Family photography portraits capture a moment in time alongside those you care for most. They are treasured memories, placed on a wall or a mantle of a specific time and place.
Perhaps you decide to start an event, wedding or portraiture business, where family and group shots are standard. You need to show these people in their best light.
Newborn photography also falls under this umbrella. Families often want to show off their newest members.
Of course, if family photography were as simple as picking up a camera and shouting ‘say cheese!’, we’d all be doing it. But it’s not; there’s a ton of little intricacies to it.
More often than not, those members of the family or group are unexperienced models in front of the camera. You need to make them feel comfortable and at ease.
Natural images are the best, but not exactly candid. You, the photographer, have the control, but the family supplies the mood, tone and the action.
You both work on their posture and expression direction.
Our article will guide you through the camera gear you will need. How to shoot and post-process successful family photographic is our aim.
Photographing newborns is no easy task. Thankfully, most of them can’t move so well, so they tend to stay where you place them.
This doesn’t mean they can’t fall, roll over or pull faces that are less than admirable.
A camera for photographing scenes with newborns in them needs to have a wide range of ISOs and shutter speeds.
Your lenses should have a variety of apertures, as these will help you in low light.
Luckily, most DSLRs and mirrorless cameras have the capacity to shoot different scenarios. For other camera gear recommendations, read our article here.
Just like newborn photography, you and your family photography will benefit from having many possible settings at your disposal.
Most settings, such as ISO and shutter speed, depend on your camera of choice.
The lenses you choose determine the aperture at which you can photograph. This allows you to use a small depth of field, great for blurring out backgrounds.
Having a wide range of focal points is helpful when it comes to photographing family photography portraits.
The variety lets you get closer and further away from your subject. Perfect for keeping their attention, and allowing you to stay back for the shy members of the family.
For all the recommended camera gear, read here.
Your camera allows you to photograph the scene. But as you are using manual mode (you are, right?), you need to make sure your camera settings are up to speed.
A low ISO is always best. This number determines the quality of your images.
A higher ISO will add digital noise or grain into your images and should only be used for low light conditions.
Shooting in raw is another must. This setting gives you so much more play in post-processing.
A jpg comes out of your camera processed, and there won’t be much you can do to help it if it’s less than perfect.
How To Photograph Your Family
A cheat sheet is a great way to find out how to capture the photographs you want. It’ll help you get the most out of it with hints, tips and techniques.
They are great to have printed so that you can follow the exact workflow in capturing your settings perfectly.
You can also put them on your phone or tablet paper-freer free version. One of the best examples is photographing indoors in low light.
You start by deciding if you are only using natural light, or incorporating a flashlight too. From there it is a step by step guide.
Read here on all of the family photography portrait scenarios you may encounter, and how to photograph them effectively.
In all areas of photography, there are rules. They are more like guidelines for you to follow, as these rules can be bent, warped and broken.
These guidelines are here to help you get the most out of your family photography.
One of the biggest rules to follow looks at aperture. Aperture is determined by your lens, not by your camera.
It decides how much of your image will be in focus or not. By using an aperture between f/8 and f/16, you ensure your subjects are in focus.
This is still small enough to make sure that the background can still be blurred for maximum effect.
Read our other nine ‘rules’ here, and once you have a good knowledge of them, break them.
Photographing your family (or someone else’s) doesn’t have to be a serious matter. You will really benefit from a lively, creative and fun shoot.
These images are going to be the memento for the family for a long time.
One very creative way to look at your group is to utilise the foreground and the background. This is a great way to incorporate variety into your series of shots.
Because of this foreground-background, the differential focus could work well here.
If some members of the family are at the front, they can have a different mood to those at the back.
It can create a contrast or juxtaposition within the shot, creating interest and a happy reminder of the day.
Read here for more creative ideas to capture that family.
Capturing family photography portraits in black and white can have very powerful effects.
It allows you to look at the scene in a very different way.
Here, texture, shape and form take precedence. Light and contrast become more important in images that lack colour.
You are less distracted when you photograph as the scene becomes simplified. Not every image has that powerfulness in black and white.
The images need to be strong and not rely solely on colour to make them interesting. Read our article here on all the help you may need.
Taking fun and natural family photography portraits can be challenging. You are working with normal, everyday people who are not used to posing in front of a camera.
They can come out as being rigid and stiff, whereas the mood you are looking for is relaxed and confident. One way to get past this is to spend time with the family.
The more pre-shoot work you do, the less you need to do when shooting. Spending time with the group can help them to relax around you, bringing out their warmer side.
This makes it easier for you. For other important tips on how to get that natural look, read our article here.
As you will photograph families more and more, you will start to see which images work. Some ideas are good for some scenes, the same ones won’t translate to other areas.
It all comes from practising and critical evaluation. Our article can save you a little time and help you with a bunch of dos and don’ts for your family photography.
Do squish your groups together. It makes the people look as if they actually like each other (imagine that?!).
But don’t get them to tilt their heads towards each other. This pose is saved for the lovey-dovey shots.
Family photography is a way to document your family, or someone else’s, at a specific moment in time. Moments fade way too fast, and we all too soon miss those split-seconds.
There are no other photographs more natural than those found in documentary family photography. This is all about capturing the family in all its highs, lows, tears and smiles.
Although it seems like candid photography, here the photographer has full control of the capture.
The important thing here is to let the family-run its course, and not to touch the scene in any way.
Read more of our tips on how to create beautiful documentary family photography.
Focusing can be a pain. Especially when you have a few adults standing still, and the child keeps moving.
You are going to have difficulty as the child is going to be closer to the camera that the others in the shot.
One tip here is trying to get everyone on the same row. This means that if you focus on one person towards the centre, the others will also be sharp.
All of the people are the same distance from your sensor. Having them all in one row will also allow you to line their feet up so you ensure their overall sharp focus.
Read our article here on how to keep the focus on the family.
If you are stuck for inspiration, there are many places you can look. Pinterest has the largest collection of images for searching group or family photography.
They will show you images of groups of friends, wedding parties and even work colleagues grouped together.
Our article here gives you a few great examples of how different artists see families. Peruse at your leisure.
Posing men traditionally involves highlighting angles and emphasising implied power. This also comes out from use of strong and sharply-defined lines.
These means emphasising the V-shaped torso and the jawline. Concentrate on these while downplaying round shapes and non-dominant body language.
The prominence of these lines, as well as the features in the subject’s physique, can be controlled. By adjusting the positioning of the subject in relation to the camera.
And, to a certain extent, through lens selection. The effect of the pose should be to show broad, stable shapes with a clear structure.
This gives the composition a visual strength which communicates the idea that the subject himself is strong.
Women’s poses in portraits traditionally have stressed the curves of the female form. In contrast with men’s poses, women’s avoid straight lines and hard angles.
The key thing to remember when posing women is that the eye should move easily around the portrait. You guide it along with the curves that you introduce throughout the pose. Subtle curves can be created by bending the wrists, elbows, and knees, in ways that are harmonious with the model’s form.
The ‘S Curve’ is a classic pose that guides the viewer’s eye down the frame from the face, to the arms and hands, following on to the model’s legs.
Knowing how to pose couples is one of the biggest help in all portrait and group photography. Usually, when you gather a group for a group shot, you start in the middle.
Having the married couple, for example, posed first, everyone else fits around them in a series of triangles and shapes. The focus is on the couple after all.
By interacting with them and not just photographing the couple, you help to calm them. Your images should reflect their happy, comfortable side with each other. Help them out.
For more tips on how to pose couples successfully, read our article here.
At its most basic, the family portrait is a group photo in which the subject is comprised of members of the same family. It’s essentially a record of who’s part of the family and highlights the relationship between the people in it.
The classic family portrait usually shows the family in a studio, posed as a group, facing the camera. However, recent years have seen a trend towards creative family portraits.
These could highlight the personality of a family. They can even present the family members posed unconventionally. A visually interesting setting keeps up the same mood and theme.
The important thing to remember is to keep the composition balanced. You’re working with many people in a single image.
This article presents some ideas that will help you create poses that break the mould of traditional family portraits. This helps to show the unique family dynamic of your subject.
Image credit: Hillary K Grigonis
Posing a family of dozens of people you have never met before is terribly daunting. They might already have had a bit to drink, which should help but doesn’t really.
The best way to approach this is to have a vision. How do you want to portray the two sides of the now extended family? Where is it going to take place?
Scouting the area is a huge benefit to you in achieving the best photograph possible. Look for the areas that can hold a large number of people and gives you that warm, happy mood.
Read all of our tips here on how to get the very best from your wedding poses and family photography.
Just because you are photographing someone’s family, it doesn’t mean it has to be at eye level. Most of the images you will see are just that, so break it up.
Showing a different perspective helps to create something interesting and creative. And let’s face it, all families are different, yet they all have their quirks.
Use these to your advantage. If the group has small children or even toddlers, get the adults on the ground too. It’s a great, playful way to capture the family.
Newborns are great to photograph, as they sleep a lot and hardly move. Saying that, they need a lot of attention and cooing when they are awake between shots.
They are both your best and worst clients. It goes without saying that safety comes first. You will see many images where the newborn looks completely on their own.
Yet, it isn’t the case, it comes down to clever mother placement and image stacking. Post-processing allows this effect to happen. Read all of our tips on how to photograph newborns here.
Posing newborns should be relatively easy. Wait for them to fall asleep and then pose them in any number of humorous positions you see fit. After that, let’s get back to work.
Unfortunately, it’s nowhere near that easy.
This is definitely an art form in itself. Start slowly and make sure the baby is comfortable and most of all, safe. Posing a newborn is not the same as posing men or women.
What you look for in adults, you look for the opposites in the baby. Fat rolls and wrinkles are the focus, alongside their expressions. Place them in poses that extenuate and show these off.
Read our article here for all the tips you will ever need.
Your studio is where all the gear comes together. This is your controlled environment, where you set up your camera, lighting, and other accessories.
These allow you to take portraits in the style and manner that suits you. If you’re just getting started with studio portraiture, you’ll most likely want to set up a studio as that is the most affordable.
Of course, setup isn’t everything. You will still need to work with the subjects in the studio to get the look, feel, and the effect that you want in the portrait.
The sooner you can get comfortable with working in the context of the studio, the sooner you’ll be able to improve your family photography skills.
By working in a studio, or building your own, you will find a lot of different choices for lighting. Flashbulbs are the most common as they are cheaper and widely available.
But there are other forms that will provide a constant light, rather than a flash. These are incandescent and fluorescent and are generally used in studios.
Read our article here on the difference between these lights, and why and when you would use them.
A beauty dish is a great piece of studio equipment. Surprisingly enough, it is a dish-shaped lighting modifier that has been painted silver on the inside.
The light bounces into the back of the dish, reflects around the sides and then out the front. This provides a beautiful, soft light that falls on the subject at equal strengths.
You will see that compared to a flashbulb, a beauty dish spreads its intensity over a wider area. It can be used with a ‘grid’ which allows a more directed light source.
Read our article here on how to use one, let alone all the reasons why you need one.
If you have a Speedlite, why not try some DIY. Store bought modifiers can be expensive to buy, and you might find you don’t use them all the time.
Creating them at home means that you get to try different ways to light your portraits without spending a lot of money. You can try before you buy, or just keep the ones you made.
With a few small pieces of plastic, you can create a few different modifiers. Other items you might have laying around the house. You might need to buy a pack of pringles, but then you can enjoy them too!
Studio lighting is a vast topic unto itself and there is a large amount of terminology that you’ll encounter when dealing with it.
Becoming familiar with the vocabulary of lighting will help you become better at working with different types of light. Sources, patterns, and tools will help you take successful portraits.
This short glossary is a handy reference that you can refer to when assembling your lighting kit. This will also allow you to manipulate your lighting setup while working in the studio.
Entire books have been written on the many lighting patterns that photographers can use in different scenarios.
Portraiture is just one area where very basic lighting patterns can work wonders. These are:
- Split lighting
- Loop lighting
- Rembrandt lighting
- Butterfly lighting
- Broad lighting
- Short lighting
These patterns are among the most useful and easy to create with basic lighting gear. Many more advanced lighting setups are, in fact, variations or elaborations on these basic ones.
Memorise these and you’ll have a solid foundation of lighting choices when you need to take a portrait. With these basics mastered you’ll be better prepared. You will start to assess more advanced facets of lighting such as the quality, direction, and ratio.
Using the natural light that shines in through a window is a great way to get soft light. This is great for an indoor subject which is often overlooked and it costs nothing.
The effect of the window on the outdoor light is essentially the same as that of a softbox on a flash, ie. the intensity of the light is lessened and the light itself is
Done right, the effect can be very impressive and professional-looking. You are harnessing the power by moving the subject closer or further away from the window.
But this is exclusively a natural light source dependent on the time of day and weather. You’ll need to pay close attention to the quality of the light.
Post-Processing Family Photography
We can all benefit from using a workflow. This is a great way to make sure you do everything you need to step-by-step, in a timely manner.
This is a perfect way to tackle a paid group photograph as it ensures that everything goes according to plan without missing or losing images.
The best advice we can give you is to make sure you upload your images to a folder, on your hard drive, that you will remember. Use the clients’ name and/or date for the best system.
All of our tips covering the workflow are found here, in our article.
Adobe Lightroom is perfect for the majority of your portraiture post-processing. It affords you a smaller toolset than Photoshop.
But it enables an easier workflow and archiving process through its library module.
For global changes to an image as well as cropping, Lightroom has all your bases covered.
Plus, if you are working with a large batch of files which need editing and organisation, then Lightroom is your go-to program.
It has the ability to apply presets to many photos and add metadata and notes to your files.
This guide gives you a solid overview of how to organise your portrait files. And how to perform the major corrections and edits that portraits usually need.
When you think of removing bags under your subject’s eyes, you’re thinking of ‘retouching’. This also goes for getting rid of unflattering marks and stray hairs.
Retouching portraits is an essential skill and Adobe Photoshop is your go-to tool for these edits. It’s usually the final stage of portrait photography before you have a finished product.
This article has tutorials on some of the most used retouching techniques. These include spot healing, frequency separation, and dodging & burning.
Image credit: Dani Diamond
The reality is, the faster you edit, the faster you are done with your work. It will give you extra time to work on other projects.
Hopefully, most of your images will only need a little tweaking with the local adjustments, such as exposure and white balance.
One of the best pieces of advice we can pass on is to work on all images equally. It is very easy to get sidetracked, come across an image we really like and edit it for 2 hours.
Treat all images relatively the same. Process as you need to, looking at the bigger picture. Would you rather submit one image or many?
When it comes to post-processing, don’t overdo it. A good artist knows when to stop, take a step back and admire their work.
There are certain things photographers tend to do when editing their work. One area is to put too much mid-tone contrast into their images.
This type of contrast is found in Lightroom under the ‘Clarity’ slider. This gives the edges a little pop. It also helps to pull out details in the skin.
It works a treat – in small amounts. Don’t crank it up, just use enough. No more, no less. Read our other tips on what to avoid doing here.
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