our living room window. When I put them together, I realized I had been working on a series without even realizing it! After that I began to think of that window as a canvas, waiting to see what would happen on it.

Photo collection

This is a small number of my living room window photos. When the collection is complete I’ll figure out how I want to present it. Perhaps a photo book, or a series of large prints in a recreation room. Maybe I could use them to illustrate a collection of essays.


Your life and family are unique. Whatever gets you excited to grab your camera, do it. Whatever will keep you up late at night sorting and editing. What will get you printing your images? Those are the things worth photographing.

Whatever chaos your family produces around you is an opportunity to create beauty with your camera.

I would like to know which tip has been most helpful to you and I’d love to see some of your prized family life photos in the comments below.

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Mat Coker
Mat Coker

is a family photographer from Ontario, Canada. He teaches photography to parents and families, showing them how to document their life and adventures. You can get his free photography ebook, and learn more about taking creative photos.

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