For many professional photographers, family portraits are a mainstay of their business. People want family photos taken for holiday cards, to celebrate milestones, and to document the growth of their children. But shooting group photos can present some unique challenges. With these five tips, you can avoid awkward family pictures and capture beautiful images for your clients:
- Recommend Coordinated Clothing Choices
- Control the Photo Session—But Stay Open to Ideas
- Encourage Closeness in Family Groupings
- Aim for a Blurred Background—But Keep Everyone in Focus
- Try to Capture Some Genuine Smiles
5 Tips for Avoiding Awkward Family Pictures
As a photographer, you have a unique opportunity to create meaningful memories for your clients. It’s wise to have a range of ideas for clients who need a family photo shoot. This way, when you consult with families about their shoot, you can recommend the right alternatives.
For example, families who want a very traditional family picture may work well in a portrait studio setting. But for families who want a more casual or natural look, you might suggest a photo shoot outdoors during the golden hour. Every family is unique, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution to take the best family pictures. Flexibility and creativity are keys to your success.
1. Recommend Coordinated Clothing Choices
Often, families aren’t sure what to wear for family pictures. They’ll be looking to you for fashion ideas. Your insight can have a tremendous impact on the overall quality and final result. After all, the wrong clothing choices can clash and ruin family photos!
The best advice you can give families is to stick to a color palette. Be prepared to suggest color schemes that work well. For family Christmas pictures, wearing shades of classic red and green is always a reliable choice. For family photoshoots in the fall, the warm tones of the season are a good bet. What about family beach pictures? Try neutrals or pastels for a soft look or bright colors for a tropical vibe.
Always consider your shoot location or your backdrop when shooting in a studio. Avoid any unpleasant and jarring color combinations–unless your clients specifically want to wear silly clothing combinations for funny family photos—such as ugly sweaters for Christmas. Otherwise, remind them that simplicity is the goal, and they should keep their outfits subdued and avoid too many patterns, busy prints, or large logos.
If families feel unsure of their clothing choices, suggest that family members bring several outfit options to their photo session. This way, you can have more flexibility to stage and style different looks and capture a great family photo.
2. Control the Photo Session—But Stay Open to Ideas
Parents are often the ones to give their family directions. While some children may listen to their parents’ guidance, others may have a more playful or curious nature and tend to resist their parents’ wishes. For some kids, a photo shoot can be a fun and exciting adventure, so they’ll be full of energy and questions. If there’s any tension between parents and kids, emotions can run high and disrupt family portrait session. That’s a recipe for awkward family pictures and should be avoided.
You can never predict the dynamics of families, so your best bet is taking ownership of the session from the start. Project a calm and confident demeanor.
Parents may have a clear idea about how they want their photos to look—and you should always consider those perspectives. Remember that you are the expert on family photography. And let the kids share their ideas and wishes, too. The best family sessions have a collaborative and open dialog—with a professional photographer acting as a facilitator and guide.
If parents seem to want to give their kids a lot of direction, aim to get any formal pictures completed first. Tell parents it can be helpful if they reinforce your instructions for these types of shots. But let them know that you want to capture some more candid and spontaneous images as well. That way, kids will have an opportunity to play, explore, and interact. And you’ll be able to shoot some relaxed family pictures that portray their unique qualities and relationships.
With this approach, you can reassure parents that you’ll capture professional family photos while helping kids know there will be time for fun, too. You’ll make the most of every family photo session and be able to deliver a delightful mix of family images to your clients.
3. Encourage Closeness in Family Groups
Many people are not comfortable posing in front of a camera, particularly at first. When you’re shooting family pictures, this natural tendency can cause your subjects to seem stiff and awkward. They may tend to stay a bit too far apart from one another. In photos, this can make families seem distant and tense when the ideal is portraying a close and caring vibe.
You can work around this issue by encouraging families to group closely together. One of the best family pictures poses to suggest is having people stand at a slight angle with their shoulders overlapping. You can also encourage families to touch one another. Have a husband place his hands on his wife’s waist or have mom touch the shoulders of her son or daughter.
Keep in mind that if you’re working with large height differences, you may need to try seated groupings with kids positioned in front of parents for family pictures. Also, if you’re taking pictures with grandparents, you may need to have chairs so that older adults can sit comfortably and stage family members around them.
Are you looking for family photo ideas for casual or candid shots? Trying having families lay down with their heads towards each other and take an overhead shot. Or suggest that families hold hands and walk together through a field or along the edge of an ocean.
Also, keep the idea of encouraging closeness and togetherness in mind if you shoot maternity pictures with a couple or family. Some of the best photos portray couples embracing or children hugging mom’s baby bump. With these poses, you can create a treasured portrait of a special time in a family’s life.
4. Aim for a Blurred Background—But Keep Everyone in Focus
Using a wide aperture to create shallow depth of field is a classic technique in portrait photography. And it’s a good choice for family portrait photography, too. After all, you want the focus to be on the family members and relationships with the background playing a secondary role.
In general, you should select the widest aperture setting you can while ensuring everyone in the photo remains in sharp focus. This can be a bit tricky for larger group shots, such as family reunion photos. In those scenarios, you may have people positioned on different focal planes. Family members who are furthest away from the camera can look a little blurry if your aperture setting is too wide.
What’s the solution? Step down from the widest aperture in those situations. Remember to use preview and zoom features on your camera to make sure everyone is in clear focus before you shoot pictures of family groupings.
5. Try to Capture Some Genuine Smiles
At the beginning of a photo shoot, families can feel unsure or tense. This can lead to some stiff or awkward body language that isn’t the best material for family photos. But this situation is completely normal. Posing in front of a photographer isn’t an everyday affair for most people, so their discomfort is natural.
It’s up to you to break the tension and help families relax. Start with a funny story or joke. If you’re working in a studio, play some upbeat music to set the mood. Or start the session with some creative, fun poses that get families interacting and enjoying themselves. Have them make silly faces or pretend to be characters in their favorite movie or TV show. You could end up with some fun pictures that the family will love!
It may take a little while for families to loosen up, so be patient. Have a ready supply of tension-breaking ideas to work with different families and situations. And remember that some families may naturally have a more formal and serious demeanor.
You’ll need to use your intuition to discern the dynamic of each family and adapt your approaches to bring out the best of each one.
Take Standout Family Pictures That Clients Will Love
For many families, having professional photos taken is an annual event. Many people add family pictures to holiday cards or give them away as gifts to loved ones. Others choose to have a family portrait taken to honor other occasions—such as part of a newborn photography session to celebrate the birth of a new family member or for religious milestones or graduations.
It’s no surprise that family picture photo services can be a lucrative line of business for every photographer. In fact, you can use family pictures as a stepping stone to break into the world of professional photography. If you already have a photography business, you can start specializing in family photos to add a new revenue stream.
To take great family pictures, you’ll need to learn some specific techniques to master the art of group photography. Those skills include understanding how to recommend coordinated outfit choices, knowing portrait poses that exude warmth and closeness, and working with different family dynamics. You’ll also need to know some fundamentals about taking portrait photos—such as understanding how to create shallow depth of field. And you’ll need to be able to cultivate an atmosphere of fun and happiness to capture genuine smiles.
One of the great things about taking family pictures is that there are many avenues to explore. You can pursue a broad approach or focus on an interesting niche—such as family ski pictures if you’re in a cold climate or family beach pictures if you live near the ocean. In fact, travel pictures are always in huge demand if you live near a popular tourist destination. You can also focus on a specific cultural or religious heritage by offering African family pictures or Diwali family pictures, for example. If those angles don’t work for you, spend some time perusing family photos online. You’re sure to find dozens of creative ideas.
Once you’ve built up a solid reputation as a professional family pictures photographer your clients can be great sources of new business. Encourage them to share family pictures through their social media accounts. Suggest that they link to your gallery on your website and let them know about any special offers or promotional deals. Happy customers are likely to return to you for family photography in future years and spread the word to others.
Becoming a great family photographer is within your reach. Capturing special moments and memories for families can be rewarding on its own—but taking family pictures can be your springboard to new photography directions.