7 Tips to Take Better Family Photos

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Regardless of the type of photographer you are, family photos are among the most important pictures you’ll ever take. Here are some things to keep in mind.

#1 – Make sure the family is prepared

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Even if it’s a few emails, a phone call, or an in person meeting at a coffee shop, have a consultation with the family at some point before the shoot. Address things like what the family will wear (use a service like Pinterest to create a board for the family to look at for suggestions on how they might dress), what time of day would be the best for them, and what they’re looking to get out of the shoot (i.e., candids, headshots, or a holiday card).

Send out an email a day or two before their appointment with the time, date, and place of the session. Provide a checklist reminding them to make sure the kids are fed and they pack any essentials with them. Depending on the season, your checklist will change (e.g., knit hat reminders in winter and sunscreen and water in the summer). A family shoot will never go perfectly, but by making sure the family is prepared, you can maximize the likelihood that things will go as smoothly as possible.

#2 – Become friends with the kids (bribery is underrated)

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Young or old, everyone loves little gifts. Stop by the Dollar Store before your next shoot and pick up some bubbles, a baseball, stickers or a tiny stuffed animal. If it’s autumn, stop by a farm market and a grab a small pumpkin. Summer? Grab a bunch of wildflowers. These tiny gestures will take some pressure off the parents, gain you points with the kids, and have the added benefit of making the pictures more fun and interesting. It’s a win – win.

#3 – Let parents play with their kids

This is when the magic happens. If you let the parents be who they are and more importantly, let kids be kids, the pictures will start to fall into your lap. Facial expressions on both the parents and children will be authentic and genuine. Smiles will come more easily, and your job is just to capture the moment.

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#4 – Provide direction

Don’t be afraid to move the parents around and tell them where they need to be. Even if you’re just casually photographing your neighbor’s family, you’re the professional and people will listen. If a location isn’t working or the light is poor in a certain area, suggest an alternative in a positive way. Say something like, “Why don’t we try moving into that large open shade area by that tree, it will give us a break from this heavy sun”, rather than, “The light is horrible here, let’s move”.

Relying on the parents to direct their kids can make your job a lot easier too. A little boy will listen to his mom who tells him to hug his sister over a stranger that he just met.

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#5 Make everyone feel comfortable

Most people feel awkward having a camera pointed at them. Keep the conversation positive and periodically tell everyone how great the pictures are looking. You can even show them a few shots along the way. Your enthusiasm and excitement for what you’re seeing will put everyone at ease and make your job much easier.

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#6 – Improvise

The night before the shoot I’m usually scouring Google for “family photo tips” or pulling the “How to Pose Children” books off my shelf. Preparation is essential. But photographing a family is a mixture of luck and skill, and when you’re in the thick of it and things aren’t going as planned, you’re going to have to improvise. Kids won’t sit still? Pop on a telephoto lens, back off and let them run around a bit. You might be surprised at the photos you get when you’re forced to do what wasn’t planned.

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#7 – Embrace the outtakes

As photographers we want every photo to be a masterpiece – perfect light, natural expressions, everyone looking at the camera. But sometimes the best photos that you wind up taking are the most ridiculous — a boy with his hand up his nose, a brother embracing his crying sister, or one sibling looking at the other with a crazy face. Don’t stop shooting just because the kids aren’t cooperating for a moment, or the parents are chasing them around. Sometimes these situations can lend to the funniest and most memorable shots.

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We all wear different hats as photographers. One of these days, you’ll be asked to do family photos. Keep these tips in mind and you’ll be one step ahead.

Please share your comments and any other suggestions below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Joe Turic is a photographer and small camera enthusiast based in New Paltz, NY.  He writes about micro four thirds photography and shares tips and reviews at Less Gear More Photos.  His personal work can be found at joeturic.com and he likes when people follow him on Instagram.

  • Adhithiya Ganesan

    I like your tips . Thank you !

  • No Problem Adhithiya! Glad you found them useful!

  • John

    Great tips Joe, I especially like the one where you mention to just keep shooting. I will have to say I have a habit of stopping when it gets a little too crazy during a family shoot, but that is a good suggestion because the best photos could be the mayhem that ensues from a family shoot.

  • Hi John. I feel your pain. Sometimes the chaos of the family shoot can almost make you want to give up. It takes a lot to step back, relax, smile think about how much crazier is it for the parents who are experiencing it! It’s definitely tough, but I love to embrace a moment like this and think about how fun those kind of photos will be for the family (and kids!) 20 years later. Thanks for the comment and glad you liked the tips!

  • These are some fantastic tips, Joe. I really like the idea of stopping at the dollar store to pick up a few bribes…erm…props 🙂

  • Hi Simon. Thanks! The props/bribes can really come in handy 🙂 They’re also a fun souvenir for the kids to take home from the shoot. Glad you liked the tips!

  • Antonio Gonzalez

    Awesome article Joe! I’ll definitely take note of these!

  • Thanks Antonio! Glad you enjoyed the tips!

  • Rosina Leonard

    Great tips. Thank you

  • Hi Rosina. No problem! Glad you liked them 🙂

  • Hisyam

    I’m not an official/commercial photographer but I like to take photos of my family esp the kids. Your tips are very useful and it gives me ideas for our next photoshoot.. I might need to hire a photographer if I want to be in the frame.. for now I just rely on a tripod 🙂

  • Hi Hisyam. Great to hear you found the tips useful and that they’ve given you some ideas for your next shoot! I think for a photographer it’s always tough thing to think about hiring another photographer…but I’m wrestling with the same problem you are — my wife and I are expecting in July, and if I want to be in any of the pictures, short of using a tripod, I’m going to have to hire someone 🙂

  • Henry M

    Hi Joe, so you are based in New Platz. I graduated from Suny New Paltz in 1995. Havent been there ever since. How’s new the town now?

    Hope to go back there to shoot family portrait at the montain behind the college. Breath taking view beginning of fall.

  • Hi Henry. Yep, I’ve been living in New Paltz for over 10 years. Still a great town! The college town/hippie vibe remains while we’ve gotten a bunch of new shops and restaurants to choose from.

    The views are still amazing! I credit most of my love of landscape photography with living here. So much accessible farmland, mountains, rivers and scenery. If you check my personal site in my author bio here, I’m sure to see some scenes of the area that you’re familiar with (the photos in tips 1, 2 and 5 were all shot in New Paltz actually). Good luck with the family shoot in the fall!

  • Hisyam

    Wow! Congratulations Joe! It’s just around the corner.. You better review the portfolio of your potential photographers now or you’ll end up with the selfie-stick on that day! 🙂 All the best Joe.

  • agen situs poker

    thank you for your awesome tips.. i will use your tips when take a pic with my family.. Situs Poker Terpercaya
    thanks again..

  • No problem! Glad to help!

  • Levy R.

    These are some really good tips about how to take good photos. I really like the tip about having your family be prepared. I like the idea of using these tips with the school photos as well. If your kids are prepared for the photos then they will be more likely to have good pictures. http://myschoolpicture.com

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