Nothing holds a deeper place in one’s heart than beautiful family portraits with loved ones. This can be anything from photos of the entire family or just portraits of a couple.
The photographer’s goal is to ensure that the bond and connection between each member of the family shines through every image.
Often times, posed shots can appear static and stiff. Natural family portraits are the ones that capture true personality. As a photographer, this is what you should be aiming for.
Here is how to make sure you get those fun, spontaneous moments at your next family shoot!
The Experience Makes the Difference
Family photography is possibly the most widespread and well-known photographic niche. Making your work stand out is just as important as producing beautiful, captivating photography.
The experience you offer your clients goes hand-in-hand with what kind of portraits you will produce – and how much fun you can bring out of your subjects!
The vibe sets the tone.
Through my own experience, I’ve noticed many of my first-time clients approach a photo shoot as a very stressful ordeal. It certainly doesn’t have to be like that.
A great way to change up that experience is to welcome your clients with a warm, optimistic, energetic, and friendly personality.
Don’t jump right into photographing. Ask your clients how they’re doing, maybe offer them a beverage. Reassure them that the photo shoot will be easygoing. And don’t forget about the kids! Ask them what they’re most excited about to ease their nerves.
Try to amp up the excitement about how much fun they’re about to have in front of your lens.
All of this helps ease any tension the family in front of your lens may be feeling and leads to more relaxed and spontaneous photographs.
Get to Know the People You’re Photographing
A big part of photography is psychology.
The best way to figure out how to bring out your clients’ character is to know their personality in the first place. Whether during the consultation for the photo shoot or the session itself, you absolutely need to get to know your clients on a very personal level.
Ask them questions about what they do, what they like, and what really brings that spark out of them. Even when you’re working with a group of people, ask everyone what relation they have to one another or what their favorite memory is.
From there, you can gauge how to bring the spontaneity out of them.
Some people are easily amused and very happy, telling a silly joke can get the natural laughter to come through in the shot. Others are a bit shyer, and some words of encouragement and comfort can aid in pulling a smile out of the subjects.
You can figure all of this out if you take the time to get to know your clients.
Lens Choice Is Important
The lens you choose will affect how adventurous your fun and natural photographs become. It will dictate how out-of-the-blue some of the photographs can be.
If you are photographing with a 50mm, you’ll have to be fairly close to your subjects. This means it may take a little bit of coaxing to get those natural moments out of them.
On the other hand, if you’re photographing with a telephoto or zoom lens, you can position yourself farther away. This might allow you to capture very spontaneous moments more easily.
Your clients won’t feel like you’re there, which might make them more comfortable.
Be Ready to Adapt
As photographers, we really are constantly changing and adapting to the situations at hand. Your family portrait shoot is no different.
Adapt yourself to what your clients feel most comfortable and confident with, whether it be how you speak to them or your demeanor.
With children, see what the child likes and adjust yourself to better match with what makes the kid excited to be photographed.
If your clients bring a dog, acclimate to the situation and adjust your surroundings to bring the best out of the family’s beloved pooch.
Make Them Laugh
Tell some jokes, play some music – allow your clients to forget the formalities of a photo shoot.
Your aim is to disassociate your clients from any preconceived notions of what a photo shoot should be like. This is possibly one of the best methods of pulling character out of a subject.
Try creating a fun distraction. This will let them escape the “I have to be posing right now because my picture is being taken” mindset.
Playing music helps subjects relax, especially adults who have favourite songs that bring an emotion out of them.
Make silly faces for kids to get them to laugh, or tell a wild joke for their parents.
Create an environment fit for conversation and friendship, rather than a stale client and photographer situation. This way, the facial expressions of your clients will show that they trust you, they’re enjoying themselves, and are feeling completely at ease.
Posing Children – Make It a Game
What kid doesn’t love games? The key to photographing children is to make the photo shoot more like a game. Often parents can stress out their kid by telling them to behave during a photo session. That can make some of the images look uncomfortable.
Children do not hide their emotions like an adult can, it’s written right on their faces. As such, turning posing into a game or something fun is a great way to turn the mood around.
Kids love showing off to someone new. Next time you pose a little boy or girl, ask them to show you how good they can stand on one foot. Or ask them to act out their favourite television character.
The more you engage and the more you make posing something fun, the better the shots.
Great pose ideas include playing with flowers, spinning in a circle, or show off their teeth! Take advantage of what children do naturally when posing them.
Posing Couples – Capture the Love
Couples come to a photographer to have their romance commemorated for a reason. Bring out the love by asking the couple how they met, their favourite things about each other, or beautiful memories that they both share.
When posing a couple, the more romantic, the better. Ask them to kiss one another, pick each other up, smile and laugh, pretend that the photo shoot is an epic date.
The key here is to capture the electrifying bond between the two!
Great pose ideas include kissing, hugging, and cuddling.
Posing Pets – Get Them to Play
When posing owners with pets, have the owner play and kiss their furry family member like they would at home.
Posing owners with their pets for family portraits can be challenging. You cannot direct a dog or cat like you can another person.
This hindrance can actually work brilliantly to your advantage. All the photographs will be naturally fun and spontaneous. Instead of trying to control the uncontrollable, let go of your expectations entirely.
Have the owners of the pets play, kiss, and talk to their furry companions as they would at home, and capture the love that ensues as a result!
Much like kids, take advantage of natural behaviors that pets exhibit.
Great pose ideas include belly rubs, hugs, and kisses. A good trick to encouraging a kiss is to hide a dog treat in the owner’s mouth and the dog will lick their lips.
Expect the Unexpected
Photographing families with children and pets will never go as planned.
No matter how much you try to plan the shots, the likelihood of the shoot not going as planned is great. Children and pets are unpredictable, and as such, your predictions will probably be proven wrong.
Don’t be discouraged! Take this as an excellent opportunity to flex your photographic muscles and creativity.
Expect that you’ll attend the photo shoot and have to change your entire plan. With this in mind, you can focus on simply bringing the personalities out of your clients by engaging with them.
Keep Their Heads Together
When aligning families, keeping their heads as close together as possible looks best.
A compositional trick that you can incorporate into your family sessions is keeping their heads as close together as possible. This is because that intimate proximity portraits affection the best in a static image.
You have to remember that photographs do not move. As such, you have to tell the story through one frozen instance.
If you focus on human body language and psychology, the closer you are to someone, the more feelings you have towards them. If everyone is close together, the photograph oozes with feeling.
Keeping everyone together is also good for composition. This way, you can have some control over spontaneity with a big group.
Depending on what lens you use, you can make sure that there is little chance for any of your subjects to move past your lens and cause you to miss a key moment.
Be More Spontaneous Yourself
How a photo shoot flows starts with you – if you become more spontaneous and less stringent, so will your clients. Be imaginative and fun yourself, come up with silly poses and ideas on the spot and act them out!
Professional photographers do this all the time, contrary to popular belief. This is your time to shine too.
If you see the family you’re photographing not really digging the poses or ideas you have planned, mix it up completely and try something new and fresh. They will appreciate the difference and you’ll love the new photographs you’re capturing.
As a photographer, you’re always learning something new. You can absolutely get a brand new inspiration bug during a fun and natural family portrait session!
Bonus Tip: Don’t Just Focus on the Faces
It’s natural to focus on the face and expression and miss the details. But these are important too!
Photographers have to break out of the habit of focusing only on faces. Some of the details can create an equally powerful and sentimental photograph.
If you see a couple holding hands, zoom in on those hands and capture that connection. If you see a child find a lady bug, use the lady bug in the photographs.
The small stuff can have a big impact.
We have a great article on essential family photography gear you can check out here.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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