The Ultimate Guide to Family Photography

by Dima

From newborn shoots to graduations, there are countless milestones that can be used as an event for family portraits. That said, family photography doesn’t necessarily just need to be reserved for significant moments and any day can be used for a posed portrait session. To help capture those special times together and preserve them for generations to come, here’s an overview of all the fundamentals of family photography.

What Is Family Photography?

In short, family photography refers to any event where you photograph a family together. The photos can be a mixture of posed portraits or spontaneous interactions caught on camera. 

There is also no limit as to how many family members can be present and this type of photo shoot can also be used for bigger groups to accommodate extended family like grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. 

Here are a few popular examples of events where a family photographer might be needed:

  • Maternity shoots
  • Births
  • First day of school
  • Religious festivals like Christmas
  • Birthdays
  • Graduations
  • Weddings
  • Family reunions

Larger groups, in particular, can make it more challenging as you’ll need to be able to accommodate various needs. For example, for photo sessions that include grandparents, accessibility might become an issue. On the other end of the spectrum, newborn photo sessions will probably need to be planned around sleeping and feeding schedules.

Best Locations for Family Photo Shoots

Just like with other types of photoshoots, location is a key consideration. The challenge with family photography is that you might not always have a choice. For example, if it’s a wedding, the shoot will most likely be limited to the church or reception venue booked months in advance. 

Even if the venue has not been decided yet, it’s best practice to ask your client – the family – for recommendations. The chances are good that they already have a venue in mind that’s special to them. 

If they’re open to ideas, you can suggest taking it at their home or visiting you at your studio. Both these locations remain firm favorites. 

To help you identify a possible location, keep in mind these guidelines:

  • The location should be big enough to accommodate the group. If you need to photograph an extended family, a two-seater sofa won’t work. 
  • If the family wants to include children, the venue should be kid-friendly. Nowadays, it’s also common practice for families to include their pets. If this is the case, you’ll also need to find out beforehand if pets are allowed at the venue. 
  • It should be easy to access. Most family photoshoots involve young or older family members who might have difficulty walking long distances, climbing stairs, or standing on uneven terrain. 
  • The location should allow you to capture various portrait styles and poses.

Ideally, you should visit the venue beforehand. If this isn’t possible, be sure to ask the family or venue owner to tell you more about the location before the shoot date. 

What Should Family Members Wear for a Photoshoot?

In addition to the location, the wardrobe must also be sorted out beforehand. While it’s the family’s final decision as to what they want to wear, you can offer some guidelines as the photographer. 

For group shoots, the biggest consideration is the color scheme. Coordinating colors is always a good idea. This doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone needs to wear the same, but you can also suggest that they wear colors that work well together, like pastels. 

If this isn’t possible, the next best thing is to double-check that the colors don’t completely mismatch. This applies to patterns, too. A red floral dress and a pink striped T-shirt can be too much and distracting from the primary object —  the beautiful family. 

If young children will be included, you can even suggest that the kids dress up in costumes. Not all parents will like this idea, but for those that do, it can help to get the kids more at ease in front of the camera and unfamiliar face holding it. 

Above all else, though, is that they should feel comfortable in whatever outfit they wear. This doesn’t mean they must rock up in their tracksuit pants, but if the outfit makes them feel self-conscious, it will show in the family pics.

Three Top Tips for Taking Good Family Photos

Photographing products or a landscape differs quite significantly from photographing a family unit. Here are key tips to keep in mind to help you apply your skills to this genre.

1. Use an assistant

A family shoot typically takes longer. You’ll need time for the family members to get comfortable in front of the lens (especially when working with younger subjects). You’ll also need to change positions and poses which can be a time-consuming activity when you’re photographing larger groups. 

Hiring a photographic assistant for a family shoot is strongly recommended. Your assistant will be able to get the group together and help everyone assume the correct positions.

2. Keep it fun

As your subjects are inexperienced models, they’ll need extra help to get comfortable in front of the camera. One way to do that is to keep the session fun for everyone.

Your energy will decide the atmosphere’s tone and the day’s success, but you can also use props to add that fantastical element. For example, when the shoot will involve kids, use a plush toy. Not only will this help them relax in front of the camera, but it can also guide them as to where they need to focus. Props can also be used for other family photo shoots where adding a playful element is part of the brief.

3. Let them take the lead at times

Adding to the previous tip, it might be necessary to let your subjects sometimes take the lead. This is especially important when you photograph children. You want to photograph their natural smiles. By giving the family members the chance to direct the photoshoot, you’ll create those golden moments when they can be their natural selves. It’s typically at this time when their natural smiles also appear.

Essential Family Photography Equipment to Pack for Better Portraits

The results that a digital SLR camera will create are far superior to any smartphone camera. After all, families have many pics snapped with their smartphones, and the appeal of hiring a professional photographer is to have better quality photos. 

If you’ll be concentrating mostly on newborn photography, it’s key that the camera is geared for low-light settings. Newborns’ eyes are more sensitive to light, so you’ll need to rely less on artificial lighting. 

In addition to a reputable digital SLR camera, you’ll also need the following equipment and accessories:

  • A 35mm lens
  • A 24-70mm lens
  • An external flash
  • Reflectors
  • A tripod

While all this equipment will be important, a tripod is essential. Not only will it help to reduce camera shake, but it also gives you more freedom to help your family members with their poses. 

After you’ve set up the composition, you can quickly adjust a family member’s pose if needed. Without a tripod, having your shot and all the members set up correctly simultaneously becomes very challenging. 

Best Camera for Family Portrait Photography

As for the best camera for family portraits, several makes and models will deliver great results. Needless to say, what you can afford to spend will play a key factor. If you’re on a tight budget, check out the Panasonic LUMIX ZS80. It’s a solid, all-in-one superzoom camera with a good face detection and autofocus system. 

If you’re still relatively new to the profession, your skill set will also guide your camera choice. In this case, you can, for example, look at the Canon EOS Rebel T7 Digital SLR Camera. Not only is it user-friendly, but it’s also reasonably priced compared to other camera models.  

Then, for professionals, there’s the Sony Alpha a9 II Full-frame mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera. Its autofocus system is virtually flawless and will make shooting in various lighting settings much easier. Plus, its setup is also easy, and you’ll only have to change your settings occasionally. 

That said, always remember that each camera has its own advantages and disadvantages. For example, a certain camera might take great photos but lack the same video quality. While price will always play a role, it’s only one of several factors. Just because you bought the most expensive camera does not guarantee you’ll take the best photos. 

Rules for Black and White Portrait Photography

If you aim to capture a personal family portrait, opting for black-and-white photography can be a good path. It’s a timeless favorite. 

However, to get the best results, there are a few considerations. You won’t be able to use color for dramatic effect. Instead, you can rely on form, texture, light, and contrast. By experimenting with these elements, you can create powerful photos.

Best Poses for Photographing Families

Most of the time, you’ll find that a family wants a combination of staged and more natural photos. If the family wants to go this route, it’s best to start with the staged photos first. 

This is especially helpful if you’re working with kids. Not only will they most likely lose focus towards the end, which will make it harder for them to look in a specific direction for those staged family photos, but it will also give them time to become more comfortable in front of the camera for those more candid shots. 

The location will also determine which type of poses will work better. You’ll typically find yourself switching between photos where everyone stands, sits, or reclining on the floor. You can also combine these poses by, for example, letting the parents sit while the kids stand. This way, everyone will more or less be at the same level, making it easier for the viewers to focus. Alternatively, you can let the parents sit on the floor, with the kids playing at their feet. 

All in all, the best approach is to capture a few different poses on the day.

Wrapping Things Up

The best family photographs manage to capture the love and warmth shared. This becomes more difficult if the members feel rigid, which will happen if the environment isn’t conducive. In addition to selecting the right location, spend some time with the family before taking photos. This will help them to feel more relaxed in front of the camera. 

That said, even if you spent extra time before the shoot getting everyone and everything set up correctly, there could be unforeseen circumstances during the shoot. This is especially true of working with kids or pets. When this happens, be willing to adapt and keep calm. Flexibility is a key skill that professional family photographers should develop.


How much should you spend on family photography?

Professional family photographers can charge between $100 and $400 per hour. You’ll typically find that family photographers in urban areas charge more. Also, remember that prints and extras like a printed photo album will cost extra.

Are professional family photos worth it?

The short answer is absolutely. There are a few reasons why. Firstly, they can capture special family moments, which are difficult to do if one of the family members is responsible for taking the photos. Secondly, while smartphones can capture great-quality photos, when you hire a professional family photographer, you’ll also get access to state-of-the-art equipment and photo editing software. Lastly, and this is probably the most obvious reason, family photos capture family members and key milestones in digital format to be enjoyed and treasured forever. 

How long should family photos take?

A family photography session typically takes 45 minutes and an hour and a half. Several factors will impact the duration, including the number of family members that need to be photographed, the light conditions, and the mood of individual family members (this is especially true if you’ll be photographing young kids).

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