Taking family photos is an important skill for a photographer, whether you are an amateur or a professional. The popular style creates a few challenges for the photographer, but it’s also a fun opportunity to capture the spirit of the family while expressing your creativity. The following nine tips will help you achieve successful family photoshoots.
Learn About the Family
Make an effort when booking a new family to get to know them a little. Learning about their interests, hobbies, and everyday lifestyle helps you shoot memorable and unique pictures. Find ways to incorporate what you learn into the photo session; talk to the family about your ideas, and give them an opportunity to contribute some of their own. For example, if the family loves to fish, have them bring along their gear and take pictures of them fishing at a favorite spot.
Develop a Timeline
Outdoor locations are wonderful for family portraits, so if possible, choose a time with ideal natural light by scheduling early morning or late afternoon sessions. Using equipment to adjust less than ideal lighting is possible but should be minimized because of the time required to set up the equipment since young children tend to become restless with delays. For the same reason, keeping your session under one to two hours is ideal; sessions that are longer than this are too tiring, particularly for children.
Give Clothing Suggestions
It’s up to the family to choose outfits for their photo session, but often they will ask for advice. Choosing clothing they are comfortable in that loosely coordinates while still expressing individual style is ideal. It’s also a good idea to avoid extreme colors and items with prints, logos, or anything distracting.
Take Your Tripod
A tripod is a great piece of equipment to use when shooting family pictures. It slows you down just enough to remind you to double check your camera settings and the composition of the shot; this is a big advantage when photographing small children because they probably won’t want to pose again if your white balance is off. Using a tripod also allows you to interact with the family.
Many people are uncomfortable with a camera in front of them, and that tends to come through in the pictures; moving away from the camera to make eye contact helps the family relax and leads to more natural photos.
Stagger People’s Heads
Position the family with their heads staggered to avoid straight columns or rows of heads; make diagonal lines instead of straight ones as much as possible. Use the natural environment to develop staggered poses, such as a small hill, stairs, or a pile of boulders.
Squeeze People Together
For group shots, families should squeeze together to avoid gaps and create a close look and feel. When family members are close physically, it tends to create a warmth that comes through in the pictures. When grandparents are involved, bring a couple folding chairs to the session in case they become tired. This also gives you a great way to create a staggered composition.
Pose Families Naturally
Create poses that are as flattering and natural as possible. Instruct people to bend parts of their body to look more natural because they don’t stand stiff as a board when relaxed. Asking family members to shift weight to one hip, cross their legs, or put their hands on their hips or in pockets are a few great ways to help them bend and look relaxed.
Demonstrate the pose you want while standing in front of them, then have them mirror you. Keep in mind the things people see as flaws and use your poses to minimize them. For example, if there is a big height difference between a couple, have the taller person stand with their feet further apart to make them a little shorter.
Allow Kids to be Kids
Take the formal pictures at the beginning while everyone is fresh and clean, but pay attention to the kids and give them a break when they begin to wear out. Let them run around and have fun while you take some candid pictures. After a break, they are more likely to handle posed shots better. Including some wacky group photos is another good way to make the session kid friendly, and you frequently get fun pictures too.
The right expressions can make or break your family portraits. When you capture people laughing and having fun, it’s likely to be a family favorite. Use cheesy jokes to break the tension, or have the family do something fun and creative like jumping in the air or building a human pyramid.
Don’t be afraid to make a fool out of yourself to get the attention of small children and babies; this is another time when using a tripod comes in handy so you have more freedom to move around. Instruct the adults to continue looking at you the whole time because you don’t want to finally get a picture with the baby smiling only to have the adults looking at the child instead of the camera.
Great family portraits require a little practice and creativity on the part of the photographer, but it’s a skill that’s worth developing. Following these nine tips can improve your skills, but keep in mind that it’s important to have fun too. Your sessions will be more enjoyable for everyone and more likely to yield great pictures when you and the family have fun with the process.