Ten Tips for Photographing Family Portraits

A typical family picture session scenario looks something like this:  Mother is frazzled from all the pushing, prodding, and preparing she had to do prior to arriving. Dad just wants to get it over with, but acts mildly supportive to avoid the wrath of Mom.  Kids have been threatened with the loss of TV, Wii, or social life. Teenagers act as if they’ve been led to the slaughter.

Children have your attention for about 3 minutes — even with the bribes the parents gave them.

There are always exceptions, but I really find this to be typical. So is Mom’s dream of a priceless family portrait doomed? Is it even worth your time?

How to Create a Timeless Family Treasure under Pressure

Photographing Family Portrait

  1. Follow photography posing guidelines. Also, make sure no one holds a child directly under his or her chin (it looks awkward). Make sure you can see everyone’s faces completely.
  2. Try more than one pose. Even if you think a pose looks great, inevitably someone in the family will think it was on their “bad side.”
  3. Bring a toy or an assistant to get babies and toddlers to look at you (like a stuffed duck that quacks).
  4. Use effective lighting techniques. You don’t want one person in a shadow or another one “glowing.” No one person should stand out more than the others.
  5. Take candid shots as you go along. These often evoke more emotion than the formal portraits. With a small family I’ll often follow them around or have them sit somewhere and take pictures as they interact. When photographing a large family, I’ll zoom in on individuals or small groups once in a while.
  6. But, get a formal portrait first. Even the families that tell me they want more candid looking photographs end up wanting a posed one too (even if they don’t initially think they will). You want to do this first because it’s easier to get everyone to cooperate right when the session begins – when the bribes are still fresh in their minds and the threats haven’t set in yet. Afterwards, you can set them free and click away to capture more relaxed images.
  7. Choose a location that fits the family. Some families want scenery that will complement their décor once they hang a print. Others may choose a location that is special to their family or that reflects their personality. It’s a good idea to meet with a member in the family beforehand to get a feel for what will work best.

For Photographing Larger Families:

Photographing Family Portrait

1. Use a tripod. There are two major benefits from this:

  • it’s easier to “swap heads” in Photoshop after the fact because you don’t change your position or angle (if your subjects move around you could still have difficulty with this).
  • you can use a remote and not have your face behind the camera. Then you are better able to get everyone’s attention focused where you want it.

2. Tell adults to just look at you – not the children. Inevitably the one picture you get with all the kids looking and smiling will also have parents talking and pointing.

Photographing Family Portrait

Last words of advice, no matter what size family you’re photographing:

Keep a positive, upbeat, fun attitude and hopefully
it will rub off on everyone else!

2 Replies to “Ten Tips for Photographing Family Portraits”

  1. What about allways using “burst” and taking 3 pictures in sequence? If you aren’t using a flash, of course. This way, if you have some “blinker”, he/she will not be blinking on all 3 pictures. Or is it exaggerating?

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