Pinterest is full of family portrait ideas that can easily become family photo fails. Trying to re-create a photo by a pro who’s been shooting families for decades is a recipe for disaster, not to mention unoriginal and a potential legal copyright battle.
So, if you’re done browsing for photo ideas only to find Photoshops of the entire family riding the pet dog, look no further.
These seven family portrait ideas are creative concepts that are not only easy for budding photographers to try, but are easy to make your own as inspiration, not imitation.
1. Group Your Subjects into Triangles
When I shot group photos of sports teams for the local newspaper, we always shot in perfectly straight rows. One, it was easier to organise 20+ people that way, and two, the captions could easily identify each player by listing the rows.
Family photography, however, should not be treated like a formal team photo. Instead of rows, think of diagonal lines or triangles. See how, in the photo above, the shape of the family together makes a triangle? That’s a classic family photo idea that can be adjusted to accommodate families of almost any size.
By shaping the family members into a triangle, you create a more close-knit feeling. Diagonal lines lead the eye in any composition, whether that’s a landscape photo or family photography.
To create those diagonals, consider each family members height as you set up the pose. Using sitting, kneeling, standing and chairs or props, you can configure a pose that puts the family on different height levels without stiff rows, which both includes everyone and is compositionally strong.
Creating a triangular shape is also a must for larger families, since simply posing them side by side would create a photo so wide, you’d need a panoramic camera to capture it.
Tip: Make sure to use a wider aperture to keep every face sharp. Around f/11 or so is a good rule of thumb.
2. Experiment with Background and Foreground
Traditionally, you want everyone in the photo to be equally sharp—traditionally. But by playing with depth of field, you can add more creative poses to a family session. Shoot at least one photo where every face is sharp, but after that don’t be afraid to play a bit with depth of field.
Using a wide aperture and placing the family members at different distances from the lens is a good pose for highlighting one or two family members or emphasising the family dynamic.
For example, I recently shot an engagement session that was also a family session for a newly blended family. I put all the kids in the front row and had them cover their eyes while the couple kissed in the background.
Playing with background and foreground is a good way to add variety to a set of family photos and works well for special occasions too.
You could use depth of field to focus on an expecting mother, create a fun kid-focused photo (or a mom-and-dad-focused photo) or even highlight the importance of a family pet.
Try creating a contrast between the poses or actions in the foreground and those in the background as well.
3. Include the Family Pets
Four-legged friends (or ones with feathers!) are often just as much a part of the family, and incorporating pets into family portraits is a fun way to go beyond the boring traditional photos. Photographing active pets can be particularly difficult, however, especially if the family also includes an active toddler.
To help capture Fido in the family photo, try shooting at a location that’s familiar to the pet. Or, if you have your heart set on a different spot, plan some activity time for the pet to let out some energy and play beforehand, so that they aren’t fidgety and distracting during the shoot.
Bringing along appropriate treats for the type of pet is a good idea too—just check with the owner ahead of time.
And, as you would with the human family members, make sure the pet is nicely groomed and presentable for the shoot.
When shooting family photos with active pets (or even active toddlers), use your camera’s burst mode. The more pairs of eyes in the photo, the greater the chances of someone blinking or looking away. If you don’t get that perfect shot but have lots of photos, you can do face swaps in Photoshop if you must.
4. Encourage Interaction and Play
Seated traditional poses are fine, but if you’re looking for more interesting and dynamic family portrait ideas, get candid. This technique is best tailored to the family’s interests, so first ask the family what they like to do together.
Maybe they’re an active family; if so, try having them walk down a path together for a casual family photo. Or maybe they’re more the type to go on a picnic, toss a ball around, play musical instruments together, or spend a day at the beach. Try asking them to tell each other a secret, or have the kids surprise the adults from behind.
By working the setting towards what they like to do, you’ll wind up with both a more creative shot and one that perfectly suits the family.
Of course, if you’re shooting a family in action, you’ll want to use different gear and settings than you would during traditional seated family portraiture.
Depending on the activity, sometimes you’ll want to go with a wide-angle lens to capture the larger context of the scene, while other times you’ll want medium telephoto lenses more typical of portrait photography (70mm to 105mm) to get in closer to emphasise family interaction and emotions.
Be aware of the light sources you have at your disposal and position yourself and your subjects so that you get appropriate emphasis from the light and shadows. Use the lowest possible ISO setting for the situation.
Make sure your shutter speed is fast enough to capture the action. You should be shooting at least 1/250, and burst mode comes in handy here too.
Be prepared to do a fair amount of adjusting your settings and position on the fly to get the subject emphasis and composition you want, as the scene will be changing as the family members move around.
Finally, don’t forget to direct the family—you don’t want to choreograph things, but you should make sure to guide them on basics like where to move and whether to look at the camera or just pretend it isn’t there.
5. Be Creative with Props
Props add instant pizzazz and serve as an excellent way to spark creative family portrait ideas. For family photos, think of props that speak to the family as a whole. Something as simple as a sign that says family, or holding out individual letters to spell L-O-V-E or even the family’s last name.
Seasons are also great places to find prop inspiration—for fall family portrait ideas, try incorporating pumpkins, fall leaves or an autumn-coloured blanket. For Christmas family photos, try shooting at a Christmas tree farm, having everyone cup their hands around a cup of hot cocoa or asking the parents to pull the kids on a classic wooden sled.
Don’t overdo it, though. Think one or two simple props. You already have lots of faces in the photo, adding lots of props can make the image too busy.
6. Shoot During Golden Hour
Trying to figure out where to shoot family photos? Start thinking when instead. Golden hour, the the hour before the sun sets, creates a soft, warm light that’s often gorgeous in family photos.
Golden hour is actually easier to shoot in than trying to shoot at noon on a sunny day. Since the sun is low in the sky, it’s easy to create directional lighting with minimal gear.
During golden hour, try backlighting, or placing the family so that their backs are to the sun. This will add more contrast between the family and the background and also help avoid odd under-eye shadows.
Shooting backlit is a bit tricky though—you’ll need to adjust your exposure so that you are exposing for the subject and not the background to avoid a silhouette.
For small families, you can use a reflector to bounce light back and even out the exposure, or for larger families, try an off-camera flash.
If your lens has a hood, make sure to use it to avoid flaring. (Don’t know how to adjust your exposure to avoid a silhouette? Stay away from backlighting for now, but revisit when you’ve mastered manual modes.)
7. Take Candid Photos at Home
While traditional family photography still has it’s place, many families are looking for a more casual approach over a Photoshopped perfection that doesn’t represent the craziness (or joy) of day-to-day family life. That’s where lifestyle photography comes in.
Lifestyle photography is a candid style of photography and it’s often shot in the family’s home or a location familiar to them, like a favourite park or family farm. Instead of stiff poses and studio backgrounds, the family is laughing, smiling or chatting together, and the backdrop is their own home.
The key here is to frame your subjects in a way that looks natural and says something about the relationships between the people you’re photographing. You’ll want to position yourself to catch actions and reactions, and although you’re not necessarily building a narrative with the images, these photos should feel like a slice of your subjects’ life story.
If something goes awry and the toddler causes mischief, keep shooting. This style of photography is all about about candid moments, and something going wrong can sometimes create genuine laughs.
While the idea is to represent everyday life more accurately, there’s also occasionally a bit of prep work needed to differentiate it from smartphone snapshots. Make sure to discuss what the family likes to do and prepare the shooting environment ahead of time.
For example, windows make both great light sources and good props—sometimes photographers may move furniture away from the window so there’s room for mom, dad, and kid to be by the window without any background distractions. You should also ensure that distracting clutter is out of site. Counters may be cleared for a shot in the kitchen, for instance.
Lifestyle photography is often a favourite for newborn sessions in the nursery, but many families prefer the laid back approach of using the family home instead of a blank backdrop. The best part? It’s easy to practice inside your own home.
The trend for stiff studio family portrait poses is gone—in its place are photos in more natural settings with genuine expressions. Family portrait ideas should focus on capturing the family dynamic and personality, and that’s not something you can do by copying a photo from Pinterest. Instead, try a few simple family photo ideas that can easily be adapted to multiple styles to create a treasured photograph. Design family photography poses around the family, not around a cookie-cutter pose.
Want to learn more about the technical elements behind great family portraits? Read more here to learn how to take your family snaps to the next level!
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