Great ideas to help with your family photography

As a photographer, one of the most obvious subjects to point your camera at is your own family. After all, being on hand to document family life is one of the key reasons why people buy cameras in the first place. You may also find you’re asked to take pictures for friends and extended family.

Taking charge of family portrait photography can be a bit of a tricky challenge. It’s more complicated than standard portraiture, and co-ordinating groups of people can always be problematic. With a bit of preparation and planning, along with some handy tips, you can create beautiful family portraits which will be cherished for many years to come.

Family portrait photography: preparations

Sometimes a family photo opportunity just occurs naturally, but there will be other times when you set out with the intention of pulling together a proper shoot. On those occasions, making some basic preparations can pay dividends.

Have a think about your family’s outfits – you don’t have to go completely overboard with a matchy-matchy theme, but an attempt to co-ordinate can give your photos a polished look.

You should also consider where you want to do the shoot. A natural environment, such as your own home, is great for capturing documentary style shots of a family going about their normal business. Meanwhile, shooting outdoors gives you more space if you are photographing a large group of people. Try to think about a location which gives you different options – especially when it comes to backgrounds – which will give your shoot variety. Maybe plan to take a walk with your subjects after capturing them around the house?

The time of day that you do your shoot is also important, as is the weather. A bright sunny day is great for a family picnic, but can be a potential washout for your photos. Avoid the middle of the day when the sun is at its highest or harshest – you want to avoid shadows across faces, as well as closed eyes from people squinting in the sun.

If you can shoot at sunset, where the light is low and golden, you can create some beautiful effects. Don’t give up hope if it’s an overcast day, as the softer light is much more flattering – but you’ll need to have a background that doesn’t include too much sky.

Best kit for family portrait photography

You can use pretty much any camera for family portrait photography, but having a mirrorless or DSLR which allows you to change lenses is ideal for creating different looks and styles.

There is a lot of choice on the market, ranging from models which are aimed pretty squarely at beginners, such as the Canon EOS 1300D and the Nikon D5600, all the way up to professional level cameras such as the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, or the Nikon D810. And that’s just in the DSLR market: there’s lots of great models in the compact system camera market too, such as the Panasonic GX8, the Olympus PEN F or the Fujifilm X-T20.

When it comes to lens choice, there are a few different options you might want to consider if you have a family portrait session in mind. A wide angle lens is a must if you’re attempting group shots. You should be trying to get an equivalent of 24mm or so, as anything wider than that is likely to result in a distorted look. If you’re shooting with an APS-C camera, look for lenses no wider than 16mm, or 12mm if you’re shooting Micro Four Thirds.

You should also consider prime lenses, such as a 50mm or 85mm, if you’re going to take any individual portraits. These lenses can offer a maximum wide aperture and produce the most flattering effects for portrait shots. You might also want to consider a 35mm lens for “environmental” type shots, or to take photos with 2-3 people in them.

Using a tripod is ideal for group shots because you can fully interact with your subjects. It’s also a necessary item if you intend to be in the shots yourself! You probably don’t need to worry about it being super light and portable for this kind of photography, instead try and look for one which extends to a good height. This 3 Legged Thing Punks Corey Tripod with Airhed Neo is a good example of a useful tripod.

If you’re going to be in the photograph, a remote release is a good idea. With this, you can remotely control the camera from a distance – firing off the shutter release without having to rely on everybody getting in place by the time a timer has elapsed. Remote releases can either be wired or wireless – a wireless one is more expensive, but gives you much more flexibility. The Hahnel Captur Remote Control and Flash Trigger is compatible with a wide range of camera models.

Many cameras now offer built-in Wifi or NFC connectivity with smartphones, which you can then use as remote screens to preview the shot before taking it – ideal for group portraits where you want to be involved in the shot as well.

Other useful pieces of equipment include a flash gun, which you can use to add fill-in flash, or get creative with lighting. A reflector is also a good idea for angling light – but it’s best for individual portraits rather than group ones.

Best camera settings for family portrait photography

Which camera settings you need to use for family photos depends, as always, on the situation.

If you’re shooting outdoors, you can keep your ISO low for the best detail possible. Try to use a fast shutter speed so that you freeze the movement of anybody in the shot, and avoid unwanted blur.

The aperture you use depends on whether you’re photographing individuals or attempting a group shot. For individuals, a wide aperture of f/2.8 or even wider is ideal, while for group shots, you’ll probably want to use something narrower to make sure everybody is sharp. Apertures between f/5.6-f/8 should yield good results, while still blurring the background somewhat.

It can be a good idea to use a fast frame rate – how fast you can shoot will depend on the camera. Set the camera to continuous shooting and fire off a few frames when taking group portraits – that way you should have a few different options to choose from, especially useful if someone blinks or pulls a strange expression in one of the frames.

If you’re shooting indoors, the light isn’t likely to be quite so good. That will usually result in you having to shoot at a higher ISO. Don’t be afraid to use speeds such as ISO 1600 or ISO 3200 if it means getting the shot – something with a little bit of image noise is better than a completely blurred shot.

Set your camera up to back button focus – that is, using a button on the rear of the camera to autofocus, rather than the shutter release. This makes taking a picture into a two-step process which locks in the autofocus, making it quicker to shoot each time.

Before you take a shot, take a couple of seconds to scan the frame for anybody with eyes closed, looking the wrong way or grimacing. That couple of seconds can save you a lot of time in the post-production stage.

Family portrait ideas: best poses

Unquestionably, what will make or break your photo is how the subjects pose. Getting group portraits right takes time and practice to know what works in a photo (and perhaps more importantly, what doesn’t!).

You’ll probably find that you get the best results with young children by letting them simply get on with whatever it is they want to do. Having props or their favourite toys on hand for them to interact or play with can yield some really beautiful results.

Avoid standing groups in a straight row, as nothing says “awkward” more than a forced line-up pose – you wouldn’t really stand like that in real life, so it looks strange in a photo.

Instead, try staggering the people in the group, so there’s different heights and shoulders facing towards each other. Experiment with different groupings until you get an arrangement that works well. You could also try having some of the group standing up, while some of them sit down – this is especially welcome if you have older people in your family.

Ask people to stand closer to each other than they might ordinarily. It’s not that natural to stand super close to somebody – but that closeness tends to translate into a happy and loving picture, while gaps can increase the awkwardness.

Don’t be afraid to try fun or quirky poses such as jumping, or pulling strange faces – perhaps you have some kind of in-joke in your family that you can incorporate. Don’t be too disappointed though if these shots look a little cheesy – at worst, they’ll be something you can laugh at in years to come and will surely loosen up the group for the more natural poses.

As the photographer, it’s your job to get the best from your subjects. Get ready to throw in a few jokes – even if they are classic “Dad” jokes – you want your subjects to have fun, laugh and look as if they are enjoying the shoot.


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