Are you looking to specialize in family portrait photography?
Family photoshoots can be surprisingly challenging for a lot of new photographers. But don’t be scared. It’s a matter of knowing how to approach the photoshoot, how to let the family feel comfortable and at ease, and you will automatically feel you are in control of the situation. Besides, Implementing a few tips and tricks can make a family photoshoot an enjoyable and fun task.
Here I’ve put together are a few tips that promise to take your family portrait photography skills to the next level!
Best Tips for Family Portrait Photography
First, let’s take a look at some easy tips to immediately improve your family portrait photography and get consistent results at every single photoshoot.
1. Make Sure Everyone Smiles
Getting the right expressions on the faces of your subjects is the most important aspect when shooting portraits. Even if the lighting and pose aren’t absolutely perfect, capturing a genuine laugh or smile will result in a good looking photograph!
This boils down to experience and knowing how to act and what to say to get everyone laughing and feeling as comfortable and relaxed as possible. Make a funny remark or joke just before your shot, and you’re bound to capture a genuine smile.
2. Tell the Family How to Pose
Most families rarely pose for professional photographs. As a result, they are often awkward since they aren’t used to it. If there are four members in a family, then there is the chance that all of them will understand your posing instructions in a different way.
The best to avoid such a mess is to simplify your instructions. Demonstrate with your body how you would like them to pose and where to stand. Use reference objects and short sentences for your instructions.
Avoid using phrases such as ‘to your left’ or ‘to your right’, since it will confuse them about whose left or right you’re talking about. Instead, say ‘turn towards that desk’, or ‘face each other’. One thing to keep in mind when it comes to family portraits poses is that little kids get will get tired pretty quickly.
For this reason, limit the posing time as much as possible and take group photos first. Keeping it simple is key. You don’t want to overcomplicate things, asking your clients the impossible and end up getting everyone tired. A natural look is what you’re looking for. Stick to the standards:
- Walk holding their hands
- Hug and smile
- Sit together and hug
When they are warmed up, some clients will also surprise you and start posing more spontaneously and giving you those amazing candid shots.
3. Help the Family Assume the Proper Expression
Helping your subjects take on the right expression is crucial to capturing great family portraits. Sometimes, in addition to being a photographer, you may also have to turn into a clown or comedian. Try to make your subjects comfortable with you.
Make conversation about topics they are interested in. If there are young kids in the family, play with them, make funny noises, and let kids be kids! Usually making the younger subjects laugh will get everyone in the family smiling as well. Capitalize on these moments and take the perfect photograph!
It can happen that the younger ones just aren’t ready for it at that moment. That’s totally normal, make sure to talk to the parents and let them know that this is very usual.
Leave them to relax together, ask them to forget about you for a moment, and to go for a short walk in a decided location or even let the kiddos lead where to go. You just silently walk with them and shoot from different angles. Always be creative, polite, and resourceful. Your clients will like it!
4. Choose the Proper Location and Take Different Shots
Never put all your eggs in a single basket. Take multiple shots of your subject so that it is guaranteed that everyone is coordinated at least in one of them.
The choice of location can also play a huge role in resulting in a great photo. Shooting outdoors, such as a beach or park is a great option. It feels more natural than just shooting in a room or a studio.
A great trick is to choose a location that offers multiple backgrounds for your photos. For example you might suggest a park with a beach in its proximity so you can have enough variety. Before suggesting any locations always ask if the family has their favorite spot.
You can also bring props such as chairs to create something more unique.
5. Tell Your Clients to Wear
Let’s be clear. Not all your clients will like you to tell them what to wear, so go easy with this tip. Use it if you see you can and as part of the conversation when you choose the location together ask them if they don’t mind you giving some hints on what colors to wear.
If they are open to suggestions, a good starting point is to show them your portfolio and see if they want to re-create some of the scenes you’ve worked on with past clients.
One key point is to always make sure to tell the DON’Ts rather than the DOs. Let them know that you want to make sure that they are the main subjects and not their clothes. By showing your work make sure the family understand that your work as a photographer is to make sure they are happy with the photos you’ll create for them.
6. Lighting is Key in Family Portrait Photography
Just like with other types of photographs, even for family portraits lighting can make or break a shot.
The Golden Hour is the time right before sunset and right after sunrise makes for the perfect lighting for portraits. Always avoid the harsh overhead or direct sunlight in the middle hours of the day.
Avoid posing the subjects with the sun right in front of them. You don’t want them to be forced to squint or the eyes because of too much light. Since your goal is to make sure the faces are well lit without creating weird shadows, a soft light is what you need. Early morning hours and late afternoon before sunset are the best hours.
Position your subjects with the light coming from a 45 degrees angle, and you’ll have your sweet spot. And as always remember, in photography, rules can be broken! Experiment and try new ways of playing with the sunlight. When the sun is fairly low at the horizon you can also experiment with a backlight shot like in the image above.
What Gear to Pack for Family Portraits
Before we jump to the camera settings I want to briefly go through some essential equipment you want to have with you when taking photos of a family.
If you have more than one camera body bring it a long. That’ll make sure you won’t have to switch lenses between photos and that you can be as efficient as possible to avoid tiring your clients.
When it comes to lenses, a 50mm and a 85mm would be enough. I prefer a 35mm to a 50mm focal length to capture more of the scene around. With an 85mm you can get close ups and play with blurry backgrounds to make the subjects stand out.
Pack extra batteries. You don’t want to run out of batteries in the midst of a photoshoot. Ever!
Extra memory cards. Even though you might have enough space in your cards, they can, and sorry to say it, they WILL fail at some point. Always bring a couple more.
Family Portrait Photography Camera Settings
If you don’t nail your camera settings you will have to spend extra time editing your photos. That’s inefficient and your goal is to spend as less time as possible editing and more time shooting and getting new clients.
Let’s see how to get the right settings in your family portraits.
One of the most important aspects you must absolutely control is the exposure. Manually adjust the exposure depending on the time of the day as well as the location of the shoot. You must account for the amount of backlight present in your photo.
If the scene is really bright you might get away with a slightly overexpose background but nail the exposure on your subjects.
Related: The Best Lens For Portraits
Accordingly, adjust the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. I tend to use Aperture Priority mode, and start from an f-stop value of f/5.6, then lower the aperture and try different shots to see how much depth of field you need.
Your exposure will change a little bit from one shot to the next, make sure you compensate it as needed to have a properly exposed scene. If you shoot outdoor, you can get inconsistent results as you try different settings and move locations, so you’ll have to do some adjustments when you post-process your images. To limit the time spent editing, always keep an eye on the histogram while you shoot.
Before You Go
With these tips and tricks, the quality of your family portraits are guaranteed to improve to a great extent!
It’s not necessary that you apply ALL these tips, but slowly start integrating best practices in your workflow. Which one you think is the most important? Do you shoot in manual mode or like me prefer a semi-manual mode? Let me know in the comments.
Stefano Caioni is a photographer from Sydney, Australia. Founder and editor of Pixinfocus, his passion for photography helps him explore new places and live new adventures. Thanks to photography he reconnected with the outdoors and was able to travel the world and take photos of some of the most beautiful places on Earth.