We’ve all heard the dreaded ‘say cheese’ instructions and seen the resulting photos. I have been guilty of using this technique too in my early days of as a family portrait photographer.
Over the course of time, my style of photography evolved. I started investing more time and effort in making my clients feel comfortable before, during, and after their photoshoot.
The results were images that were fun, fresh and full of emotions. Exactly the kind of images that any family photographer wants in their portfolio.
Here are 10 great family photo ideas to help you improve your images and get those natural shots.
One of the first things I do when a client books me for their family photos or even for a lifestyle photoshoot is to have a conversation. This can be either on the phone or via email.
This is a way for me to get to know all the people, their personalities, expectations and outcome.
It helps me plan out the photoshoot with the personality of the family as a starting point – poses, style and location etc.
Ideas for Photographing Family Dynamics
It is very important to understand family dynamics prior to the photoshoot.
If there are young children involved, take the time to understand the kids’ personalities. Is the family casual and easy going, or do they like formal, traditional posed pictures?
Just because they like a particular style of imagery does not mean you have to stick to that. Incorporate what they want first, then feel free to experiment.
Spend the first few minutes getting to know the entire family. Join in whatever they’re doing upon your arrival and don’t change the setup right away.
The family, especially the kids, will feel comfortable and safe if they see you interacting. The kids will warm up to you faster that way than if you would just go straight up to them.
1. Have In-Home Sessions to Keep the Family Comfortable
I love recommending in-home sessions. These are especially good for families with young kids and infants. It makes the parents feel relaxed and like they can control the situation better.
Additionally, if it is a large family gathering, it’s easier to coordinate the group in one location.
2. Structure the Shoot Around an Activity at Home
If there is a huge gap in ages, especially for a large group of people, I always recommend an activity that the family can do together. This also makes for a good mix of lifestyle and posed photos.
There is always an equal divide on what type of photos appeal to what audience. You need to instruct the parents to initiate the activity. This can be reading books to the kids, playing with their favorite toys, watching their favorite program, etc.
If you don’t get the shot you want the first time, you can always ask the parents to repeat the activity and have another go.
3. Take Styled and Formal Photos Too
Some family dynamics will lend themselves to a more formal and styled sort of a photoshoot.
Come up with themes and suggestions on how to make these work. It’s important that everyone has fun dressing up for the shoot.
4. Photograph ‘Day in the Life’ Shoots
These photoshoots are amazing for documentary style photographers. They are also long and a lot of work. The photographer spends the whole day with a family documenting it as candidly and naturally as it occurs.
This means all the laughs, tears, meltdowns and messes. If you have a chance to do this, go for it. It is a wonderful way to truly connect with your clients.
Ideas for Structuring Your Family Photoshoot
Trust me, this is key and will ensure you maintain your sanity during the photoshoot. Have a plan of action.
The first few minutes are warmup time – testing the light, figuring out the right lens, etc. I let my clients know exactly what’s happening.
Many times, I also get a lot of beautiful images during this time. Clients are much more relaxed if they think these first few minutes don’t really count.
5. Take Individual Pictures
Many times, families come to have their picture taken expect group shots only. For them, a family photoshoot means a photo with the entire family.
Having a fair number of wedding and family photoshoots under my belt, I know the importance of having a variety of photos especially portraits of each family member.
These are the photos that will get printed and hung on walls eventually. Also always remember to take a photo of just the parents without the kids!
They always consider it a treat and will treasure their portraits.
6. Include a Variety of Compositions and Perspectives
Include a wide variety of photos to capture and share with your clients. Just as you want your clients to keep moving and do many things, you too need to move and capture different angles.
Include wide location shots, close-up details, candid, action, posed and creative photos. Don’t forget to capture portraits looking at the camera as well.
This is really important not to overlook. Grandparents always like shots of their grandkids kids looking at the camera.
7. Include Four Legged Family Members in Your Photoshoot
I am a huge advocate of including pets in family photos. Pets are part of the family and that bond and connection needs to be celebrated.
Clients have asked me if it is okay to bring pets to a shoot and I have always said yes. I have treats handy and also communicate this to my clients so they can come prepared to keep their pet entertained.
Some of my favourite family photo shoots have included pets.
How to Make a Family Photo Shoot Fun
This is a critical part of capturing connections among family members during the photoshoot. For most families, getting photos done is either for a special occasion, or something that they haven’t done in a long time.
I have clients who get family photos done every year. The kids are absolute pros at what to do and what not to do. These are the sessions where I tell the parents that I want to trade kids. Don’t worry, I am just kidding!
As the photographer it is my responsibility to make sure that everyone walks away feeling like they had fun and that it was enjoyable and not stressful.
8. Take Photos of the Adults and Children Playing together
For family portraits with little kids, try techniques like tickle-fest, or blowing bubbles. Rock out those dance moves and other such methods to get the kids in the spirit of having fun.
If kids are a little older, try cracking jokes. Bring some basic props if required and let the kids play. Photograph around the activity and capture candid moments of family interactions.
If all else fails, it is okay to set up the shot and work the family into the pose. Make sure to keep clicking so that you can get some candid photos throughout the whole process.
9. Keep Your Clients Moving to Catch Candid Moments
Having parents run after the kids to catch them is one of my favorite games. It works at basically any age.
It can be very challenging to get perfect clarity with such fast movement. Make sure to crank your shutter speed up and take lots of images to only keep the great ones.
I promise it’s worth taking way too many images because the keepers are always priceless.
Running to Mom or Dad is another variation that keeps everyone from getting bored. The emotions that come out are always fabulous.
Place yourself behind Mom to catch the delighted face of the kid, or behind the kid to capture Mom’s loving expression. There are so many ways you can make this work.
10. Photograph Families Outdoors
When families choose to have the session outdoors, it opens up so many possibilities of getting creative with your shots.
The outdoors becomes another element you can add to the frame. Use it to your advantage. Have kids climb trees or even jump and run around.
These 10 tips for family photoshoots will help you plan, execute and enjoy your client sessions.
Remember that families that play together, stay together. Your job as a photographer is to capture these family dynamics in a fun and pleasing way.
These tips can work with kids and adults of all ages. Although the older the kids get, the more amenable to instructions they become. Older kids may also have their own ideas of how they want you to capture them. Be open to their ideas also.
If your clients have a great time during the shoot, it is more than likely that they will love your images. That will make them more likely to return to you for their photography needs.