The Family Photoshoot: A Guide to Capturing Frame-Worthy Family Photos

Through the stages of life, families are constantly growing and changing. Family photographers are entrusted with capturing a special moment in time in an image that will be treasured for generations to come.

In this guide, we’ll cover what family photography is and what tools and techniques can be used to capture meaningful photos. From picking the right location to posing your subjects, read on to discover what you’ll need for a successful family photoshoot.

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What is family photography?

Family photography is a category of portraiture in which the photographer directs, poses, and shoots an image of a family group. Families seek out a photographer that can beautifully capture photos of family members while conveying the loving relationship between them.

In this day and age, most members of the family carry a cellphone camera in their pocket at all times. That means that you, as the photographer, will be tasked at capturing something much more special than a simple snapshot. 

Family photoshoots can be daunting for beginners. In addition to building a rapport with the family, you may need to keep young children captivated and attentive. You’ll need to pose family members in a way that creates a pleasing composition. And, although it’s a family group shot, individuals will each want to be captured in an attractive way.

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Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

To begin your journey into family photography, it may be helpful to consider where the trend started and how it’s evolved over time.


History of family photography

Before the invention of the camera, family portraits were generally a luxury for the very wealthy. Family members dressed to the nines stood rigidly posed, sometimes for hours at a time, while an artist painted their likeness to canvas. Eventually, studio photography became the norm for families hoping to capture a professional-quality family photo. Still, it was standard for family members to be rigidly posed, perfectly coiffed, facing forward and smiling for the camera. 

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Photo by Claire on Flickr

Today, the trend is less rigid and more casual. Rather than simply capturing a nice photo of family members, photographers seek to capture the family’s personality and lifestyle.

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Photo by Edward Cisneros on Unsplash

Types of family photography

Although family photography is a type of portraiture, there are a variety of ways those portraits can be captured. Family photography can typically be categorized as either traditional, lifestyle, or documentary.

Traditional

Traditional, classic, family portraits are one of the most common types of family photography. In these images, family members are posed in a group and photographed. These images can be captured in a studio, at the family home, or at a beautiful location. In traditional family photography, you’ll control much of the shot, from lighting, location, poses, even head tilts and hand placement.

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Photo by Patrick Jansen on Unsplash

Lifestyle

Lifestyle family photographs are becoming more popular as families seek to capture images that not only showcase family members but reveal their personalities, too. When taking lifestyle shots, the photographer should still guide their subjects into position for a great composition. But, facial expressions and body poses are captured organically. 

Often in lifestyle family photography, family members are captured doing an activity together. Walking on the beach, hiking a mountain trail, or spending time at home are all great backdrops for capturing lifestyle family photos.

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Photo by Jonathan Borba from Pexels

Documentary

When shooting documentary-style family photography, you’ll take a “fly on the wall” approach. A documentary photographer shoots the family without posing family members or giving direction. The main objective of documentary photography is to capture a moment in time, without interfering. While this type of family photography is less common than traditional or lifestyle approaches, it can capture the most authentic family photos.

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Photo by Juliane Liebermann on Unsplash

Although your goal is to capture a frame-worthy family photo, this genre of photography leaves plenty of room for creativity. As a family photographer you’ll shoot in a variety of locations and situations, so having the right tools for the job will be essential.


What’s the best camera for family photography?

A DSLR or mirrorless camera that lets you quickly swap lenses and manually choose your exposure settings will provide the best flexibility for family photography. Because you’ll be capturing heirloom images for your clients, your camera should be capable of high-resolution shots suitable for printing. If you’re shooting a family with young kids, you’ll also need a camera that’s fast enough to quickly capture sometimes-squirmy kids or playful pets without blur.

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Photo by Jove Duero on Unsplash

What is the best lens for family photography?

The lens you use for your family photoshoot will depend on your location, lighting, and the style of your shot. Some popular lenses for family photography include a 50mm prime lens, a 24-70 zoom, and an 85mm telephoto. For very large families, you may need a 35mm wide-angle lens to fit everyone in the frame.

50mm

A 50mm f/1.8 or f/1.2 is ideal for family portrait photography because it most closely resembles what we see with the human eye. This lens is versatile enough that you can get close to your subjects, filling the frame for close-up shots. Or, you can step back and capture more of the background. The wide aperture allows for great compression and creamy blur in the background.

24-70mm

A 24-70mm f/2.8 or f/4 zoom lens is a good choice for family photography because it offers a range of options from wide-angle to telephoto in a single lens—ideal for capturing lifestyle or documentary-style family photos. 

85mm

And, an 85mm f/1.8 makes it easy to capture beautiful scenery without distortion and crystal clear close-ups without being on top of your subjects—this is especially good for family members that might be shy with a camera pointed at them. If you’re shooting outdoors and have plenty of room to spread out, you might also want a 70-200mm in your bag for its versatility.

35mm

Families can range in size from only a few people to dozens of family members. For shooting very large families, you may need a wide-angle lens to fit everyone into the frame. A 35mm f/1.8 prime lens or a 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom are great options. Just be mindful of wide-angle lens distortion.

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Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

Other family photography gear

Like lenses, the other photography gear you’ll need will depend on location, lighting, and the style of your shoot.

Lighting

Many family photographers prefer to shoot under only natural light. If you’re shooting outdoors, timing your shot with the golden hour—the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset—will cast your subjects in a beautiful light. If you’re shooting indoors or at a location without perfect natural lighting, use a flash. Your flash should have an adjustable tilt so that light can be bounced. And, diffuse it to avoid harsh lighting on your subjects. Another benefit to using flashes in family photography is to create catchlights in your subjects’ eyes.

family portrait
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Tripod

A tripod can be useful in a traditional-style family photoshoot. In addition to capturing sharp focus without the blur of camera shake in low-light shots, a tripod can be a useful tool for posed family shots even in well-lit locations. If your composition is perfectly set up, but family members need a little help getting into the perfect pose, a tripod will allow you to keep your camera in position while you approach and pose your subjects. Use a remote shutter release in conjunction with your tripod to easily take shots while repositioning and posing the family.

Other gear

Of course, backup batteries (for both your camera and flash) and extra memory cards should be standard in any professional photographer’s camera bag. But, for shooting family portraiture, you may need to pack a few additional pieces of gear. If you’re shooting a family with small children, think about bringing along something fun, a toy or noisemaker, to grab their attention for the perfect shot. Consider the location of your shot and plan gear accordingly. If you’re shooting outdoors, you may try posing the family on a picnic blanket. Or, if you’re shooting a very large family, a small stool that puts you at a slightly higher vantage point can make it easier to capture everyone in the shot.

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Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich from Pexels

Camera settings for family photography

The settings you use during a family photoshoot will be different every time. Camera settings will depend on where you are, the family that you’re shooting, and what the lighting conditions are that day. But, there are a few things to always keep in mind:

  • Always shoot with your ISO as low as possible to avoid grain and noise.
  • Use a wide aperture to separate your subjects from their background and create a shallow depth of field. However, make sure your aperture isn’t so wide that everyone in the photo isn’t in focus! 
  • When shooting subjects in motion, like kids that are running around, make sure you use a faster shutter speed so they aren’t blurry.

5 Tips for family photographers

As you’ve learned, family photography can include posed still shots, candid action shots, indoor, outdoor, and anything-in-between shots. But, although so much is dependent on the shooting situation, there are a few tips to use across the board for successful family photos.

Make your clients comfortable

Remember, you’re photographing a family, not a group of professional models. Sometimes the mere presence of a camera can make people uncomfortable. So, as a family photographer, you’ll need to build a rapport with the family you’re photographing. Encourage your subjects, make them feel relaxed in front of the camera. A comfortable subject will always result in a more authentic portrait.

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Photo by Anastasiya Gepp from Pexels

Consider your surroundings

During a family photoshoot, particularly one outside the studio, pay close attention to your surroundings—and use them! Use pathways and trees to create leading lines and frame your subjects. Try incorporating park benches, stairways, and fences into your family’s pose. Or, use other objects in your environment to build a great composition.  

family photography
Photo by Any Lane from Pexels

Plan around kids’ schedules

You may be hoping for a beautiful sunset shot for your client, but if they have young kids that are usually napping during that hour, it might be best to reconsider. If you’re photographing a family with young kids, it’s best to plan your photoshoot around the kids’ schedules so they’re wide awake and easier to manage.

kids
Photo by Trinity Kubassek from Pexels

Use creative angles

It’s easy to fall into a routine of shooting your clients from the same general vantage point. To create interesting and compelling family photos, consider switching things up. Shoot from a bird’s eye view, looking down. Or get on the ground and shoot up toward the family. Using creative angles in your family photoshoot will set your images apart and capture memories in exciting new ways.

family photography
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

Give advice for the family’s wardrobe

While you’re not a stylist, it’s still appropriate to give your client some guidance on how to dress for their family photoshoot. Obviously, you don’t want family members’ clothing colors to clash with each other or their environment. But, you’ll want them to avoid fabrics and patterns that don’t photograph well. Certain fabrics and prints with tight patterns can create moiré and should be avoided. Horizontal stripes can make a subject appear wider when photographed. And, velvet absorbs light, making it difficult to photograph. Family members don’t need to be matchy-matchy but should dress in outfits that aren’t too distracting or draw attention away from the family as a whole.

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Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

Editing family photos

As with any style of portrait photography, post-processing and editing your family photos will be important to achieving print-worthy, heirloom quality images. Photo editing should only be done to make subtle enhancements or corrections to an image that’s already great, so start with a photograph that’s already almost there. 

Basic edits commonly include cropping, straightening horizon lines, and color-correcting. Family members will appreciate slight retouching to fix flaws like blemishes or uneven skin tone, but don’t go overboard with editing or your image may end up looking fake.

If you’re shooting a larger family and didn’t capture a single shot where everyone looks perfect, you may need to perform a head-swap in post-processing. This will be easiest if you make a habit of taking multiple shots in succession.

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Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash

Final thoughts

As you can see, family photography involves a lot of skill, planning, posing, and effort—but the reward for your clients is immeasurable. Family photos become heirlooms, treasured for generations to come. So, capturing not just their image, but the story they want to tell is essential. Using the tips and tricks above, you’ll have no problem capturing frame-worthy moments that families will cherish.

Brooke Arnold

Brooke Arnold is a writer and award-winning photographer specializing in cat portraits. She is an advocate for rescue animals and is best known for dressing up her cats as famous people like Bob Ross and Evel Knievel. Her biggest claim to fame, however, is being child #2 in an orange juice ad that hung in a mall in Miami at age 8.

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