Forget boring head on shots, be original and look for more inspirational angles.
Not only will this again diversify the arrangement but it can help to reveal children’s personalities. For example a chair is not just for sitting, one could stand on it, crawl underneath it , lean on it, you could pose several children on it at one time etc.
Inconsistent exposures create more work in post processing, as you have to even them all out. It also can cause a slight color shift, increase noise (if underexposed) and other undesirable things. To keep your exposures consistent through the whole shoot, use Manual Mode. Just remember that each time you change the pose, location, etc, you need to check exposure again. I just fire off a quick test shot, review the histogram, adjust if necessary and continue.
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Bonus tip: If your camera has video capabilities you have a neat way of doing manual focus. Turn on the Live View so you can see the image on your screen. Hit your “zoom” button (it may have a magnifying glass or a “+” sign on it) once or twice. The image on the screen will zoom in (your lens doesn’t) so you can see what is in focus which allows for much most precise manual focusing. Press zoom again to return to normal view and turn off Live View.
With the sun behind the subjects you’ll get a creative silhouette or you could add a spot of fill in flash to bring back the details and generates a halo of light around the subjects, separating them from the background.
By splitting the group onto different levels: the viewer is offered a more dynamic image forcing the eye to jump around the scene. Incorporate props, especially if you have children in the frame.
My off camera flash stopped working so this is direct from camera, not my first choice. But we were all tired and I thought this would be fun so we just went for it. Notice dad has a new expression!
If there are small children or babies involved make sure to get their attention. It even helps to have an assistant, tell them to bring Grandma along or a friend to help out. But what always happens is you get the kids all looking and smiling, and what are the parents doing? Looking at the kids! Oops again! I always tell the parents, “no matter what keep looking at me as I make a total fool of myself, do NOT look at your child”.
It may sound cheesy, but as well as bearing a similar resemblence; you may want to include other elements to tie the members of the portrait together – to say ‘yes we are a family!’.
You get the idea. The best way to get someone to do any of this is to do it yourself and have them mirror you. Face them, do the pose you want them to do, and have them mimic it exactly.
This was a game of peek-a-boo around the tree. Look at those genuine smiles! You can’t force those.
Choose the time of day to do the portrait! Ideally late evening about an hour before dusk is the best time for portraits. Why because the sun is lower on the horizon and you don’t get the harsh overhead light you do at midday.
It’s more directional and usually a bit diffused if there’s haze on the horizon. If you can’t shoot at dusk, find some shade. Get your family out of the sun, BUT make sure you don’t get the background lit up.
Bright areas in the background will draw attention away from the subjects. Look for areas in the shade of large buildings, or under large trees. Avoid using an overcast day simply because the lighting is even and less harsh than bright sunlight.
While it is true the light is softer and less harsh, the direction isn’t great. Overcast days give you direct overhead lighting and dark eyes, especially anyone with deep eye sockets. Add some light using a reflector or a flash if need be.
Again this is a whole other class on lighting but learn to know when you need more light on their faces. If you cannot see a catchlight (the lightsource reflected in their eyes) then there isn’t enough light in their faces.
Putting your subjects at ease is the first step so fire a few pictures in a comfortable or familiar environment. This will help to lend character and narrative to the piece.
When I’m photographing kids I make a total idiot of myself. I make funny noises, I sing songs (I’m really bad but they don’t care), I make fish faces, I play peek-a-boo behind the camera. I run back and forth to the camera with the puppet. I lie on the ground, I stick my butt out. Kids are the ones that have life the right way around, it’s us adults that ruin it. Let them be kids, let them have fun. Then be ready to capture it when it happens.
Avoid having the sun behind you as the models will be pictured with odd squinting expressions, instead take a look around the vicinity – is there somewhere that offers some shade?
Get them doing things that will dispense with any rigidity or formality. Incorporating motion into group shots develops interest and instantly relaxes your subjects and therefore viewers. To freeze action shoot between 1/125 to 1/500, you may need to crank up ISO in low light or use flash if necessary.
That’s it! No expectations other than fun. Then prepare yourself. Bring along props, get mom to bring one of their favourite toys or books. I usually have a hand puppet and bubbles in my camera bag along with my gear. If the kids don’t want to sit and smile don’t force them. Then them run around and be kids for a while and shoot that. Play with them, make it fun. Then they may cooperate and sit for a bit a few minutes later.
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If it’s more relaxed candids you want then use a zoom to switch between wide angle shots with back drop and close up spilt-second emotive portraits. Dial in a wide aperture of f5.6 or less and throw out the back drop. This offers the chance to play with whom and what is in focus.
Get the family to think about what they are going to wear. Some people disagree with my point of view on that, which is totally fine. But if you want to read more about it go to Clothing for Portraits.
If someone has a bigger bottom half, don’t pose them walking away from the camera using a wide angle lens. For double chins take a slightly higher camera angle, above their eye level. Making them look up stretches it out and minimizes the chin/neck area A bump on a nose will show up when they face one way and not the other (usually) study their face to find out which way to shoot them When you have a couple that has a huge height difference get the man (usually the taller one) to stand with his feet further apart.
That will make him slightly shorter, closing the gap a bit. For really heavy people (or those overly self-conscious of their weight) use the lying down in the grass pose and pile the kids on top. Works great every time.
Hides tummies, stretches out chins and makes the kids closer in size because it’s just faces.
Set your camera up to do one of the following: use focus lock, back button focus, or use manual focus. With any of those options the focus will not change from shot to shot. If you use the shutter button to focus and someone moves a little bit so that the focus dot hits the background, you got another “oops”. If you aren’t sure how to do this, consult your camera manual.
This was done just before sunset. The sun is coming just over their shoulders on the left, behind them. I used a flash, bounced into an umbrella also to the left to add light to their faces, without it they’d be in shadow.
Light can make or break any photograph, portraits are no different. The very derivative of the word photography is “drawing with light”. The biggest thing you want to make sure you do for portraits is get light into your subjects’ eyes. There are many ways to do that and that’s a whole huge topic but there are a few things you can do to set yourself up to start off with good light.
See #1 first of all. Then look at #6. Being a photographer means that sometimes you have to also become a comedian, or a clown. Knowing the right thing to say or do to make people smile is mostly experience. Sometimes you’ll get tough adults too. The dad in the photo above by the brick wall pretty much has the same expression all the time. I’ve known this family and photographed them for 13 years, they’re friends too. So I know I can bug him a little bit or get out the ducky to have some fun at his expense.
Be aware of people’s perceived “flaws” and work with them. A list of some quick tips.
Just as important as getting some light in the eyes is having it come from a good direction. We’ve established overhead isn’t good direction, neither is straight from camera. So turning on your built-in pop flash isn’t going to give you good light. Neither is sticking a speedlight on top. Light direct from the camera angle flattens the subject, that is not what you want. You want the light to come from the side more, 30-45 degrees from camera is a good starting point. To learn more about this read my article on the 6 Lighting Patterns Every Photographer Should Know.
So if lighting is king, getting the right expressions is everything! You can totally screw up the lighting, and the pose, but if you get them laughing or making “that” face – it’ll be a big hit! So how do you do that?
Imagine there is a line drawn from each face to the next. Try and position them so that no head is directly on top of, or beside (same level) another. Make diagonal lines not totem poles. Use props to seat some people or bring some small folding stools. Have some people sit down, or stand up on something. Use what is naturally in the environment to pose them, or if you have nothing available just arrange them so the heights are staggered.
You can really let your imagination run wild when it comes to photographing family portraits outside. Remember your light – as the sun can cause unflattering shadows to fall across the face.
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#1 – it automatically forces you to slow down. That’s a good thing. You can check your settings, review the composition, and exposure to make sure you’ve got everything right. All to often it’s easy to get carried away once you put the camera up to your eye and forget to check something only to see later you had the wrong White Balance, or ISO was 6400, or you accidentally shot Small JPG. Slow down, avoid an “oops”.
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Last tip is to no take yourself so seriously. Create a few really whacky shots at the end of the session (or even in the middle if the energy seems to be fading). Tell them to do a group squish and really get them to squish. Often they will start laughing and as they pull apart you grab the shot. Do a pile on down in the grass. Ask them to jump in the air or make goofy faces (you make one too). It breaks the tension and lightens up the mood.
We’re doing to the park to take some photos. It will be a lot of fun.
If you want that ‘traditional’ family photograph you are going to need to work the role of director to ensure all eyes and faces are on you. Working with a large group of people can be a bit trying so prepare to be patient and assertive will help in getting a handle of things.
Six Non-Photography Tips to Super-Charge Your Travel Photography
You may or may not have heard this one before, or perhaps you weren’t 100% what it meant. What you want to avoid is a boring straight line, row, or column of heads. Diagonal lines are more dynamic and add interest to an image, so try to do that with the people in your grouping.
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Suggestions include: matching splashes of colour, props or even aspects of the environment around them.
“Ugh”, I already know what you’re thinking. A tripod cramps your style. It’s too heavy and cumbersome. Your style is more free flowing. That all may be true and in some cases (like photographing kids running or doing more documentary style photography) it may be better to shoot hand held. However, just consider another side of the coin.
Just as you do not want the exposure to change from frame to frame, neither do you want the focus to be adjusted. Assuming you’ve taken #1 to heart and are using a tripod, you will not be moving. Likely if you’ve posed your group in a relatively static position, they will not be moving. Not much anyway. We are only concerned with moving closer to, or further away from the camera. So . . .
Ideally for traditional group shots a wide angle lens is great for framing the entire family.
Baby laughing, everyone else followed instructions and looked at me, success!
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If you decide to use flash indoors, perhaps employ a diffuser to soften the effect and avoid bleaching skin or flattening textures.
The lying in the grass, pile on top pose. Great for families with small children. This family didn’t need the pose to correct anything, it’s also just fun having the kids jump on top and squish mom and dad.
Alternatively hit the deck and lie with you back on the ground and shoot straight up into the middle of huddle. Even slanting the camera at a jaunty angle can produce exciting options. Profile portraits can be quite creative too.
When you’ve got everyone ready don’t be afraid to reel of a dozen or so shots or use the burst mode to ensure you have at least one frame with everyone is paying attention.
get them to shift their weight to one foot and stick out one hip, away from the camera get them to put a hand in a pocket, I usually recommend thumb out otherwise they have a tendancy to shove their hand to the bottom of the pocket also not looking natural OR hook a finger on their belt or a belt loop if they are sitting lean forward a bit and put weight on one hip if standing against something have them cross one foot over the other, toe down if sitting (males) put one knee up, foot flat on the ground (make sure they rotate so you aren’t looking straight into their crotch
SUMMARY – 10 TIPS FOR BETTER FAMILY PORTRAITS Use a tripod when possible Shoot in Manual exposure mode Lock the focus or use manual focus Arrange people with heads staggered Allow kids to be kids and get goofy with them If it bends, bend it – how to help people pose Pose people to flatter them Lighting is key – get some in their eyes Expression is everything! Have a little fun with it and let go
With a little planning, doing a family portrait should be fun for both you, and the family you’re photographing. Here are 10 quick tips to help you have a successful and fun photo session.
Assuming that you are setting something up, choosing the time of day and the location carefully, you have control of all the elements. Meaning, once you get set up the exposure should not need to change. But if you put it in Aperture or Shutter priority, depending in the metering mode selected, the camera could choose a slightly different exposure for each frame. You do NOT want that! Consistency is very important.
I volunteered my time at an event called Help Portrait last year that has photographers, make up artists and organizers giving their time to create portraits for people that otherwise couldn’t afford a professional one. They ended up sending most of the families to me, initially because I had the biggest area to do the group photo and later because the other photographers said I was the best with the kids. To see some of my photos from that event go to Help Portrait, Edmonton 2012.
Example of bending body parts. The girls did a much better job here than the guys but even the arms bent at the elbow helps. Some people are stiff and you may have a challenge with them. Just do your best.
This is a general rule when photographing any people and it’s a good one. People tend to stand stiff and rigid when you position them, so you need to get them to bend a few body parts to look more natural. Nobody naturally stands stiff as a board. Here are a few starters
As well as shooting the family sitting and then standing, experiment by having half the group stand and half sit.
When being photographed most, if not all, people are nervous. Yes nervous! Some are down right scared, and some would even go as far to say that they “hate it”. So it is part of your job to help your subjects feel more comfortable and relaxed. That can be hard to do when you’re also nervous, especially if you’re new to portraits. But there’s a big advantage of putting that camera on the tripod. Two actually.
#2 – it allows you to get your eye away from the camera so you can actually make eye contact with your subjects. They are very real people and they feel even more uncomfortable staring straight into your lens than they do looking at you. You can make gestures to get kids attention, or make faces. But you’ll get way better expressions by interacting with them than you will looking through the viewfinder. Try it!
Unleash the enthusiasm and ask your family to run, jump, spin, give each other piggybacks, dance, play fight and in general – laugh!
A porch, a beach umbrella or even a white sheet tied above their heads. For this last suggestion you may need to peg the corners of the sheet to four chairs and ask the group to sit underneath but this could convey a summery relaxed portrait.
I’ve found that often parents will tell their kids “you need to be good and smile” before a photo session. For many kids that puts too much pressure on them to “perform”. I usually prepare my parents by getting them to tell their kids this instead:
If you want to style the shot in a more traditional or relaxed fashion then ask the family to wear natural or pastel shades. Opt for bright, bold or clashing hues for a more energetic, frivolous shoot.
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With my background being in classic style studio portraiture (aka “boring”), and 25 years experience photographing portraits and weddings, I have a few tips up my sleeve for you. If you’ve never done a family or group portrait before don’t be intimidated. Be honest with the family and tell they you’re just learning, I bet they’ll be willing participants to help you out and they get some nice photos in exchange.
Look. Think. Click. Don’t Rush Into Taking Those Action Photos
Climb a ladder or chair and shoot shooting downwards. This is great if you have a large group or want to get more creative with positioning.
Alternatively to incorporate a creative blur and reflect the connotation of movement use a speed of around 1/8 to 1/15. Employ Continuous AF if your camera has it and pan with the movement to keep the subjects sharp.
Eye contact isn’t always essential though and some shots which intentionally lack it can be more intriguing and relaxed. So rather than force the subjects to look continuously at the camera get them to look in a variety of directions to spice things ups.
The ‘traditional’ shot isn’t for everyone so flex that creative muscle and engineer some fun, personality fused frames.
PIN IT: if you’re on Pinterest and want to save this Family Portrait Tips Tutorial – here’s an image just for you.
Here’s the bottom line – if mom thinks she looks fat she isn’t going to like them no matter how great the lighting and expressions (see #8 and #9 below). So get this one right.
As with all photography lighting is key. If you are shooting inside and can’t afford expensive lighting use the most flattering and cheapest form of light there is – sun light! Position your group facing or parallel to a large clean window, if it is a particularly bright day cover it with a thin veil of material, such as a net curtain or peg a white cotton sheet across to act as a diffuser for softer, more flattering light.
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We are told family comes first, so grab your camera and let’s get snapping… some great family portraits…