Pinterest is full of family portrait ideas that can 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 here are seven creative family portrait ideas you can make your own.
Use them for inspiration, and incorporate your own style.
1. Group Your Subjects Into Triangles
When I shot group photos of sports teams for the local newspaper, we always shot in straight rows.
It was easier to organise 20+ people that way. And the captions could identify each player by listing the rows.
Family photography should not be 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 one classic family picture ideas. You can adjust it to accommodate families of almost any size.
To create those diagonals, consider each family member’s height as you set up the pose. Sitting, kneeling, standing – you can use chairs or props. With these, you can configure a pose that puts the family on different height levels.
This allows group photos without stiff rows. This includes everyone and is compositionally strong.
Creating a triangular shape is also a must for larger families. Posing them side by side would create a photo so wide, you’d need a panoramic camera to capture it.
Triangles are one of the best family picture ideas to create simple yet powerful images. Ideas for family portraits come in all shapes and sizes. Triangles help to create powerful connections.
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
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. This is how you create family portrait photo ideas.
Using a wide aperture and placing the family members at different distances from the lens is a good pose. This helps to highlight one or two family members or emphasising the family dynamic.
I recently shot an engagement session that was also a family session. 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. It also 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 contrast. Between the poses or actions in the foreground and those in the background as well. This is great advice when creating your own family picture ideas.
3. Include the Family Pets
Four-legged friends (or ones with feathers!) are often a part of the family. Incorporating them is a fun way to go beyond the boring traditional photos.
But photographing active pets can be particularly difficult. 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. This is 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. Check with the owner ahead of time.
When shooting family photos with active pets (or even active toddlers), use burst mode. The more pairs of eyes in the photo, the greater the chances of someone blinking or looking away.
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. This would be where to move and whether to look at the camera or pretend it isn’t there.
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 a 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.
They might be an active family. If so, try having them walk down a path together for a casual family photo.
Or they might be more the type to go on a picnic. Or they might prefer to toss a ball around, play 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. Aim for one that suits the family.
Of course, if you’re shooting a family in action, you’ll want to use different gear and settings. These would be different than settings you use during traditional seated family portraiture.
Depending on the activity, sometimes you’ll want to go with a wide-angle lens. This will allow you to capture the larger context of the scene.
At other times, you’ll want medium telephoto lenses. These are more typical of portrait photography (70mm to 105mm).
This allows you to get closer in emphasising family interaction and emotions.
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. The scene will be changing as the family members move around.
Directing the family will help them pose better. And they may even give you inspiration.
5. Be Creative With Props
Props add instant pizzazz. And they serve as an excellent way to spark creative family portrait ideas. For family portrait photos, think of creative 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. Or maybe fall leaves and an autumn-coloured blanket.
For Christmas family photos, try shooting at a Christmas tree farm. Or have everyone cup their hands around a cup of hot cocoa. Or ask 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.
You don’t need many ideas for family portraits – go with the flow.
6. Shoot During Golden Hour
Trying to figure out where to shoot family photos? Start thinking when instead. Golden hour, 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 it will also help avoid odd under-eye shadows.
Shooting backlit is a bit tricky though. You’ll need to adjust your exposure. Expose 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. 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.)
Using you lens hood will ensure lens flare free group photos from your family.
7. Take Candid Photos at Home
Traditional family photography still has its place. But many families are looking for a more casual approach.
They prefer this 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.
Stiff poses and studio backgrounds are out. Instead, the family is laughing, smiling or chatting together. And the backdrop is their own home.
You’ll want to position yourself to catch actions and reactions.. You’re not building a narrative with the images. But 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 candid moments. And something going wrong can sometimes create genuine laughs.
Photographing at home will provide many ideas for family portraits. after all, it is their place with their lives surrounding them. Use them to your advantage.
The idea is to represent everyday life. But there’s also 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. This is to make 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.
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. That’s not something you can do by copying a photo from Pinterest.
Instead, try a few simple family photo ideas. You can adapt them to suit several 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!