Family photography is a staple in the photography business and both an art and a skill that needs to be mastered by any photographer to set themselves up for future success. Family sessions are always in demand because at any stage of life, capturing family moments is meaningful and those photos are something that families will want to hold onto. From newborns to children at all stages of their lives, to grandparents and pets, there are always a lot of moving pieces in capturing a perfect family portrait, but these photo sessions can also be very rewarding and fun. And, family portraits are always great to add to your online portfolio repertoire.
If family photography is an area that you are new to, or looking to get more involved in – our advice is to jump right in. The thing about family pictures is that usually, it's not something that is a one-hit-wonder. Family photos are something that families will want to continue to document and by capturing beautiful images in your initial shoot, the chances of the family returning to you year after year or for special occasions will increase immensely. This will also help grow your relationship with the family and having comfortable clients will really help with the finished product of your photoshoot! And let's face it, your job as a photographer is to make any family feel comfortable. So, on three say, "Family photography!"
What Is Family Photography?
There are many events that include family portrait photography – sometimes it's a wedding or a reunion or graduation. Anytime you are photographing a family it falls under the family photography umbrella. These family photo sessions can range from small groups including parents and a newborn, to larger groups with extended family, etc. A family session is not as simple as picking up a camera and asking everyone to say cheese. It can involve managing a large group of people, adhering to different dynamics or accessibility needs that can make getting group shots a little more challenging. It can also be with people who are not as experienced in front of the camera, which adds another somewhat challenging element to your job as a photographer. You'll have to find ways to capture beautiful family shots with people who are uncomfortable in front of your lens. While it can become a bit of a juggling act and involve many intricacies, there is also a lot of joy that can come with family photography. The stories you create through your photographs will often live on within the family for many years – on top of family mantels, inside wallets, and hanging on a wall in the hallway.
The family photos you take will bring a lot of meaning to your client’s lives, so read up on how you can master your trade and we hope you can take away a few tips from what’s to come.
How To Take Good Family Photos
How do you make sure the photos you take at your photo session will live up to the expectations of your clients? What kind of camera settings and equipment is the most optimal? How can you choose the perfect venue or location for your photoshoot? How can you best set yourself up for success? All the answers to your questions and everything else you need to know about taking good family photos is right here:
Best Camera Setting for Photos
To ensure that you are able to take the best quality photographs for your clients, it's important to make sure you have the right camera settings for the photos you are planning to take. There are a number of things you should take into consideration when you are choosing the right camera settings. This should include considering who you are photographing, the size of the shot, the lighting, and the setup of the shoot. Most of the time, you are going to want to set your camera into manual mode so you have the most control of the shots and the photos you are taking. You will also want to make sure your camera settings are all up to speed.
As a rule of thumb, the first thing to remember is that low ISO is always the best because this is what determines a higher quality in the photos you take. All you need to think about is that high quality is everything. As a starting place, a good baseline to use is ISO 400 – or start somewhere between ISO 100 and ISO 400.
When you choose to put a high ISO on your camera setting you will add excess noise to your photos, which means that these images and the subjects within them will have more of a grainy look to them. You should, however, put your camera on high ISO if you are in an area with low light.
Another important part of getting the right camera setting is making sure that your photoshoots are shot in Raw format. This will allow you to have more latitude with your photos as you are trying to adjust the exposure and white balance. Consistency is key across the board throughout your photoshoot. This consistency will help when you go to edit and let you just adjust one image in post-processing and then sync it up across the board for all your shots.
When we talk about aperture, we are discussing how wide or narrow the diameter of your lens is – it is something that is controlled on your lens and not on your camera. As you play with the aperture, you are going to be changing the depth of your photo and how much of the subject is going to be in focus.
Here are some good tips to remember – the lower the f/number you are using the wider the aperture will be, which means a shallower depth of field. To sum it up, in your photography with family changing the aperture will help with different shots, such as when children are the focal points with the parents in the background or vice versa. You can also change out the child for different pets being the focal point of a photograph.
If the focus is on one family member, using an aperture of somewhere between f/2 and f/4 is sufficient. If you are in a situation where you don't have one of those lenses, investing in a good 50mm f/1.8 will help you in the long run.
In an instance where you are intentionally focusing on photographing a single member of the family, like one of the children, or just the parents than using a wide lens is where you should lean towards. Photographers should also be cognizant that if you go too wide with their aperture then the depth of field will be narrow and you really have to focus. If you don’t, you will have ears in focus in your photographs but a nose out of focus or other funny things like that happen.
As you are shooting couples or doing group family portraits, then you are going to want to shoot with a smaller aperture – a good starting point is somewhere between f/5.6 or f/8. Make sure that the family is all placed close together in these shots too, which shouldn't be too hard as your family photography is all about showing how much they love each other!
Choosing a Lens
Something you'll have to consider for your family photography session will be the type of lenses to use. The lens you choose is going to play a big role in the photos you create and a general rule of thumb is you will most likely need to change the lens as you go from child portraits to family pictures. The type of lens you use will also vary with the style and type of photographs you are trying to create.
A telephoto lens is a good one to use when you are focusing on portraits. A telephoto lens doesn't have to be a zoom lens, however, it can be. The most common reason to use these lenses is to make the subjects appear closer to the camera. The benefit to using a telephoto lens for some of your portraits will be that you can take close-up shots of a child, or pet, or newborn, or other family members while still maintaining your distance. The distance can play a big part in helping them feel comfortable around you. Using a telephoto lens is also good in letting you capture good moments from the sideline, so for example, it can help you catch fun or beautiful moments shared between a mother and her kids without being too close for their comfort. A 70-100mm is a good choice for this type of photography.
If you are taking wider shots, consider changing your lens to one that will allow you to have everything in the photo including the backdrop, and will also end up adding a feeling of depth to the picture. For this, you are going to want to use a wide-angle lens. Some of your decision-making on which lens to choose will also be based on whether your family portrait session is going to be indoors or outside.
As a starting point, using a 135mm long is a good lens to use for outdoor photography, while going with a lens between 50mm or 85mm works well indoors.
Equipment to Use
Besides the basics like your camera and your memory card, there are a few things you should add to your photography toolbox to enhance your sessions and help you create the best possible memories for the families you are shooting. Your equipment is inevitably going to need to include the staples like your camera, different lenses, and your off-camera flash, but you may also want to consider adding other items like a tripod, reflectors, and light meters.
Sometimes tripods have gotten a bad reputation from some photographers for limiting the creative potential of photoshoots, but they really are a must-have for any family photography session you book. A good rule to remember is that if you or your subjects aren't moving – the answer is always to use a tripod. Using a tripod can also help slow things down in your photoshoot. They are good for shooting your family portraits because it allows you to talk to the family and organize them as you work to get your perfect shot. The stillness of these parts of the session is very important for every photographer. Tripods also help with clean-up and even landscape backdrops and really give you the ability to slow down and make sure all the subjects are showcased in the shot the way you need them to be.
One helpful tip for your photography business is to keep a stocked-up camera bag at all times. While it sounds silly, we've all had those times where we have gone to take a picture and realized we left the memory card at home. To keep yourself always at the ready and to be prepared we recommend you create a camera bag travel kit that is at the door at all times. This should include lenses, a flash, extra batteries, and memory cards. Make sure your bag is also padded so you can keep your equipment from clicking around.
More Tips: Add Fun Equipment
Making sure to have some fun equipment for your family photoshoots can go a long way. In your photographer bag of tricks, having some items that can catch the attention of newborns or help make some of your young kids feel comfortable with you and the process will help both you and the parents. These can be little toys that are fun to play with or funny to look at as you are trying to get different types of family pictures. Children can sometimes feel more at ease when you have a stuffed animal or toy for them to focus on as you try and get them to hold different poses. Go the extra mile to snap that beautiful photo, the little things are often the ones that end up meaning the most.
Black and White
Photographers shooting pictures in black and white is a timeless classic. Black and white photography can be very illuminating and powerful for the family images you are taking. It really helps bring out textures or shapes within the photo and can simply add different elements to landscapes. It can also be fun to play with this type of colorless photography. It's really important to be intentional about shooting black and white – have fun with it and use it as a tool and style to make your subject pop. It's also great to highlight emotion, whether it's between the mother or father and the kids or between a couple of your subjects. Play around with it and really try to master the black and white photography style with more practice!
Choosing a Venue or Location
Location is always a key part of good photography, and something you need to think about all the time as a photographer. A good starting point when choosing a location is talking to the family about a place or venue that is meaningful to them. There will always be a number of different options you can choose from. For example, simple studio family portraits are a classic and always seem to do the trick. Some families might also feel that they are most comfortable in their own home, so going to them can be another great option. Keep in mind you will want to be able to have variety within the photos and poses you are shooting, and that you are going to be taking pictures of everything to group shots, parents, kids, or potentially individual ones. So, make sure whatever location you pick allows you to cover all your bases.
Choosing an outdoor location that means something to the family – somewhere they have a lot of memories in – can be a great place to take your family portraits. A photographer’s ability to ask questions that can help lead you to where this place might be is an important skill. You should also have some ideas in mind to use as options for your clients if they ask you. Choose a location where you can get a number of different poses and different styles of portraits. For example, if you plan to have a back and white session as part of your shoot make sure you choose a location that would fit that.
Another good tip to keep in mind is to make sure that you take into consideration any accessibility concerns the family might have and that could be a deciding factor in the location you choose. Of course, when you are thinking of a location for a family photoshoot the place should always be child-friendly! Photographers should also keep in mind that pets are often really important members of the family, so parents may want them to be involved as well. There are a lot of things to think about when you are deciding on the optimal location for your photography session!
Going to a location you have never been before might be hard for you to be able to channel the style you are envisioning. When possible, go to the site before you hit the ground running with the photography session, and if you aren't able to get there, try to ask as many questions as possible beforehand so you'll feel comfortable when you arrive.
How to Set The Shoot Up For Success
Now that you have the equipment and location down pat, here are some tips to set your family photoshoot session up for success.
Make it Fun
Having fun is one of the most important things you can do to set the photoshoot up for success. As the photographer, you are going to set the tone of the photography session so make sure that everyone in the family, from the children to the parents, all feel comfortable with the process and in your presence. When a subject feels uncomfortable in front of the camera, it becomes very visible in the pictures you are taking so make the fun start with yourself and the energy you bring.
Talk Outfits Beforehand
Another element is planning for the wardrobe that the family will be wearing for the shoot. Whether you are conversing via email or over the phone beforehand, have a conversation about clothing. You don't have to decide what they should wear for them, but encouraging the family to do some color matching between each other is a good idea. If they are open to suggestions, ask that they don’t wear colors that clash on the day of the photoshoot. Giving the family options or a direction of what to wear beforehand can also help you bring the style and essence you are imagining for your photoshoot to fruition. Don't sweat the small stuff if it doesn't work out, but do your best to have those conversations in advance.
Assign Yourself an Assistant
This tidbit is especially important if there are a lot of people in the family or if you are shooting a large/extended family portrait. Having an assigned assistant that will help you get the group wrangled, ready for different types of shots, and help facilitate the changing of poses is very helpful. It's a good idea to have someone pre-assigned or allocated at the beginning of the photography session. This will let you focus on your job as a photographer and someone who knows the family well to focus on the organizing aspect of the day. This tip will also help you move things along and keep yourself on schedule in getting the shoot one done on time. If you already have an existing relationship with a client or have built one with your contact leading up to the day of the photoshoot, then this person may be the best one to ask.
Involvement of Pets
We've discussed the usage of pets various times already, but involving pets in your family portrait can sometimes be a staple in family photography. To set yourself up for success when pets are involved make sure you are aware of them going into the session. You don't have to be an animal lover to take great pet pictures, but a useful tip is to treat pets like small children. If you can, ask for as much information about the pet as possible beforehand then that can also help you feel more comfortable. Be patient as you are working with pets to get your shots taken in the family pictures – it's okay if it takes a bit longer. Having some treats to bribe the animal (as long as it’s okay with the owners) could also be helpful for you on the day of the photoshoot. And as always, the most important thing is to have fun with it and to really try to capture the family's personality with the pets involved in the action too.
Last thing is time! Sometimes photographers can underestimate the amount of time a family shoot can take. If there are a lot of people or moving pieces (like small children and pets) adding in extra buffer time on either side is always a good idea. People may be late showing up or schedule something directly after so if you book in more time than you think it will actually take, you'll be able to take some stress off yourself as you move through the day. As a rule of thumb, don't schedule tight back-t0-back clients so you will have the time you need. It can take a bit of warming up and relationship-building to make the family you are photographing feel comfortable with you – which is what you need to happen to be able to get the right photos. It also takes some time to have people move between poses. The last thing is that you should also be cognizant of the amount of time you will need to deliver the final product, so make sure to give a reasonable timeline that will allow you to do the edits and backend things you need to do before delivery.
Now it's time to dive in and get capturing the family love! Remember that the family photographs you take will go on and live forever so tell the story, have fun, and take pride in the meaningful photography work you are doing! And then once you are done, be sure to update your online portfolio with all the new family content.
More information on taking group photos: