Find out how to take family photos that are as valuable and important as they deserve to be.
Memories are best preserved in photos, and the photos of those who are closest to us are the ones that matter most. Family portraits are one of the most popular types of portrait photography. If you’re an amateur and are thinking about going pro by starting your own photo sessions, you can succeed if you learn some tips and tricks of the trade.
Basic tips for family photos
One of the crucial things during any shoot is light. Try not to make your shots overexposed or underexposed. For your first photoshoots, before you learn how to manipulate indoor studio lighting, consider natural outdoor light. Shooting outside has its own underwater rocks, though. For example, if you’re photographing under a tree, think about how its shadow is cast and how it will affect your subjects. If it’s an overly sunny day, don’t make the family stand in direct sunlight. If your budget allows, invest in an accessory like a diffusion panel that will cast a pleasing shadow on the family and reduce the effect of bright sunlight. Capturing the appropriate light right away will save you tons of time in your editing software and frantic searches for how to Photoshop a picture. If you’re looking for a faster and easier Photoshop alternative or effective Photoshop plugins, consider buying Luminar.
Plan your location ahead of time. You might think a trip to the local park will do, but there are a variety of factors to consider beforehand. What is the weather going to be like? Where can you take pictures undisturbed? Will the background be appropriate? Where can the family sit or stand? Do you need to prepare some props or gear beforehand? You don’t need to set up a whole background scene like in a theater, however, so don’t overdo it. The main focus should always be on your subjects.
If you can influence the family’s choice of clothes, do so. Dressing everyone from grandpa to the smallest kid in coordinated outfits is fun. They’ll look great and have the feeling of belonging, just like a sports team or a troupe. But don’t go overboard — if dad is uncomfortable wearing suits or the kids don’t like fancy clothes, it will show in the shots, and you don’t want to be the author of those awkward family photos.
Capture the mood
Making everyone sit down properly and stiffly while looking directly at the camera is a little old-fashioned. Try to capture the dynamic of the family, their mood, and their personalities. If the kids are shy, making them the center of attention isn’t a great idea. If the siblings like to play with each other, take pictures of them in the moment. Yes, these will be funny family portraits, and your clients will most certainly like them. Your photos shouldn’t be generic, but rather have a personality that shines through them.
The whole family gathering for a photoshoot is always an experience. Even though you might think it isn’t your responsibility to organize a great day out, to the client, the overall experience often matters just as much as the result. Even though you need to make amazing pictures, try not to pressure your subjects into doing more than they’re comfortable with just because it will make a great shot. Be polite and kind, talk to the family, and ease them into the process. Giving little gifts to the kids will also be highly appreciated. A happy client will most likely recommend your service to their friends. This will lead to a larger base of trusting clients, which is always better than putting all your bets on someone Googling “family portraits near me.”
So what kinds of poses are best for group photos?
Flattering individual characteristics
A photographer should learn to hide the little imperfections of their subjects and highlight their best features. Families that are on the bigger side and that are a little bit insecure in front of the camera can lay on the grass, with kids crowding on top: this will make the kids closer in size to the adults, since their faces will be on the same plane, and also hides oversized tummies, hips, and thighs. You can get rid of double chins with slightly higher camera angles. If there are some imperfections on the face, such as spots or acne, make your subject tilt their head to show their best side. If a husband is much taller than a wife, let him stand with his feet a little bit further apart, minimizing the height difference. Think critically and let only your subjects’ best points shine.
Since you’re working with a lot of people at once, remember to keep the group balanced. Letting the parents act as frames to the little kids, crowding everyone together in the center, letting the kids sit according to their height — all of these poses might work wonderfully if done well. Don’t make anyone feel left out or pull too much focus on themselves. In a family, everyone should be loved equally and unconditionally, and it should show in your pictures.
Try not to impose your directions on the subjects. Give suggestions for poses, but let the family naturally do what it wants. You won’t do your photos justice by holding the kids in one place or by forcing a pose where someone feels uncomfortable. Remember that this isn’t self-portrait photography; you’re working with other people who may not be so used to being photographed. Don’t let a cute idea turn into awkward family photos no one wants to show their neighbors.
Fall family portraits
Let’s focus on fall family portraits and see what kinds of details you need to keep in mind. If you like a specific setting or have a studio setup, you can choose to make thematic sessions: vacation, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.
Time and place
Especially during the fall, the best time to take pictures is during the golden hour, which usually begins an hour before sunset and one hour after sunrise but can vary according to location. During this short window of time, the sun is low on the horizon and bathes your scene in a rich, warm light that is amazing both for individual portraits and fall family portraits. The light is soft and everything looks rich and beautiful during the golden hour, but it passes quickly. So make sure to use your time wisely and work efficiently to get the shots you want.
Accentuate colors with saturation and contrast. Adjust brightness and make the natural reds, yellows, and oranges vivid and beautiful. You can add a touch of creativity to your fall shots using filters for portraits or outdoor presets in Luminar. The same applies to Christmas family portraits and any other type of family photo you can think of.
Let everyone get in the fall spirit. Your families can wear matching knitwear, sweaters, hats, and gloves. You can give them cups of coffee or umbrellas as props. If you’re taking pictures outside, you can arrange everything to look like a picnic: bring a basket or a nice checkered blanket. Dressing up and acting a little can be great fun both for kids and adults.
An autumn park with fallen leaves will look great, but make sure that there are no other people in the background. Don’t just search “family portraits near me great locations” and think that this will do. Research beforehand: find a secluded area and arrange everything so that your models will be comfortable and not interfere with passersby. Since it’s fall, make sure everyone is dressed warmly so as not to catch cold. If you plan to take photos with the family on the ground, bring a warm blanket and don’t let the family be on the ground for too long.
Technical cheat sheet
Manual settings can be intimidating but are necessary to provide high-quality results. Before starting your first photo session, familiarize yourself with the settings on your camera. You need to be able to quickly switch through them on the fly because it’s hard to have a group of people sit still while you remember where your settings are. Let’s review some of them.
When adjusting your ISO settings, opt for a lower number, as it affects the quality of the images. Switching to a higher ISO is preferable only for low-light conditions, as it will add digital noise or grain to your images.
Instead of choosing other formats you may be used to, when shooting professionally get in the habit of shooting in RAW. RAW filesstore so much more data and provide tons of detail to work with during editing.
Another key setting to keep in mind is aperture. Put simply, aperture determines how much of your image is in focus. However, the aperture setting you should use is highly contingent on the style you prefer. Wide apertures are great for portraits with blurry backgrounds, while narrow apertures are perfect for landscapes as they keep all the background details in focus. Since you need to make sure that everyone is in focus, an aperture of f/5.6 is an ideal starting point for group shots.
If you’re dealing with children who like to move around, ensure that you’ve selected a fast shutter speed. Consider 1/250 as a starting point. The more the children move, the higher your shutter speed should be. For example, if someone is jumping up and down, it’s better to set your shutter speed to 1/800.
If you don’t know what kind of lenses to invest in, try renting them. Trying different lenses during a session will give you lots of variety, and you’ll be able to tackle different locations. A zoom lens like a 24–70mm will give you lots of flexibility and a variety of photos to choose from later. An 85mm lens is flattering for family portraits.
After you’ve taken your family photos, it’s important to edit them. You might think that editing is superficial or that you have no time to do it well. In this case, try Luminar, an automatic photo editor that can enhance your photos with just a few sliders. Luminar is available for a free two-week trial so you can test it before buying. Isn’t that a great deal?