Family photos often are among a family’s most treasured items—but they can also be terribly hard to shoot. Whether you’re dealing with young, antsy children, boisterous family pets, bored teenagers, or countless other obstacles, getting a family to pose naturally so you can capture the true level of their affection can be challenging.
Family photography is a huge responsibility. The way you interact with and compose the family can create powerful and genuine images that capture the essence of family relationships. It’s important to keep the family relaxed and having fun so that their sense of whimsy and tenderness comes through in your finished family photos.
No matter the group size, ages involved, or family dynamics at play, the photography tips and tricks in this article can help you successfully navigate a family portrait session and end up with fun, engaging, and unique photographs that are authentic to each family.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the different ways you can compose family portraits to get the most natural and visually interesting look with every candid shot.
Sometimes standing portraits end up looking stiff and uncomfortable. Left to their own devices, families may have a tendency to line up, shoulder to shoulder, with their hands at their sides. But this isn’t your only option. Try positioning the family in visually interesting ways—maybe with arms around one another, heads on shoulders, little ones with arms around mom or dad’s legs, etc. When you allow the entire family to interact in a natural way, it’s likely you’ll land some interesting photography poses that are authentic to the family’s relationships, along with being visually arresting.
Depending on your location, you might also try having the family lean against something, like a fence, wall, etc., which has the natural effect of encouraging them to relax. You can also have parents pick up little ones and hold them close, making them a similar height as mom and dad. Plus, keep in mind that not everyone needs to look at the camera for every shot. Family members can look at each other, parents can look down at small children, little ones can look up at mom and dad, or the entire family can look away and react to something in the distance. Try a lot of different shots, and chances are you’ll end up with at least one that’s interesting and unique.
You may associate sitting family picture poses with old-fashioned, overly formal family photography, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Just as with standing photos, you’ll probably find that the family will naturally end up sitting in a row unless you intentionally position them another way.
One photo idea is to arrange a family sitting close to one another in interesting ways. They can touch each another, rest heads in laps, put their arms around each other and sit in a composition other than a straight line.
If you have props, use them to get the family sitting at different heights so that you capture diagonal lines in your composition wherever possible—think about using stools, ottomans, chairs, sofas, whatever you have at hand. Wherever you can, have family members turn their bodies toward their loved ones instead of toward the camera.
This is a really fun way to shoot family photography, especially if the family has young children. Simply have the family lie on the ground, basically in a big pile. Ask them to do whatever they normally would do to make the little ones laugh. Then, stand above the family and snap photos from a higher perspective. You’re sure to get some natural and joy-filled shots, showcasing lots of hugs, giggles, and natural smiles.
Try to move all around the family, too, and capture pictures from a variety of perspectives, some close up and others from a wide perspective. You’ll end up with a wide selection of family portrait poses that appear natural and candid, capturing an authentic, beautiful moment in the life of the family.
Another version of this shot is to have the family lie in a circle with their heads together and feet outstretched, radiating out from the center of the circle.
A great way to capture candid moments between family members is to get them to move around. Have them hold hands and walk away from the camera. Or dance. Or tickle each other. Maybe have parents lift tiny children into the air. Anything to get them loosened up, moving naturally, and interacting authentically with one another.
Snap lots of candid shots as the family interacts—this is a really effective way to get unique, once-in-a-lifetime family photography that authentically captures relationships among family members. Sometimes, if you’re dealing with especially small children, this is the best way to get natural shots. Rather than trying to convince a small child to pose, just take your camera, follow them around and shoot whatever they naturally do.
Pro tip: starting a family photo session by having each family member walk around is an effective way to calm nerves and get the family to relax and forget about the camera. Another option is to have parents walk slowly, while little ones run and skip ahead, which allows you capture great depth of field. You may even want to have the parents stand still, while the little ones run around them in a big circle.
One of the key feelings family photography should convey is love. While photo subjects have a tendency to naturally leave a lot of space between themselves, you can compose the family so that they’re nice and close—just as you would with couple poses. Encourage them to lean into each other, put their arms around each other, hold hands—whatever feels natural and reflects the way they interact with one another. If you’re working with a fairly large group of extended family, have them all lean in toward the center of the group to provide a sense of symmetry.
Getting your subjects close together goes for height, too. See if you can get parents to get down on the children’s level, or to pick up little ones so that they’re more on their parents’ level. Both of these adjustments can completely change the dynamic of the family’s connection, meaning you get more natural and more emotional family photos. A couple of fun options are having little ones sit on parents shoulders or on their backs.
When you compose your picture subjects so that their bodies form a triangle, you achieve a sense of balance and symmetry that’s pleasing to the eye. When your family members put their heads together to form a triangular shape, you create a visual path that will keep the viewer looking around the photo frame. This is much easier to achieve when you have varying heights within a group, so don’t try to line people up so that the tops of their heads create a straight line.
It’s not uncommon for photo subjects to start feeling tired and stressed at some point, so it’s important to break things up. A great idea is to give the family permission to take a break and play a game or do something silly to break tension. Maybe have a skipping contest or give each other piggy back rides. If you have small children in your group, this is also a great way to elicit some genuine laughter and natural smiles, which can give you the ability to capture moments of authentic joy. All you have to do is follow along and snap photos of whatever the family chooses to do to cut loose.
Hugs, kisses, and other tender moments make great family photographs. One idea is to encourage little ones to kiss mom or dad’s cheek, or even kiss each other. Mom and dad can kiss while little ones look on. Parents can surprise teenagers with an unexpected smooch. Have the family do whatever feels right and authentic while you walk around and snap photos from a variety of angles. This is an especially nice option with newborn photography—have each parent plant plenty of kisses on that little one.
Many families consider their pets essential parts of the family, so why not include them in the family picture? Whether dogs, cats, lizards, parakeets, horses, or something else, including family pets adds another layer of warmth, joy, and authenticity to your finished family portrait.
Working with pets is a lot like working with small children—try to keep things simple and fast, and don’t try to over-pose. Instead, let the family interact naturally while you circle them, snapping candid pics of genuine interaction (and hopefully lots of laughter).
You’ll want to bring lots of treats and toys, and make sure the pet is well fed and doesn’t need to go for a walk before you start your family session
Ultimately, the length of a family photo session will be determined by how long your photo subjects can hang in there. Families with very young children, for example, may not be able to hold out for as long as families with teenagers or young adults. Nap and snack times, along with attention spans, are challenges for younger ones, so keep that in mind as you plan.
Your ultimate goal is to take as many great family photos as possible in as short a timeframe as you can. A good rule of thumb is to plan for no longer than 90 minutes, and to build in breaks if you think you’ll need to go longer. It’s also a good idea to meet with the family ahead of time to plan how you’ll use your time together and to get the family’s input on how long they think would be appropriate for their family members.
Family portrait photography can be tough for any professional photographer. It can be quite the challenge to capture natural, authentic photographs of families, depending on the group size, the ages of the family members, and the presence of family pets. It takes some thoughtful advance planning, but if you collaborate with the family in advance and come prepared with some of the family photo ideas presented here, you’ll have the family relaxed and enjoying themselves in no time, giving you the chance to snap natural and genuine moments of family connection.
And to take your family portraits up another notch, make sure to download Sleeklens’s Professional Portraits Lightroom Collections Bundle to streamline your portrait photography editing.