How to Shoot Better Photos of Mom on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is about a few things: flowers, lunch or dinner together, and of course, family photo time, a good opportunity to update the archive with images of us all together again.

We all have a camera in our pocket, the smartphone, so getting it done is easier than ever. But how do you prevent poor images from being taken, and make everyone look good? Thanks for asking. You’ve come to the right place.

Here are some tips for shooting better photos of your mom:

Indoor or Outdoor?

You can take the photos inside, and deal with poor lighting, and clutter in every which way. Or you could go outside and take advantage of the greatest natural light source, available light. If you can swing it, take people out there, preferably with green shrubbery as your backdrop, and snap away. Remember my most important portrait tip: shade is your best friend.


Direct sunlight makes sun splotches on your face and creates heavy shadows. Look for the shade, where light is even and flattering, whether that’s in the morning on one side of the street, or later in the day on both sides. Try Portrait mode on your smartphone to blur the background.

Bad direct sun in Flagstaff, Arizona

And what if you have to shoot inside?

Have the Light Behind You

Get mom lit by the window, in other words, with the light behind you as you photograph. If done the other way around, mom would be a silhouette, since the camera would expose for the window instead of her.

Light in the background and underexposed subjects.
Subjects illuminated with light from behind the camera.

Use a Non-Cluttered Background

Seeing trees growing from mom’s head is no fun, nor is a photo of her kitchen surrounded by chairs, the newspaper, pots and pans, and all the other things that live there. Focus on mom and the family, without having our eyes strain to take in all the other stuff. That’s why I’ve always been a big proponent of clutter-free portraits.

If you are in the kitchen, try for as little distraction as possible. Or move to at the very least, a wall that’s not ripe with distraction, one with one piece of art up there. Try to frame your shot this way, and bring the family into the middle of the room, to blur the background. If Mom is right in front of the wall, there’s no blur.

Find Chairs

If the group is larger than a few people, put mom and others in a chair, and have the group gather to the side and behind her. This way you can see everyone’s face.

Posing with chairs.

Don’t Look Up at Mom, Look Down

Looking up at a subject is one of the biggest no-nos. It accentuates the negatives and forgets the positives, namely chicken necks, and spots no one ever knew existed. Look down, however, and all those problems disappear. The camera needs to be eye-level and distortion-free with your subject.

Get Lower with Mom

See this example of our friend Alia posing with daughter Esme? At first, super-tall Alia (from her daughters’ perspective) towers over her. I prefer seeing the faces on the same plane, which is simple to do. I just asked Alia to kneel down to Esme’s height. The same thing could be done with the chair technique.

Family Groups and Combos

Get mom and the kids. Mom and each kid. Every conceivable combination, please. You’ll be glad you did.

Idea: Sit Down and Interview Mom

One thing you should consider doing is sitting down with mom on Mother’s Day and interviewing her about her life.

This is really easy to do. All you need is:

  • A smartphone
  • Mini tripod. You can’t handhold the camera and keep it steady for an extended length of time. I love the $25 Insta360 Selfie Stick tripod, since it doubles as an extender, and has legs that will let you set it up, at eye level, for your Mom interview. You’ll also need a smartphone tripod adapter, which will set you back around $20.
  • Quiet room. While I want you to use a microphone since it adds so greatly to the quality of the production, my guess is you don’t have one. (If you do buy one, I like Rode Wireless Go II, with accessory SC15 Lightning dongle and the Apple dongle to fit into an iPhone, if you use the Apple phone. On Androids, any USB-C cable will do.) Instead, bring mom into a quiet (clutter-free) room, and close the door. The internal mic tends to pick up every sound—from the bus or cars outside the window to the TV and other people talking. With the door closed, it will hopefully just record you and mom.

So now you’re ready to sit down with mom and record video stories for Mother’s Day for posterity. Hopefully, it didn’t take too much persuading. I interview my mom every year.

About the author: Jefferson Graham is a Los Angeles area writer/photographer and the host of the travel photography streaming TV series Photowalks. This article was also published here.