Get Great Family Portraits (Using the Self Timer)

by Kristen DukeUpdated October 17, 2017

Every parent wants a great collection of family portraits, but odds are you can’t keep visiting a professional photographer — and if you do it yourself, someone needs to press the shutter release. The solution? The self timer, of course! I’m going to share some tips on how to get great family pictures while using the self timer on your camera — that way the photographer can be in the picture, too!

  1. Use a tripod

Even if you only occasionally use a tripod, it’s definitely worth the investment. This one is available for less than $15 on Amazon, for example. If you’ve never used a tripod before, fear not: It’s easy to set up. Simply screw the tripod’s bolt into the bottom of your camera. It takes just a minute or so to adjust the tripod to the perfect height and tilt, and once you find a sweet spot, you won’t need to mess with it much. It’s fairly easy to set up the camera on a tripod, start the self-timer, and then run into the picture.When I used this method, I have my family stand in the perfect place, in front of the desired background, while I set up the tripoid and center them in the camera frame.


{More pictures of this session HERE}

  1. Use a toy on top of the camera

Finding a great attention-getter to make sure everyone is looking at the camera is worth the effort.

I’ll often set my self timer and make a run for it to get in the picture. The trickiest part about “running into the picture” is making sure all the children look in the right direction — the camera — and not at the person running into frame. Just keep reminding them to “look at the monkey” (or whatever you place on top of the camera). I love the Shutter Huggers found on Amazon. You can also tape a stuffed animal or something else on top of the camera to encourage the kids to look towards the camera.


3. Use a remote control

Equipped with a remote control, you can trigger the shutter while posiung with your family, rather than having to run into the frame. This one is inexpensive on Amazon, though you should make sure it works for your particular camera.

You can use the remote to take a shot the moment you push the button, or — better yet — use it with the self-timer so there is a ten second delay after you use the remote. That way, you can pocket the remote before the photo is taken, so it doesn’t appear in the shot.

If you’re standing with your family, it can be tricky to make sure everyone is posed properly, so be sure to set everyone up while looking through the lens, and leave an open spot for yourself to step into before you get ready to take the shot.

One caveat: I’ve had mixed results when using a remote. I often use fixed lenses such as my 50mm or 85mm, so that means I’ll set my group a certain distance back in order to fill the frame, and not all remotes work well when you get too far away from the camera.


It’s great to use a little creativity — don’t just take the posed shots, with everyone looking at the camera. I attempted some actions shots with my extended family in our pictures, throwing beach balls up in the air. Once we saw the self timer light flashing 5 times (knowing it would “snap” on the 10th flash), we started throwing the balls up in the air. We were able to get this fun shot:


{To see more colorful beach family pictures, click here}

I hope this encourages you to get in more pictures, using the self timer. You’ll be happy years down the road that you’re in a few pictures with your family!

Photo credit: Kristen Duke

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