10 Tips for Doing Your First Family Portrait Session

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Photographs from a good family portrait session will be treasured for many years to come. It’s an incredibly rewarding area of photography, but it can also be a little daunting for new photographers. You need to build a rapport with the family fast, keep the children on board, and meet the parents’ expectations with gorgeous photographs.

Family portrait FAMILY GROUP

So where do you start? Which camera settings should you choose?

Here are some important pointers to make your first session go smoothly, and to help you take great family portraits.

1. Get down to their level

Get down to a child’s eye level. This will lead to far more engaging photographs, as well as helping you to interact better with the child.

Family portrait INDIV GIRL flowers

2. Use Centre point focus

Different focus settings suit different photographers, but center point focusing tends to be the most useful for family portraits. As you take more and more family portraits, you’ll get a feeling for whether this suits you, But it’s a great starting point for your first session.

3. Choose an appropriate aperture

Your aperture settings will be influenced by the style you prefer. As a starting point, many lifestyle family photographers choose to shoot wide open for individual portraits (f/2.2 works really well), and around f/5.6 for group shots to ensure everyone is in focus.

Family portrait DAD AND SON opt

This was taken at f/5.6.

Family portrait INDIV GIRL park

This was shot at f/2.2.

4. Starting shutter speed

You will probably find yourself needing a slightly faster shutter speed for family portraits than you’d need for many other kinds of portraits. Children move fast, and sometimes unpredictably! A good setting to start with is 1/250th, which will give you flexibility for children rolling over or waving. If you have a situation where someone is moving very fast, such as a child jumping or racing off into the distance, choose a much faster shutter speed like 1/800th.

Family portrait BABY opt

This was taken at 1/800th]

5. Use Auto ISO

While you’re familiarizing yourself with the apertures and shutter speeds that work for you on family portrait sessions, consider setting your ISO to auto. The results are usually satisfactory, and it’s one less thing to think about on the day. As you gain experience and confidence, you can start to select the ISO as you go along.

6. Metering mode

Certain metering options seem to suit some photographers better than others. As you take more family portraits, you’ll soon see which works best for you. To start with, try using spot metering for individual portraits, and evaluative metering for a group shot.

Family portrait MUM AND BABY

This was taken with the evaluative metering mode.

7. Shoot in RAW format

The editing options open significantly in Lightroom, and you’ll have a far greater range of colors and detail recorded if you shoot in the RAW format.

8. Auto White Balance

Set your white balance to auto if you’re doing a location shoot. You’ll be working in a variety of locations with different lighting, and you won’t have much time for setting white balance as you go. Correcting white balance is an easy edit in Lightroom, so you’d be better off spending the time engaging with the family you’re photographing.

9. Choose your lenses

Consider which lenses to take with you to the family portrait session. If your budget doesn’t stretch to having several lenses, consider renting some. It can be surprisingly economical, and it gives you the opportunity to try out different focal lengths to see which suit you best.

 

Family portrait BABY

This was taken with an 85mm lens.

Using several lenses throughout a family portrait session will give you lots of variety in the images, as well as meaning you can cope with most locations. A zoom lens like a 24-70mm will give you lots of flexibility, or a popular prime lens for family portraits is an 85mm lens, which is very flattering for portraits. A wide lens like a 35mm will help you to set the scene.

As you gain experience photographing families, you’ll develop a sense for which lenses suit you best. That’s a good time to invest in the best quality lenses you can afford.

Family portrait SIBLINGS INSIDE

This was taken with a 35mm lens.

10. Set limits

Limit yourself to taking five versions of each scene. This will train your eye to look for the details and expressions you want to capture and to make sure you ultimately combine them all in one photograph.

Conclusion

So there you have it – family portraits in a nutshell. Practice makes perfect, though, so be prepared to work hard and hone your camera skills. Above all, a friendly and professional attitude combined with careful preparation for each family portrait shoot should make for happy clients and repeat business.

Please share your family portrait tips and photos in the comments section below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Louise Downham has photographed 1000+ babies and children to date, her photographs have been exhibited internationally and published in national magazines. She runs an award-winning family portrait business, Louise Rose Photography. You can also follow her on Instagram.

  • It always daunting for me to take family photographs. This tutorial will help me to take good
    photographs that will be treasured for long time. It is really important to know the expectation of
    parents to take a session. I read DPS regularly because they don’t skip the non-technical
    part of photography.

  • I think the article is incomplete if you’re not going to demonstrate the consequences of NOT following these tips. For example, tips 3 & 9 show the result of different options, but how much worse would #6 look like with centre-weighted or spot metering? Wouldn’t #4 look better with some action blur from a slower shutter? If you can’t show why these tips need to be followed, you might as well have suggested that standing on the right foot is better than standing on the left or that shooting on even-numbered days is better than odd. Show me.

  • Bhobby Macaraig

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ededd7b492fef8f82986f752a3f5e5f4dd9a74ad50ce9b2dfc3c242426958260.jpg

    Just want to share my grandmother and my nephew’s family portrait… I’m a newbie here and just learning things in the field of photography… Nice article DPS and looking forward for more tutorials and tips on this website. Thanks

  • reeves.sheena

    1 yr have passed since I finally left my last job and it changed my life… I started to work online, over a site I found online, for a few hrs every day, and I profit now much more than i did on my old work… My pay-check for last month was for 9k… The best thing about this gig is that now i have more free time with my family… http://chilp.it/8d93f4b

  • cassandra-peterson

    One yr have passed since I decided to quit my last work and it changed my life… I started doing work from home, over a website I found on-line, for several hrs a day, and I earn much more than i did on my old job… My pay-check for last month was for $9k… Amazing thing about this job is that now i have more free time for my loved ones… http://chilp.it/8d93f4b

  • Jerry Mathers

    Thank you for the tips. I think that you were thorough and provided a great article.

    I would disagree with you on tip #8 Auto White Balance (AWB), however. For me, using AWB, especially in locations where the light conditions vary, can lead to a real headache in post. I have found this to be especially true when you are trying to achieve a consistent look across your images. My suggestion would be to either setup a quick custom WB at each location during the setup or as light conditions change, or use a WB preset that matches your light conditions. Assuming that you are shooting in RAW, this will make the post work easier as you can apply global adjustments to each shot group.

    Again, thank you for your time in writing this.

  • Gerry Downes

    Great tips and great articles, however I am inclined to agree with Jerry Mathers, I don’t trust AWB I prefer to work it out as I go along. I find CLOUDY a good all rounder and it can be adjusted later in PS. .https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/5498c18c0303c4f75c0893699cc65f8e3e3aaaab5f1461c8869f8e335106cc14.jpg I’m an amateur and this is a photo of my grandaughter

  • Dennis DiMarco

    Thank you, Louise, for a well written, easy-to-understand set of tips. I especially found your corresponding sample photos helpful and would encourage you to add more of those to exemplify each of your teaching points.
    For any photographer new to family portraits, I thought this was very useful to get them started.

  • malinda.hackler

    After 5 yrs I decided to quit my last job and it was a best decision i made in my life… I started doing work from my house, over a website I found online, few hours each day, and I profit now much more than i did on my office work… My last month payment was for 9 thousand bucks… Amazing thing about this gig is the more free time i got for my kids… http://chilp.it/728813e

  • Great tips! Sometimes we all forget the basics in an effort to do something out of the ordinary.

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