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8 Helpful Tips for Capturing Authentic Family Portraits

A family photoshoot is a big responsibility for a photographer and can lead to some stressful situations.

However, when you know certain tricks, a family photoshoot becomes so much fun and enjoyable!

Family sessions are a great opportunity to take photos that convey lots of love and joy.

I have put together 8 tips that will help you succeed with family portrait photography.

1. Don't Be Afraid to Be a Little "Bossy"

If your clients are enjoying themselves, you’ll have a higher chance of beautiful family photos. You might find a family that is experienced in photo shoots and who like posing in front of the camera. But it is not common.

Posing is not a natural thing for most people. Some of the family members (if not all of them) might feel a bit uncomfortable. This discomfort will appear in the photo and make it look fake.

Instead of directing and ordering them to pose, organise the session and plan things for them to do: walk, run, dance, play, lean on a wall, hide behind a tree and peek from the sides, hug each other, make shapes, play games etc.

Take candid shots while the family is having fun. Your images will look beautiful and will also remind them of the great time they spent together.

2. Do NOT Pose Your Clients Facing the Sun

If you can, avoid having the family looking towards the sun or strong light sources. A lot of people still believe that taking photos with the sun at the back of the subject is not right. You might think that posing with the sun in front of them offers more light, but the end results can be extremely unflattering. Ugly shadows will appear under their eyebrows, nose and neck. On top of that, the family will be annoyed by the light shining into their eyes. They will either close their eyes or squint until the torture is over. To avoid all this, just have them turn around with their backs towards the sun, or find a nicely shaded area.

When it comes to settings, pay attention to your exposure. Take into account the backlight entering into your sensor. If you are shooting in auto, STOP.

For Manual shooting, you can meter the light using the spot metering on the family. The family will be well exposed and the background overexposed.

But as the important thing here is the family, a slightly burnt background is a fair price to pay for avoiding photos with the eyes closed.

3. Communicate With Your Clients

Most families don’t pose for professional photos often. They are not used to it and might feel a bit awkward. If you want natural looking family photos, besides the technical aspects of photography, you should also take special care to make them feel comfortable with you. I play and talk with the kids as much as I can. With the adults, I start a conversation about random subjects until I find something they like and we go from there. I avoid potentially stressful subjects such as politics or job situation. I prefer talking about traveling, holidays or hobbies. I also make it clear that if they don’t like a pose or they feel strange doing something, then they don’t have to do it. All they need to do is say the word and we’ll do something else. Knowing that they are in control and won’t be forced to pose one way or another builds trust and makes them more comfortable. Establishing a good relationship is important because you are a stranger to them. And they need to show intimate and personal moments and feelings in front of you.

4. Keep an Open Mind About the Results

This is especially true if you are working with kids in the family photo session. You might have a list of photos to take and prompts that, in your brain, and from your experience work really well with some families. But if the family doesn’t like them so much or the kids feel like doing something else, you should adjust to the situation. It is always better to take a beautiful unplanned photo showing a happy family than a forced one where you can see they are feeling uncomfortable.

5. Do NOT Take Just One Photo

Every photographer knows the terrible feeling of taking a group photo just to later realize that there’s something wrong in the photo. Someone had their eyes closed or otherwise wasn’t ready for the picture to be taken. Taking several photos increases your chances that at least one will have everyone coordinated. You can set the camera to shoot in burst mode to take a sequence of images. Just remember to adjust your shutter speed to avoid unwanted blurriness due to movements. Something around 1/500 sec is a good starting point.

6. Don't Set Your Aperture Too Low

Portraits have a special vibe when you manage to get your models sharp and the background blurry. You can create this effect by setting your aperature low (a small f Stop). Using an aperture (f stop) around 2.8, will give you a beautiful blur. However, there is a risk to it. If your subject(s) move or are not on the same focal plane or at least close to the same focal plane, they might be partially or completely out of focus. This is also true for specific body parts on the same person. If your subject looks to the side, one eye could be in focus while the other is blurry.

If you want the whole family to appear sharp in the photo, you might need to increase the aperture. You might not get the background blur effect as strongly as you wanted, but everybody in the family will come out sharp.

7. Offer Outfit Advice or Invest in Creating a Client Closet

One of the most common questions before the photo sessions is “What should we wear?”  The idea is that all the family members should look coordinated to convey a feeling of togetherness. This doesn’t mean they should be dressed in identical clothes. It means wearing the same style of clothes: all of them looking casual, or all of them wearing elegant clothes and with similar colors or shades. I always recommend they wear natural shades and avoid bright colors that stand out. The person wearing it will catch all the attention in the photo (unless this is what you want) The same can happen with big distracting designs or words on T-shirts. Unless it adds to the photo, I would avoid them.

Making the investment in creating a client closet is BIG. Not many photographers offer this option and it takes off a lot of stress from your clients. Wardrobe choices are one of the most important pieces to the puzzle of a great session. One of the easiest ways to start a Client Closet is to offer your services for free, or at a great discount, in exchange for a dress donation.I only suggest this for dresses that are very expensive and may be comparable to the cost of your typical session fee. For example, if your session fee is $400, it doesn’t make sense to offer a free session for a dress that costs just $75 to buy. Your client buys the dress of your choice (not her choice) and gives the dress to you in exchange for a free session and/or digital images. It’s a win-win situation!

8. Don't Go Overboard With Editing

Family photos are meant to last for a long time. They are the type of images that we want to keep and check years later or show to the grandkids and generations to come. For that reason I recommend you don’t apply trendy editing styles and crazy effects. These will probably look weird or unappealing later down the road when that "filmy look" is suddenly out of style. Your aim is to create timeless images. Stick to classic editing styles and simplicity. This doesn’t mean you can’t add a personal touch, but before finishing the editing ask yourself if you will like this photo 20 years from now. If the answer is yes, perfect! If not, try to simplify the editing.

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Love this!


Katie White
Katie White
Oct 30, 2020

Thanks for sharing! Love it

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