4 min read

12 Tips for Making Great Family Portraits

4 min read

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family portrait.

Family portraits are some of the most anticipated and dreaded photos of the year. As the years go on, however, family photos become priceless memories, each with its own story.

Like the time your dad pulled your brother’s ear across the grass to be in a perfect position. Or when the bird flew across the yard and unleashed on your heads. Or when your sister had a meltdown because she hadn’t finished her makeup.

These situations are normal, don’t worry;  it makes the photo memorable. Families aren’t perfect, and while there’s no such thing as the perfect photo, there are lots of things you can do to make the picture look nice.

Tips for Taking Great Family Portraits

Whether you’re using the camera on your phone, a point-and-shoot, or a DSLR camera, the same general principles hold for getting awesome portraits. 

Here are a few things to make the picture taking go a little smoother:

Pick Locations in Advance

The quicker pictures can be taken, the better because the longer you wander looking for a spot, the more anxious people get to leave. Don’t be afraid to change up the locations. It is convenient to take pictures in the same spot every year, especially with younger children.

However, a different landscape can greatly enhance your picture. Be aware of backgrounds that could obstruct the picture, such as trees or branches that look as if they are coming out of your child’s head.

Coordinate Clothing with Family Members

When you have family clothing coordinated, the picture looks tens times better. It helps when the family chooses one or two of the same colors to wear, with consistent pants or shorts or whatever you choose.

Some families prefer the casual look, others the semi-casual or formal. Avoid shirts that have logos or designs. Add accents to the photo with different colored scarves, headbands, shoes, etc. Don’t be afraid of color contrast in a photo, as it can add depth to a picture and help its overall composition.

Communicate Clearly with Subjects

Photographers, in order to move quickly, need to communicate clearly with subjects. Be specific about who you are talking to, where you need them to be in comparison to others, and use good descriptive words.

Strategically Place Subject Hands

What is the first thing you notice in a picture? Are hands a distraction in the picture? Hands can be placed behind the back, in pockets, around family members, etc., but if they are placed in front, make sure to get a different angle other than front on.

Choose Flattering Poses

Be aware of angles and poses that do not complement those in the portrait. Be sensitive to height and weight differences, to not overemphasize either of these personal differences. If there are significant height differences in the family, maybe sitting would be more preferred than a standing pose. Maybe a close-up picture shot might be the most flattering for your family than the more posed and arranged pictures.

Have Fun and be Real

Pictures that turn out the best are those where the family is having a good time, laughing, and acting themselves. Although family pictures can be stressful at times, and it’s difficult to have everyone’s cooperation, enjoy the moment. It will make the picture look better. Smile your natural smile, and allow yourself to feel good, and it will show through in the photographs.

Be Aware of Shadows

Finding the right lighting in a photo can be tricky. In attempts to find shade in bright settings, be aware of overhead shadows. Sometimes dark shadows can be cast underneath the eyes or other parts of the picture.

Find a Point of Interest (but just one per photo)

Every great shot has a focal point that holds the viewer’s interest, but the backgrounds are often overwhelmingly full of competing focal points: people, colors, decorations, etc. Paying attention to what’s in your background and even going for a minimalist feel will help the focus stay on your subject.

Manage Your Flash

Many family portrait shoots take place indoors with limited lighting. This means that when you use your flash, it can sometimes be too bright and/or harsh. If you have a camera that works well in low light conditions, try working without the flash. If not, consider using a diffuser or reflector. If you have an external flash, you can try bouncing it off the walls or the ceiling.

Use a Tripod

A tripod is often under-utilized by amateur photographers, but unless you’re using your phone or tablet to get your shots, there’s really no excuse for not getting at least some of your shots with a tripod. 

Why? Well, for one thing you won’t come away with what you thought was a fantastic shot, only to find that it’s actually somewhat blurry. Also, it’ll help you take time to compose your shots, consider the background, etc.

Set Your White Balance

If you’re celebrating and photographing your Christmas indoors, you’re probably working with unnatural lighting. If you’re using incandescent lighting (standard light bulbs), setting the camera’s white balance to tungsten should do the trick. 

If you’re shooting under fluorescent lighting, you’ll need to switch to the fluorescent white balance setting. Of course, if you’re shooting in RAW, you can always change the white balance later, but it’s much less hassle to get it right in-camera.

Fill Your Frame

This seems pretty elementary, but you won’t believe how many beginning photographers forget this point when shooting family portraits. Their photos end up with their subjects in the distance and lots of empty space or background “noise” around them. Filling your frame is pretty straightforward – just use your zoom or get closer. It’s that simple!

Video: Sharp Focus for Family Portraits

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Taya Iv is a portrait photographer, 500px ambassador, and host of Great Big Photography World podcast.
Taya Iv is a portrait photographer, 500px ambassador, and host of Great Big Photography World podcast.

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