I take my own family photos each year with the use of a cheap plastic tripod and my $50 digital camera from Walmart. Someday I want to have a nice digital SLR, but that just hasn't been in the budget for the last 10 years. Thankfully, they keep getting better and, according to the internet, cheaper, which means I should be able to sqeeze it into the budget by the time my grandkids are ready to have their pictures taken.
I have used professional photographers at times in the past. The word professional is used rather loosely, however. Once, about 7 years ago, we were fortunate enough to get our family portrait done by a real, honest-to-goodness professional photographer. And they were GORGEOUS! I love those pictures, but I have a great downfall. (Just one, mind you.) I am cheap. Although I'm sure the price we got was a fair, if not discounted one, I just can't bring myself to pay that much for a family photo each year.
I have also gone to Olan Mills, Kiddie Kandids (now extinct) and whatever they call that place in some Walmarts. I also see the photos my kids bring home from school picture day. I do buy the class photo each year, but I never buy the packages. The photos from those places are just too generic and unfeeling for me. And sometimes, they're just plain ugly.
So, as mentioned above, I use my tripod. A tripod was always good enough for our dad, so it's good enough for me. Here's how our typical photoshoot goes:
We find a good place to set up. Sometimes it's in our living room with a sheet tacked into the wall behind us. In this case we have to get really close together, so that no one is poking out into the non-sheet draped area. If we choose to do our shoot outside, we have a great deal more room to work with, unless we're trying not to show the weed-festooned yard next door.
I set up the tripod with the camera on top and set it to take a picture 10 seconds after I push the button.
Everyone stands exactly where and how they want to. I tell everyone to move to another spot about 10 times. Finally, I have a configuration that I think will look nice, and I've left a space a little bigger than myself to get into. I plan my route so that I can get to my designated spot easily and not disrupt the rest of the family's poses. 10 seconds is plenty of time to get into that position.
I push the button and run. Suddenly, 10 seconds is much shorter than I had previously thought and I find I must sprint straight to my pre-planned spot, throwing any and all children out of my way in the process. When I arrive at my destination, which has shrunk a great deal from when i chose it, I pull said children back into their positions and the waiting begins.
We all stand facing the camera, except those of us who do not face the camera. My husband and I practice our ventriloquist act through happily smiling teeth, "Look at the camera!" "Hey, you! Look at the camera!" "Over there." "See that thing with three legs? It's a robot and it's going to get you if you don't look at it right now and smile!" "Put your arm down." "Stop picking your nose." "Are you sure you pushed the button hard enough?" "Did it already take the picture?" "I guess it's not going to work."
So, I calmly begin to walk back to where the tripod is standing and the camera clicks. That's a good picture, if your goal is a headless person with some other very annoyed people in the background.
Then the process begins again. The key to taking your own family pictures with a tripod is to take a lot of pictures. That, and not to set your sights too high.