8 Photography Tips For Creating The Perfect Family Portrait

Ed Maughan
Ed Maughan

Creating the perfect family portrait is no mean feat. Not only do you have the weather and lighting to contend with, there are background intrusions, drooling dogs (or children!) and weary grimacing smiles to tackle.

We’ve put together some tips on how to take a family portrait that truly captures the spirit of your holiday.

8 tips for the perfect family portrait

  1. Take your time
  2. Make it fun
  3. Think about location
  4. Get the settings right
  5. Use a tripod
  6. Vary head heights and proximity to the camera
  7. Give someone the director role
  8. Consider the kids

Now let’s have a look at each point in a bit more detail.

1. Take your time (but don’t overdo it)

There’s a fine balancing act to be performed here involving the need to apply the right settings to your camera, wait for any external interference to pass, get your composition right and make sure everyone is looking their best. The trick is to try to achieve the above but not force your family to pose for overly long periods of time. By doing so, you’re likely to be treated to rictus grins, slouching and glowering.

Explain what you are trying to achieve and how long you expect them to wait. This could be the time to introduce the prospect of a sweet treat for afterwards. What you really want to ensure is that your portrait is fun and natural. Which brings us neatly on to our next tip…

2. Make it fun

When you look back on your family holiday albums, the photos you are most likely to treasure are those which bring the times of fun and togetherness flooding back. Not pictures where your eldest son’s hair has the perfect parting or grandad is, for once, not covered in breakfast remnants.

Encourage your group to pose in a way that is genuinely comfortable to them and keep positive conversation flowing until the final moment. Where small children are concerned, go the whole hog. Bring a puppet, crack some jokes at dad’s expense, pull funny faces. At the end, get your group to pose for a few silly poses; an impromptu rugby scrum or a star jump. They’ll come away with good memories of the portrait which will make your job a lot easier next time.

Fun Family Photo
Take a fun Family Photo

3. Think about location

For outdoor family photography, you may need to have a bit of flexibility when it comes to location. If you’re at an iconic nature site, for example, you don’t want to be jostling with another dozen families to get a shot with the stone circle positioned just right in the background.  Remember, this is a portrait of your family, not proof you were able to get to a viewpoint.

Also, be prepared to adapt your chosen location to suit the time of day and any changes in the weather.

4. Get the settings right

One of the most important things to remember is that an overcast day can often result in the best photographs due to the even light quality and that your party won’t be squinting into the sun.

In terms of lenses, a slightly wide angle or normal lens is generally a good choice and opt for an ISO between 100 and 400, starting with the highest and adjusting to suit your environment. For group shots opt for a fast shutter speed. Start at 1/125th or higher and adjust. To keep all your exposures consistent, simply opt for manual mode.

5. Use a tripod

If the situation allows, a tripod can be really handy for family portrait photography, allowing you to take time with the shot, make eye contact with your group and keep a steady focus. If you’re using a photographer or getting a friend to help out rather than using a self timer, the use of a tripod allows the person taking the photo to engage with the group as they take the pictures, and you should get a more candid shot as a result.

6. Vary head heights and proximity to the camera

In order to get that natural shot, good composition is key. Make sure you vary the head heights, don’t shoot heads on the horizon line and be mindful of any encroaching shadows from trees or buildings.

Always be considerate to anyone who doesn’t like being the centre of attention and position them somewhere they’ll feel comfortable. There’s no harm in keeping people moving so take a few with people in different positions, some with the adults holding kids, some with the adults sitting in front of the kids, and so forth.

Man playing with his kid
Make sure the lighting is right

7. Give someone the director role

If you’re trying to organise a large group of people you can often find yourself in a situation where absolutely everyone has their own idea of how they want the photo to look. Try and get input beforehand so that everyone’s voice is heard, but when it comes to choosing the final location/outfit/poses make sure there is one person in charge. This should make the whole process go a lot faster, and if you’re paying for a photographer by the hour you’ll want to be making maximum use of your time.

8. Consider the kids

The majority of kids don’t enjoy lengthy photo sessions, and you’ll be able to see that in their faces. As previously mentioned, some bribes/promised treats are very useful as are bringing along toys and other distractions and making sure they have eaten well beforehand. Don’t expect them to be able to stand still for too long, or put up with uncomfortable weather. Perhaps most importantly, let them be themselves.

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