One of the most profitable occupations a photographer can have is shooting portraits. Everyone wants to get beautiful portraits to keep around for memories. Specifically, professional family photography is in high demand. However, working with families can be difficult. Trying to find the right setting and mood for each family takes a bit of time and understanding. Working with younger families and their children can be especially tiring. But, creating a lasting memory doesn’t have to be a bad day at the ‘office’. By following these tips, you can capture the beauty and individuality of each family in a picture that will last generations.
Table of Contents
Family portraits are pictures that tend to be cherished for a lifetime. Additionally, the significance of why the family is all together should also be taken into consideration and captured through the images taken.
There are a few things that create a distinguishing difference between a good family portrait session and a great one, This includes:
If you’re working with professional models, you’ll likely be providing the props and wardrobe from the company you’re working with. However, if you are not supplying the wardrobe, you need to make sure the subjects of your shot have a dress code. You don’t want to take a group shot where everyone is wearing bold and clashing colors! It would be hard to keep the focus of your final image on the subjects. Know what you’re going for, and make sure everyone involved in the shoot has a thorough understanding of the dress code.
Are you planning a wedding portrait session? Get to the venue early and scout out the right places for good framing and lighting. Are you working in the studio? Set up your lights according to the nature of the group shots. Is it a still photo session, are your subjects going to be moving? What time of day are you creating with your lighting? Know these things going in, that way you can focus on posing and minor corrections the day of the shoot.
If you’re working in a portrait studio, you may not have a choice in this matter. But if you’re freelancing or have a studio that has outdoor space, you need to decide which is better. Sometimes you can let the family decide, but a lot of clients can be indecisive about their photos. This is where you need to come in and show them the way. Decide beforehand if you’re going to shoot indoors or outdoors and have everything set up and ready to go.
In-studio portraits are actually perfect for younger families with small children. They are also great for families with grandparents. The confining space allows you and the parents to keep track of the youngsters. You won’t have to worry about anyone falling in dangerous terrain. Keeping everyone happy and safe is easy to do in your indoor studio.
Shooting outside can also be a great advantage. Generally, an older family with children who are 10+ years old do great outdoors. The natural sunlight can give your pictures a beautiful glow and enhance the portrait. Taking a family portrait outdoors is especially great for unique shots. Get creative here when posing your models. These are the kinds of photos that families will be able to enjoy long into the future.
If there are kids involved, you should make it your duty to learn something about each of them before you take your camera out. Once the little ones are comfortable being around you, then everything after that tends to be smooth sailing for the most part. It often helps when I carry prize or prop I can give away to each kid so I can get their attention. If this little prize fits into the theme of the shoot, then that would be a plus as well, but always keep in mind that kids are a bit tricky and not all the same. Do your best to gain some knowledge from the parents, as well as interact with the child, and watch your shoot become a lot easier.
The desire to be on the move with your camera is hard to overcome. This is especially true if you are shooting outside or trying to capture natural moments or movement in the portrait. But there are a lot of advantages to keeping still and using a tripod to shoot your portraits. First of all, it allows for more open communication between you and your client. When you always have your camera to your eye it’s hard to be aware of anything else. By making eye contact with your clients and talking to them, you’ll find out more things about the family that you can incorporate into your shoot. By not being constantly on the move, you also ensure that you have the time to check your settings before each shot. There’s nothing like getting the perfectly framed picture on the wrong settings to ruin a whole photo shoot.
I personally don’t recommend traveling with too many lenses for various reasons. The first of all these reasons are you don’t want to be swapping out your lenses too often on a family portrait session. Swapping out lenses is great and all but always keep in mind that the time spent doing that at various intervals can often lead to you missing amazing shots as well as take a huge chunk out of your time to get creative. A second reason that can also be considered is, are you going use all of the lenses you decided to pack your camera bag with? For the most part as photographers, we sometimes end up carrying a lot of excess loads we don’t really need. Pick the perfect lens for your shoot beforehand and save time as well as having a load on your back.
This is something that is true for all kinds of portrait shots, not just the family portrait. When shooting a consistent subject in a consistent location, it only makes sense to keep your settings consistent. After you get your settings settled, you don’t want them to change. Having different exposures for each photo will make processing and editing a whole lot more difficult. When you set your camera on the shutter or aperture modes it can change the settings without your knowledge. Be sure to shoot on manual to keep all of the settings consistent.
Another consistency issue can be the focus. If you don’t lock in the focus or have it on the manual setting, it can shift during the shoot. For example, if your focus is set to the shutter setting and someone moves, the focus could fix on the background instead of the family’s faces. Sometimes a picture that was perfectly framed and posed can come out looking fuzzy and blurred. By keeping your focus setting locked or on manual mode you can make sure that your family is always the focal point of the picture.
You will more than likely be doing continuous shooting and as a result of that, it might be best to have your shutter count at least 1/250 if not more. If there is room to go higher on your shutter speed they do so to avoid any possible blurred shots. Kids are always moving pretty fast and as I mentioned earlier, you need to shoot continuously to catch them in their pure actions. If you find that the kids are moving faster than expected, for exampling running or jumping then 1/800 might end up being a more suitable shutter speed.
Try to travel with props fitting for the theme or holiday if possible. A lot of photographers overlook the importance of having good props and the impact it has on your photos. For example, a few empty wrapped gifts or even some Christmas tree decorations go a far way toward creating the perfect family holiday card photo.
Once you have everyone at the shoot, dressed and ready to go, begin by organizing where everyone should be situated within the shot. You want to work with the heights and body shapes of your subjects to create an image that is visually appealing overall. Make sure everyone understands the parameters they can move within while staying in the frame of the shot. You can even mark the outlying boundary of this with tape so that it doesn’t appear in your photographs, but it does let people know not to step outside of those lines!
From there, work with each person on their individual poses. Remember to adhere to the final tone. If you want joyful and energetic, people should either be moving or creating the illusion of movement with their poses. If you want a standard professional portrait, everyone should be looking towards the camera. If you are selling a product, the focus should be on the product. For a family portrait, you have to make sure everyone is equally represented.
First, you set the basic structure by determining where people are going to stand within the picture. Then you work with each individual on how to pose. The individual poses should work together so that the subjects are not fighting for attention within the image. If you’re shooting for fashion, your group portraits should tell a story and focus on the product. If you’re shooting for family portraiture, your final shot should capture a moment in time while focusing on the subjects.
Obviously, it can take a lot to organize a group shot. If you become frustrated, your subjects will mirror this in their facial expressions. If you have to walk away for a minute, do it. If you’re having trouble, just tell everyone to have fun and experiment with their posing. While they do this, snapshots off quickly.
Sometimes when a family, especially one with young children, goes into a studio, there’s an air of nervousness and stiffness, and that creates some unnatural and forced pictures. No one wants to look back at their pictures and see strained smiles and stiff poses. Getting natural family photos is all about having fun and capturing emotion.
Poses themselves often intimidate unprofessional models. People want to look like themselves in their family albums. Individuals of all kinds want to own heartwarming photographs that their children will treasure in the future, not awkward snapshots of their parents looking out of place. Similarly, couples want photographs that they can proudly share with their friends on social media.
Fortunately, poses don’t have to be awkward. They can make your subjects feel comfortable in your presence. Certain poses can actually strengthen the client-photographer bond.
A good way to remove the stiffness of any pose is to get the family to move and bend. Sitting or standing perfectly straight is not natural. Make good use of a person’s joints and have them bend at the elbows, knees, and hips. People can hook fingers in their belts or pockets to loosen up their arms. Have the family turn slightly with one knee bent and hips pushed out toward the camera. If they’re sitting down, let them lean forward a bit, or turn to their side and extend one leg while the other stays bent.
Most of the time when you’re shooting a family photo you won’t be capturing the action, but rather the reaction. If you want natural family photos, tell the family to do something, and wait for the moment after it happens. Have one person whisper a secret in the other’s ear and capture the two of them laughing afterward. Get the kids to surprise attack the parents and capture the family dissolving into laughter after. Whatever you ask the family to do, you want to shoot the aftermath, when the family is having fun and their smiles are real. Capture a true happy family moment.
Unlike shooting an intense fashion shot or a light and airy nature shoot, you want to get the family in a soft and fun light. Use a light colored background, white is best, and use either a large window with natural light or just one light. Make sure that the light isn’t pointed directly at them or coming from directly overhead. It’s best to have a very bright studio and to use a flash to help add contrast. Set the flash up at a 45-degree angle to avoid odd shadows.
Especially when it comes to photographing toddlers or young children, you want to give the family something to help focus their attention on. Not every photo has to be the family in a straight line staring into the camera. It’s okay for them to let their attention wander to an object, and sometimes even creates the family’s favorite picture. Ask the parents to bring one of the children’s favorite toys or books. Encourage the family to simply play with the child and capture their reactions. If you have your own props, let the children choose what they want to play with, and shoot their play time. Let the kids be kids and have fun.
People tend to be self-conscious about their body. Maybe someone is concerned about their weight, or someone else has a large birthmark they can’t cover up with makeup. It’s easy to pose people in ways that flatter them and make them comfortable with the end result. Study your family as they are in the studio and notice blemishes or anything they are uncomfortable with. Then change your poses to match.
If a family member is worried about their weight, have them lie down on the ground facing the camera. Having the kids climb on top of them creates a natural pose and helps hide their body. Also, in other poses, try to angle the camera so it looks slightly down on them, this will hide any double chins and help slim the body.
For any blemishes, have that person’s face or turn a specific direction. If they’ve got a pimple on their chin, for example, simply have them turn their head slightly so that that side of the face is always facing away from the camera.
If you’re working with a couple where there is a huge height difference, have the couple sit down. In standing poses, get the taller of the two to stand with their legs apart a bit to help bring them down.
When shooting a single parent and young children, encourage the parent to lift the children into their arms. You can also get great natural family pictures by having the parent kneel on the ground and hug the children from behind.
At the beginning of your photoshoot, take simple photographs. This way, you’ll have a good variety of photos to share with your clients, and you’ll get to know what kind of posing style they’re most comfortable with. You’ll also have a chance to make them feel at home in your presence without immediately diving into complicated instructions.
If your clients sit close to one another, you’ll have lots of opportunities to take spontaneous photographs that accurately represent their relationship. Encourage them to sit somewhere picturesque and interact with one another. You’ll get lots of great photos of smiles, hugs, and silliness.
As the photo above suggests, you can take photos from any angle. If some of your clients feel shy at first, take photos of their backs. Even faceless portraits can be joyful!
An effective way to highlight a family’s bond is to photograph them trusting each other with secrets.
Ask your clients to tell their family member a secret, joke, or story. They don’t have to be real, but they should be entertaining. This will inevitably lead to funny reactions, great poses, and photogenic expressions.
Photos of loved ones holding hands may be very common, but that shouldn’t stop you from experimenting with them. Hands are a great way to express bonds, friendships, and familial strength. Here are ways you can use them in your photographs:
This is probably the most exciting instruction your clients will get. Though having fun isn’t a pose, it’s an opportunity for many posing ideas to emerge.
Bring a few toys that your group could play with. Come up with a game similar to Holding Hands that could entertain, excite, and distract subjects. Alternatively, simply tell your models to have fun on their own. Children are experts at games; the more comfortable they are with you, the easier it will be for them to have fun together.
Photos of the group hugging will beautifully emphasize their bond. They’ll also make for gorgeous album photos.
Since hugs are often very personal, you have to make sure your subjects want to embrace one another in front of you. Once they feel more comfortable in your presence, gently ask them for permission.
If you don’t want to ask, notice how open they are to public displays of affection. Observe them as they pose for you. Do they enjoy hugging each other, or are they more reserved?
If this doesn’t feel right to either you or your clients, don’t worry. The aforementioned poses will give you lots of interesting results.
Families are always on the lookout for a great photographer to make lasting memories for them. Once you’ve made a name for yourself a family portrait photographer, there will be no end of clients wanting to work with you. You can create a beautiful family portrait by getting the proper camera settings and encouraging the family to have fun and act natural.
Keeping a steady hand and using a tripod will help your photos come out looking solid. But most importantly, remember to help your family have fun. By following these tips you’ll create amazing family portraits.