If you don’t think photos are important, wait until they are all you have left. Here are my 10 top tips for capturing the perfect family portrait, something we all too often neglect in a digital world.
Each and every day your children grow and learn new things. Each day our parents and siblings age, time inexorably passes towards a point where all that remains is photographs and memories. Whether you are an amateur photographer who wants to capture family portraits or a professional photographer selling portrait services, these 10 tips will help you to capture the perfect family portrait, creating memories that will last a lifetime.
Top tips for the perfect family portrait
Taking the perfect family portrait can sometimes seem like a daunting task. It really shouldn’t be difficult or a painful chore, instead a family portrait session should be a fun experience for everyone involved. Of course, like any family activity, a family photoshoot will go more smoothly if you take some time to plan in advance.
Nothing has to be recorded in tablets of stone, indeed some of your best photographs will come from unscripted moments, but making sure everyone is on the same page in advance will make things much easier during the shoot.
Here are some of my top tips for capturing the perfect family portrait:
Plan ahead and choose the right location
The first step in taking the perfect family portrait is to plan ahead and choose the right location. If you are photographing your own family no one knows them better than you. Choose a location where you know that everyone will be comfortable and relaxed.
If your family loves the great outdoors then choose outdoor locations with natural light. A local beach, park or woodland can provide a beautiful and natural setting for your portraits.
If you prefer an indoor location, or if an outdoor location is impractical for some reason or other, then consider how you will light the portrait. Will you need studio lights, speed lights, or can you use the available light in a room?
The portrait of my mother opposite was taken shortly before her advancing dementia meant that she had to move into a care home.
I was able to position mum in front of a large north-facing window and use the soft natural light to illuminate her. If the light is too bright consider hanging something like a net curtain to diffuse and soften it. Mum’s dementia would have meant her getting agitated if I had begun to set up my studio lights.
Remember, family photography does not have to be a complicated process. Ceiling lights or lamps can allow you to capture beautiful atmospheric portraits.
Dress it up for family photos
Choosing the right clothing can make or break your family portrait photo session. Clothing with a strong pattern can be distracting and can sometimes cause chromatic aberration. Too many bright colours can also be very distracting in a photograph.
As part of your planning process ask family members to opt for solid colours that complement each other. Coordinating the colours of your clothing can help create a cohesive and polished look in the final portrait. For example, if the family portrait is being taken in woodland during the autumn months, it makes sense to have the whole family dressed in autumnal colours.
Of course, if you want your family photo session to show your family’s wild and kooky side feel free to go for a mix of bright colours. It’s your family session, and in a successful family photo shoot the pictures should reflect your family’s personality. The perfect family portrait is the one that you love!
Family portrait photography with kids and small children
When you are aiming to capture the perfect family portrait it’s arguable whether small children or teenagers are the most difficult subjects.
If you are dealing with kids and small children it’s really important to remember that they have a very short attention span. Young children get bored easily. so remember to have things to hand that will keep them amused.
One of my favourites is a bubble machine. These can be picked up at very reasonable cost and they will keep the kids, big and small, amused for hours.
When taking a family portrait, it’s important to consider the perspective from which you’re shooting. Instead of standing up and shooting down at your subjects, try getting down to their level to create a more intimate and natural-looking portrait.
This will also help to create a more dynamic composition and bring the focus on the faces of your family members.
Communicate and engage
When you are photographing family, it’s important to make sure that everyone is singing from the same song sheet. This means communicating with each member of your family about the portrait session and what you hope to achieve.
Any successful family photographer will tell you that It’s important to be flexible and open to suggestions. The best portraits are not about shutter speed or brand of camera, they are a collaboration between the photographer and the family.
We have two ears and only one mouth so listen more than you talk. The perfect family portrait is achieved when everyone is delighted with the results.
Shoot candid family photography
One of the beauties of the digital photo is that we don’t have a cost every time we click the shutter.
Unscripted moments, like a child crying after falling over, tell much more of a family’s story than a formal studio portrait ever could.
These are moments captured forever, moments that will evoke memories long into the future. Catching family members in unguarded moments, or doing things that they love, gives the photographer a high chance of photo success.
Don't forget the family dog
When we are taking family portraits we should aim to include the whole family. This can mean photos of individuals as well as groups. Always remember that the family dog or cat is an important member of the family.
A family member posing with a new puppy makes for a perfect family portrait. However, I don’t advocate buying a puppy just for cute family photos. Dogs are for life, not just for photos.
Use props in your family photo session
I am sure that I am not alone when I say that family session photography in front of a plain white background can be pretty dull.
As you may note, from the images included in this article, props tend to play a role in many of my family photo sessions.
Consider bringing along a favorite toy or blanket to incorporate into the portrait. This can also be a great way to add some personality to the portrait and make it more unique. Remember, the perfect family portrait tells the story of the family.
Be playful in your family photos
Family portraits should be fun and enjoyable for everyone involved. Encourage your family to relax and have fun, there are no rules to say that family portraits have to be formally posed.
Try to capture the candid moments in between the posed shots. Get shots of your kids splashing in puddles, making snow angels, or playing wrestling with dad.
These candid shots can often be the most meaningful and special. Don’t be afraid to shoot from different angles, get up high, go down low, tilt the camera and break the “rules.”
You might want to try shooting in Black and White when you want to add a timeless quality to the final photos.
Take your time, don't rush a family portrait session
Setting the right length of time for a family portrait photo shoot is a delicate business. A session that includes babies or children needs to be fairly short. Kids get bored after 15 – 20 minutes and few sitters want to be posing for more than an hour.
However, the overall length of the shoot is less important than you, the photographer taking the time to ensure everything is just right. Make sure that background distractions are removed unless they form an important element in the photograph.
If necessary take light meter readings, shoot a grey card to ensure that your white balance is perfect. Frame your shots properly and adjust poses where necessary. If you get as much right as possible in the camera there will be less to work on come editing time.
It’s much better to have 10 perfect family portraits than it is to grab 300 mediocre images in a session.
Have a backup plan
When I served in the Royal Navy, we had a saying that “no plan survives the first contact with the enemy.” The same can be said for photoshoots. Always have a backup plan in case of bad weather or other unforeseen circumstances.
Consider alternative locations or times for your portrait session and be prepared to adapt as needed. That might mean using flash to overpower harsh sunlight, bad weather might make shooting outside impossible or unpleasant. Having the right equipment to allow you to change plans in moments can be the difference between success and failure.
You need to take the human factor into account during your planning. How will you react if you turn up for a family portrait shoot and one of the children is having a tantrum? The temptation would be to carry on and make the best of it even if the results are not optimal. It’s not your fault that the kid is a nightmare, right?
Beware, that sort of thinking will cost you repeat business, or in your own family lose you the willingness of your family to pose for you. It is much better to do what you can at the time and then offer to return at a later stage to complete the shoot.
It’s my view that you should always leave your sitters 100% happy with the final photographs. Repeat business is much more likely and word-of-mouth recommendations are invaluable. If you book a family photoshoot package with me this is exactly the level of service you will receive.
Perfect family portrait tips: Conclusion
It might seem that there is a lot to remember but the tips I offer here are not that difficult to put into practice. They are all fairly simple things and they really amount to paying more attention to the little things. Individually, the various tips make a small difference to the quality of your photography work.
It’s when you implement all of the photography tips into you family portrait sessions that you will begin to see huge differences in the quality of your work. When you begin to incorporate all of these things into your shoot routine they will help to ensure that you get the perfect family portrait every time, no matter what happens.