Let’s talk through a few tips for photographing families. If you haven’t done it, it’s harder than it seems, but there are a few things you can do to make it go smoothly. Family photography can be rewarding because you can help preserve special moments and memories.
First, you’ll want to define what type of family you’re dealing with. Find out the age ranges of any children so that you can mentally prepare for what the shoot will be like and what compromises will need to be made. For example, I love shooting at sunset, but that can be the worst time for small kids to be on their best behavior.
Next, it will be essential to define your expectations from the shoot and the expectations of the family you’re photographing. The easiest and most fun families to shoot are the ones that know what to expect because they’ve seen your work and chosen you for it. Hopefully, the following tips will help you define your photography style and find clients that are the right fit for you.
Try to Connect
I’m not a big fan of the popular mini-session idea because I feel like it’s a lot of pressure to get a great picture in a short amount of time. Especially if you’re photographing families with small children, one of the biggest challenges is getting shots where everyone looks good in the same image. I much prefer taking some time to connect and help the family relax so that their smiles look more real and natural.
Additionally, when I’m trying to capture the essence of a family, it is helpful to take time to get to know them. The more I can connect with the family, the more likely I am to capture photos that are meaningful to them. It might even influence what I plan for the shoot in terms of locations or activities.
You find the perfect backdrop, pose the family, and click the shot. After that, it’s important to keep shooting. Sometimes the best pictures come not from that perfect pose but from a silly moment that happens right after it.
You might pose a shot and take a picture with everyone smiling at the camera. But after that, you might encourage the family to interact with each other. If you can capture moments between poses, you can get more natural and heartfelt images.
Be Patient and Flexible
It would be more efficient if everyone could just smile and take one nice photo. It shouldn’t be that hard, but it is. One of the hardest things about family photography is being patient and not giving up until you get a few great shots.
You might need to take a break or change up the location. Don’t get to attached to the things you can’t control. Instead, rolling with whatever’s happening will help you capture unique moments.
Embrace the Crazy
Sometimes little kids are hard to control, making that perfectly posed picture impossible. What if we didn’t try to control them and instead used their personality to capture a meaningful image? My favorite images are ones where you see genuine joy instead of forced compliance.
Sometimes my favorite photos aren’t the ideal ones but the real ones. If you capture imperfect yet real moments with care, those can be meaningful memories for families. Additionally, it can be nice to embrace reality and show individuals and their unique personalities.
On that note, consider adding candids to your family photoshoots as you develop your family photography style. Some documentary-style family photographers only shoot candids and aim for real moments over posed shots. I like the idea of doing some of each so that the family has various images to choose from for different purposes.
While sometimes it’s nice to frame a posed portrait to give to grandparents as a gift, the photos many parents cherish most are the ones of their kids that capture their personalities. It’s nice to remember what someone was like at a certain age.
Intentional Location Choice
Location can make or break a family photoshoot. If you find a stunning location with things to explore, sometimes your job is even easier because everyone is having a great time, and you can capture those moments. Nice light and a good backdrop can make your images instantly higher quality.
If you are working in a beautiful location with good lighting, you can focus on finding those smiles, laughs, and connections. Sometimes simple is best too, since the photos are really about the family. You can even do a lot with some nice window light in someone’s home.
Composition and Lighting
While many of these tips discuss dealing with people, you can’t overlook the importance of knowing about light and composition. Make sure you show people in the best light possible, both figuratively and literally. Good composition can level up your photos too.
On the simple end, try not to cut off any limbs in weird places with your framing or have trees or other objects appear to be growing out of your subjects’ heads. Do your best to either utilize soft light or angle your subjects appropriately so that any shadows are flattering and intentional rather than distracting. If you find good light and create a good composition, you can then focus on getting everyone to smile or laugh in the scene.
Focal Length Variety
I love shooting both close-up and wide-angle family portraits. With a low-aperture 50mm lens, I can get a flattering portrait with that beautiful blurry background. And with a wide-angle lens, I can capture the family in stunning landscapes, possibly including some movement or action.
As you develop and define your style, you might have some favorite lenses and types of photos you shoot. While it’s important to do what works for you, incorporating some variety is also nice.
As I mentioned in the intro of this article, if you want to set yourself up for success, it’s important to set expectations with clients. Different families might have different pictures in their minds of what they want their photography to look like. Make sure your portfolio and sample galleries demonstrate your style and how your work so that you attract clients that are the right fit for your work.
If there was something you agreed or disagreed with in this article, take that and use it to define what is important and meaningful to you about family photography. The more you personalize your intentions and goals, the more creative you can get with your photography.
Cull and Edit the Shoot
As with any type of photography, it’s essential to complete the process. With family photography, it can be important to cull the photos down to an image set of the best images. Remove duplicates that will overwhelm the family but keep fun moments that show personality.
From there, you can edit the images to make sure everyone looks their best, and these days, Lightroom makes it simple to select the subject from the background or isolate a specific person. You’ll want to define your editing style and limits, but delivering a finished product will help impact the family’s overall analysis of the shoot.
In summary, family photography can be both rewarding and challenging. It requires you, as the photographer, to consider the family’s personality, relationship dynamics, and goals for the shoot. You need to know how to use your camera, compose an image, use light, and handle people of varying ages.
Taking time to practice developing each of the skills addressed in this article will help you feel more confident during your family photoshoots. From there, you can create images that are meaningful to you and the families you work with.
Marc and Brenda Bergreen are a husband and wife photo and video team based in Evergreen, Colorado. They photograph weddings and other adventurous stories in beautiful places.