Family Photography: A Comprehensive Guide (w/ Useful Tips)

(Last updated on June 16th, 2022)

Family photography remains among the most appreciated forms of photography. Family photos are precious. They are so much more than a historic record. Family photography at its best captures the relationships between family members. They will cherish the photographs you make forever.

In the first section of this article, you’ll find a guide to the most important aspects of planning fabulous family photos. After this I’ve included 12 professional tips that will help you develop your style. These will help you produce more wonderful family photographs. 

Being able to take excellent family photographs requires a lot more than camera skills. How you relate to the people you are photographing will make or break a family photography session. The choice of location, the lighting, and the understanding of what the family wants are also vital aspects of family photography.

A family having fun together indoors
A family having fun together indoors.

Planning A Family Photoshoot

Start By Communicating Well

To be able to take the best family photos, you need to know what the family wants. As a photographer, you are providing a service. People will hire you usually because they have seen photographs you have taken that they like. So you know they like your style already. It is still vital that you ask them questions to discover what it is they want from the family photography session. 

Asking questions will also help you get to know the family a little. This gives you an understanding of the family dynamics and how they relate to each other. Being able to connect well with a family you’ll photograph will help you to capture more relaxed and natural expressions.

You can even make a questionnaire asking about the family and give it to each family member. This can provide you with plenty of insightful information. Use this to help plan the various aspects of your family photography session. If you don’t ask these important questions you run the risk of not providing the type of photos the family most wants.

Work with the family to plan the photography session. Involving them in this process will take longer. But it is well worth the extra time because it will ultimately save you time. It will also help you produce results the family is going to love. Listening to what your clients want is an essential part of being a professional photographer. Even if you are not a professional, this advice will help you provide a better service.

Family photos at the beach can be a whole lot of fun
Family photos at the beach can be a whole lot of fun.

Pick the Best Location for Your Family Photography

Choosing the right location for family photography is essential. The location of a family photograph has a big impact on the outcome. 

Based on what you have learned about what the family want, make some suggestions for great locations. Are they going to be more comfortable in an urban environment or a park? Do they prefer to have the photos taken at home? Do they have a specific location they want to use for the family photography session? Can you include more than one location?

The size of the family influences the choice of location. If you have a large family to photograph in a small room, you’ll have very little flexibility. With a family of three, photos in a living room or small space are not so restrictive.

Large outdoor spaces work very well for family photography. A community park usually makes a great space for family photos. With lots of room to move, you have many more options for a variety of backgrounds and lighting conditions. There will often also be things like picnic benches, playgrounds, and always trees to work into your compositions. 

Some families may prefer photographs in an urban setting. A city square or in the streets around their neighborhood may be most appropriate. Urban locations can provide a stimulating environment and stunning visual backdrops for family photos.

Large family groups can be difficult to set up but are always special
Large family groups can be difficult to set up but are always special.

Consider the Season and Lighting

Think about the season and time of day you’ll take the photos. These influence the lighting and other aspects of how the location looks. Plan to take your photos at the time of day when lighting is best.

In some parts of the world, the light is easier to predict. You may know beforehand how likely the chance of rain is or if the sky will be clear. Always have a backup plan in case of bad weather and poor lighting. 

I like to scout a new location at different times of the day to see how the light is. Morning may be better than in the evening or vice versa. If you don’t check this first you may arrive at the wrong time of day when the lighting is not best. Light in a location can vary from season to season too. So if you’ve photographed in a location during the summer months it may look quite different in the wintertime.

Outdoor locations are often more relaxing to work in for a family portrait session
Outdoor locations are often more relaxing to work in for a family portrait session.

Planning What to Wear for a Family Photography Session

Planning what a family wears for a photography session is essential. It’s usually best to have options of changes of clothes so you can capture a few different looks. 

It’s popular for families to wear the same colors or even the same clothes for a photo. Maybe the family is more comfortable being able to express themselves through unique clothing choices. This may be a more acceptable choice for families with teenagers who may not want to conform to wearing the same clothes as everyone else. You can address this in your questionnaire. Coordinating this beforehand is vital. 

Does the family want a more casual look or a more formal one? Jeans and t-shirts are easy attire in most countries for a casual look. Saris and tunics could be more appropriate. More formal clothing can vary a lot depending on the country and culture of the people you are photographing. 

Mixing it up a little with some variations can also be fun. How can you accessorize a family wardrobe? Does everyone have hats and sunglasses to wear? This can make for some humorous pictures.

An iconic location can be a great option for family photos
An iconic location can be a great option for family photos.

How to Decide What Camera Equipment to Use

For any photography session, it is best to not have to carry too much gear with you. Doing this will only weigh you down and tire you out more quickly. 

You will probably only need:

  • A camera (and backup body if you have one)
  • Zoom or wide to medium lens
  • Flash
  • Reflector

I sometimes carry a tripod when I plan to take some photos using a slow shutter speed. But a tripod is not usually needed for family photos. It is best to handhold your camera and use a fast enough shutter speed.

I prefer to work with a wide to medium lens on my camera for family photography sessions. This allows me to get everyone in the picture without being too far away to easily communicate with them. Using a longer lens means you’ll be further away and may have to raise your voice. This alters the dynamics of the session and may not be so comfortable.

Be careful to avoid using very wide focal lengths, particularly when you are close to the people you are photographing. Wide lenses often create distortion near the edges. This is not a problem when it’s just the background. But when you have people close to the edges of your frame it can make them look weird.

Adding a little fill flash to a family photo helps to reduce shadows and makes for more even, balanced lighting. I like to take some photos with flash and some without so I have a choice. I always aim to balance the output of my flash with the ambient light as I find this creates the most naturally attractive look.

If you have the luxury of working with an assistant, using a reflector is another good option when taking family photos. A well-controlled reflector can pop in just a nice touch of extra light to enhance a picture. When I work with someone who is not used to using a reflector I always coach them a little on how to do it first. It’s not so difficult, but if someone does not understand how the reflector is used to bounce light they may not manage it so well.

Dont forget to ask if the family has pets they would like to include in the photography session
Don’t forget to ask if the family has pets they would like to include in the photography session.

Camera Settings to Use for Family Photos

People move. It’s always best to use a fast enough shutter speed. This can vary depending on who you are photographing. A family photo consisting of mature adults will not usually require a very fast shutter speed to freeze motion. Photographing families with kids you’re best to set a faster speed because they can move so quickly.

Children can move unpredictably and quickly, so you must make sure your shutter speed is fast enough to freeze any movement that occurs. Sometimes unpredictable movement can make for wonderful, natural photos. But if your shutter speed is too slow and there’s motion blur in the picture, it may not work out so well.

When selecting an aperture, think about how much depth of field you want. Do you want to have the whole image sharp? Or do you prefer a blurred background? If you want to blur the background be careful that you don’t use an aperture which also means your subjects are also blurred.

Photographing a group of people often entails setting them up so they are not all in a line. This means some of them will be further from the camera than others. All the people in the family photos need to be in focus. 

This also depends on the focal length lens you choose and the distance you are from the family group. Remember that the closer you are, the less depth of field you’ll have at any given aperture setting. I find my 35 mm lens works well. It provides a good balance of being wide enough and I can capture a good amount of detail in sharp focus, and still be able to blur the background.

Know your camera and lens well. Be confident in using it so you can concentrate on other aspects of the family photography session. You don’t want to be looking at your camera settings too often and not paying attention to how the family members are feeling and what else is going on around you.

The more you can relate to the people you are photographing the better your photographs are
The more you can relate to the people you are photographing, the better your photographs are.

Write a List of Ideas to Work With

I always have a planned list of ideas for what type of photos I want to take. When you work to a list it frees you up to pay more attention to the people you are photographing. 

Do some research online to come up with ideas. Looking at what kinds of poses other photographers have chosen can help you come up with a list of your ideas. I will usually make two lists. One has ‘safe’ poses. These are the ones that work well most of the time. Then I’ll have a second list with some alternatives that may or may not work. This can depend on the people I am working with and the location.

Some ideas work better with larger families, others are more appropriate with smaller families. Obviously, you’ll know beforehand how many people are working with, so tailor your list to these numbers.

Include a mixture of horizontal and vertical formats. Have some photos with the family all close together and others where they are more spread out. Try to vary these as much as possible so they work best in the location you’re taking the pictures.

One idea I love to use when photographing families is to find somewhere I can get higher than they are and be looking down at them. I’ll position them all so they are standing close together and looking up at the camera. This technique results in everyone’s faces filling most of the composition.

Jumping photos are also a lot of fun. But this idea is one of the ones on my second list as it may not be practical for all families.

You May Also Like:

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Get imaginative with some of your family posing ideas
Get imaginative with some of your family posing ideas.

Tips for Taking Better Family Photographs

Tip #1: Looking at the Camera and Away


For as many ideas for poses as you come up with, try to take some photos with everyone looking at the camera and some when they are not looking at the camera. This will provide more diverse options when the family comes to choose their favorite photographs. When I work with an assistant, I’ll often get them to engage the family while I take the photos. I get them to move about and stand in different places and ask the family to look at them.

Tip #2: Set the Mood

Be intentional about setting the mood during the family photography session. You’ll probably want to capture some fun photos, some that are more formal or serious, and some more intimate poses. 

As the photographer, you can be in control of this to some extent. Pay attention to the dynamics of the family. When you sense a more relaxed mood, go with this to capture more relaxed photos. If one family member is fooling around it can be a good time to take some more spontaneous, fun pictures. Connect with this person and encourage them. This can lead others to join in and loosen up a bit.

Even if a two-year-old is having a tantrum, work with this. Be sensitive to the family, but capture what is happening. You can never be sure how it will end up, but there is potential to capture some alternative family photos.

Nearing the end of the photo session take a look back at your list to make sure you have everything that you wanted to capture.

Help the family choose some locations they are comfortable with
Help the family choose some locations they are comfortable with.

Tip #3: Connect with Kids and Have Fun With Them

Connecting with kids or teens is a great way to help them enjoy the family photography experience. Adults are more likely to be on board with the whole plan, but children and teenagers may not be. Even before the session starts, pay some attention to the younger members of the family and they will respond more openly to you.

I like to ask the kids if they have ideas about how they’d like to have family photos taken. You may be surprised at how many wonderful creative ideas they come up with. Running with their ideas and turning them into great photos is a sure way to get them to continue cooperating with you.

Tip #4: Make the Most of Each Location

Always look for what makes a location unique and interesting. Think about how naturally you can work in aspects of the surroundings to make your photos more special. Look for ways to incorporate different rules of composition. 

Include plenty of negative space when you are working in a cool location. Don’t let the location overpower your objective, but make sure to use it well.

Make the most of each unique location
Make the most of each unique location.

Tip #5: Don’t Take All Your Photos From a Standing Position

Vary your point of view for a greater variety of images. Sure, take some pictures while standing. But also crouch down or lie on the ground. You can capture some fascinating photos from a worm’s eye view.

I often take a small step ladder along to a family photography session. Being up on a short ladder and a bit taller than everyone else produces a different look than being at the same level.

Tip #6: Vary Poses So One Person is the Center of Attention

For most family pictures you will want equal emphasis on each person. But you can arrange a series of poses where one family member is more prominent than the others. Avoid having the person you’re focused on looking totally separated from the rest of the family. Be imaginative with how you pose these pictures. Make sure to not leave anyone out if you are doing this!

Mother and daughters together in a loving portrait
Mother and daughters together in a loving portrait.

Tip #7: Think in Black and White

Many people love black and white photography. Make sure to ask about this when you are planning. If the family is interested, be sure to think in black and white as you are taking your photos. Don’t only rely on converting your color photos during editing.

Choosing the right light and background for black and white ensures the photos have more impact once you convert them. 

If you don’t have much experience with black and white, switch your camera’s monitor so it is not showing color. Most cameras will let you do this. Many mirrorless cameras allow you to show only black and white through the viewfinder as well. Using this trick makes it easier to see the tones and contrast levels as you are taking the photographs.

Tip #8: Freestyle Posing and Activity

You don’t need to pose every person for every photograph. It’s often good to start a family photography session by being in control of the poses. But as the session progresses and you have your ‘safe’ photos captured, loosen up a little.

Get the family to go for a walk if the location is suitable. Get ahead of them and photograph them as they walk and interact with the environment. Ask them to walk slowly and naturally. Get them to stop at interesting locations and look at what’s around them. Encourage them to talk together and capture their animated conversation.

If there are young children and you’re near a playground, make use of it. Get the parents to push kids on the swings or play with them on the climbing frame. Make the most of the environment to include some natural action photographs.

These are more unpredictable than posed photos, but they can be some of the more interesting and natural photos. Make sure to take a lot of photos. Due to the spontaneity of this style of photography, not every photo you take will be perfect.

Make sure to capture spontaneous moments as they happen
Make sure to capture spontaneous moments as they happen.

Tip #9: Avoid Distracting Backgrounds

When you are photographing families it’s easy to concentrate only on the people and not so much on what is in the background. Always look at the background when you first move to a new location. 

Check that nothing is distracting that will interfere with your family photos. Bright lights or very colorful elements in the background can be extremely distracting. It’s always terrible to notice them once you’ve taken the photos and are already editing them. It’s much easier to manage distractions during the photo session than to have to attempt editing them out later.

Tip #10: Give Yourself Plenty of Time for a Family Photography Session

Be realistic about what you want to achieve. Think about how much time you need. When I decide how much time I think I’ll need, then I’ll add half as much again.

Family photography can often take much longer than you think it will. When there are teenage kids or young adults, they might have other plans and get fidgety if you are taking longer than you had planned. If you add the extra time and everyone is aware that it’s not going to be a quick session you’ll have more success.

Don’t rush. Take your time to go with the flow. If you find yourself taking longer than you anticipated, delete a few items from your list and concentrate most on what is working well. There’s no point in completing the list if only half of the photos will be any good because you were in too much of a hurry.

Be creative with your exposures Dont always have people looking at the camera
Be creative with your exposures. Don’t always have people looking at the camera.

Tip #11: Work With an Assistant

Working with a skilled photography assistant, or just someone great with kids can help you a lot.

Having a friend or a paid assistant to help with directing people and looking out for problems can save you a lot of stress. Ask them ahead of time to look out for wardrobe problems, background distractions, and other things that can be easy to miss. 

A confident photography assistant can also help to hold a reflector if you need to use one. They can also act as a VAL, Voice Activated Lightstand, when using an off-camera flash. 

Tip #12: Keep the Session Feeling as Natural as Possible

People like how they look in photos when they are relaxed. A huge part of your job as a family photographer is to do whatever you can to help people feel relaxed and enjoy the session. You don’t need to become a court jester and keep them laughing all the time. Although, if you do have a few good jokes up your sleeve, these can help.

Be as aware as you can of how people are feeling about being photographed. Work with them to help them relax. 

Take a break if things are not going well. Stop for a soda or an ice cream. This will often inspire a better response from kids who might not be so enthusiastic about being photographed.

Go with the flow for the most natural family photographs
Go with the flow for the most natural family photographs.

Conclusion

When you do family photography you have to balance paying attention to your camera and the family. You can’t be always looking at your camera settings. Doing this you’ll break the connection with the people you are photographing. You need to keep them engaged and the best way to do this is by conversing with them.

Planning a family photography session is a very important part of the process. When you talk with the family remember to ask them questions. Let them know that you are there to provide photos they will cherish for years to come.

Make sure before you start that your camera and other equipment is properly set up. Then you won’t need to think about it so much.

Scour locations well so you are properly prepared. Visit them at the same time of day you plan to take the photos so you can see what the light is like.

Be confident! This is one of the key aspects of photographing people. When you are confident about what you are doing people feel good. They will smile easily for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much should you spend on family photography?

The cost of a family photography session can vary a lot depending on your location, how long the photography session will take, and other factors.

How many pictures should be expected from a 1 hour shoot?

You should expect to see 40-50 edited photos from a one hour family photography session.

What is family photography called?

Family photography is a collection of photos of family members in a variety of settings and poses.

What makes a good family photo?

A good family photo is one the family will cherish for years because it captures who they are at the time the image was taken.

How long does a family photography session take?

A family photo session last from an hour to an hour and a half. This depends on the size of the family and the options they select.

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