Photo Tip Friday: Shooting Family Gatherings in Low Light

By Mary Denman   @MaryDenman

Today's tips are for helping you shoot the best pictures you can at family gatherings in low light. 

With a little forethought and an understanding of low light situations, you can capture wonderful memories this Thanksgiving and at all you holiday events. 

I have a huge family. I'm one of 6 siblings and when we all get together, there are 37 of us. Even if a family or a few people can't make it, we have a big family gathering! And I love every crazy minute of it.

Let's get started with learning how best to photograph indoor family events. 

TIP 1: Remember your technical settings.

Use a higher ISO of 400 - 800. This setting needs less light to capture clear shots.
Use a more open aperture of f/4.0 to 8.0. This allows more light into the camera. 
Use a wider lens. If you use the 28 to 70 mm range, you'll  need less light and can capture a wider swath of the action around your home. 

TIP 2: Go into the kitchen and get the behind the scene shots. 
Behind the scenes kitchen photos
There is usually a lot of great activity going on in the kitchen. Capture it. Maybe you don't think it's that special. But there will come a time when you'll be thankful you have pictures of your grandma in her apron, steam rising as she cooks. 

TIP 3: Take close-ups of the food. 
Salad, two kinds of sweet potato casserole, and homemade cranberry sauce
There may be a dish that your family always has. Food photos can trigger your brain to remember the sounds and smells of family gatherings. We had home made cranberry sauce and two kinds of sweet potato pie one year. 

Daddy praying

TIP 4: Quietly capture tender moments.

This was the first Thanksgiving without my mom. As my dad prayed for us, I raised my camera and took a couple of shots. No flash. 

It's a precious memory. His voice quivered. More than one of us teared up. Why is that precious? Because my mom was that special. Losing her is one of the few times in my life I've seen my dad cry. 

TIP 5: Take informal shots of the family interacting. Catch the fun, goofy moments of life. 
Family antics

Individual family groups, cousins together, and individual photos

TIP 6: Take individual shots of your family or shots of cousins together. 

TIP 7: Take family groups together. 

Get each family unit together and have them pose, especially with their parents or grandparents. 

TIP 8: Take the entire family together. Start with the grandkids and add the adults. 
Getting ready for the grandkids photo
We have to take indoor shots now because my dad is in the wheel chair and so we just gather in the biggest space we can find. I prefer not to use a flash, but sometimes it's necessary. Especially when you have wiggly little ones. 

So how to I get the whole group to cooperate? Especially the ones who HATE having their picture taken....I always promise a goofy shot after the good one! 

We started with my dad and had the grandkids gather. I love the movement in these "before the shot" shots. But, because of the lighting, I used a flash in the final photo to stop all the motion. (Because of the limited space and since I didn't take any reflectors, the back of the group is darker than I'd like. I can fix that in post-production if I want to.) 

The entire family and goofy shots
So, plan ahead and think of shots that are meaningful to your family. Get lots of behind the scene shots and try to photograph everyone in attendance! 

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving! 





  1. Great tips. These are beautiful family pics.

  2. Every time we gather with my husband's family there is another precious loved one missing. I cherish the pictures I have of Thanksgiving/Christmas past. With your pointers, my pictures should be even better this year.

    I dropped off the map for a bit, didn't I? I've been in the doldrums lately but God's slowly pulling me up and out. I've missed reading your posts.

    1. I'm sorry Sherry. That's tough! I hope you get some great shots of your family. Catch the smiles and even the tears.

      Email me about how you're doing. You know I understand. Hugs.

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  4. Lots of those family snapshots don't turn out well. Thanks for the tips.

    1. I hope you get some really good shots Linda Kay!

  5. Great tips! I find it so hard to get good photos at christmas because the light is always so bad!

    1. Trying shooting with a higher ISO. That allows you to take better shots in darker circumstances!

      Thanks for dropping by!

  6. Such great tips, it can be hard getting everyone but so worth it! Visiting from Weekend Blog Hop :)

    1. I just read your post on the Moscow Ballet doing the Nutcracker! I found it in a city 1 hour away and I'm looking at tickets now!!! I can't wait!

      Thanks for dropping by!

  7. Such a great set of ideas for photos! Thanks for sharing them, AND your family, with us.

  8. 37 family members are a guarantee for crazy times! Haha! I have something like 37 cousins on my mother's side and man, do we go nuts! Even when only a quarter of us get together! I love the idea of capturing tender moments. I'm going to keep that one in mind...

  9. Great tips, Mary - lots of good information.
    Thanks for linking up at