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8 Family Portaits Tips

The sun is out and shining bright. The sky is blue and the grass is green. Summers here and it seems everyone is wanting a new family portrait on the beach, at the park, or in downtown.

family-portraits-tips.jpg

Here are some things to keep in mind when creating family portraits:

  1. Think in “mini-groups”. A family portrait is simply multiple “mini groups” within one large group. Use groups of two’s and three’s to compose your family shot.
  2. Remember “levels”. One of the most important elements of a group shot is to vary the levels of your subjects. Placing some faces higher than others will allow you to make the shot more intimate in spacing.
  3. Consider “color”. While color coordination is by no means necessary for group shots, it can help the overall flow. Have your subjects go by types of color, such as “vibrant”, “bold”, “pastels”, etc.
  4. Watching even lighting, but don’t stress about it. So long as all the eyes are visible, and faces are lit relatively the same, your good to go.
  5. Pick shade: As the sun doesn’t set until late in the evening, you’ll have to wait for good sidelight until about 5 pm. If your stuck shooting before this time, find awnings, the shaded back side of buildings, or tree cover to diffuse the harsh sunlight.
  6. Move quickly: It’s very helpful to try story-boarding your group shots ahead of time according to the number of people you have. The more people you have in a shot, the less time you have to create it. Story-boarding is more about knowing what you want, than it is about formal posing.
  7. Be fun and spontaneous! Plan to take shots of the families walking, striking a dance pose, linking arms, or jumping in the air. These shots capture genuine expressions among the entire group and help to keep your subjects happy and interested.
  8. Background work: The larger the party, the less control you have with eliminating your background. Simplify as much as you can by changing the angle you take your shot. Taking the shot from the ground or directly down on your subjects may eliminate enough background to feature the group without distraction.

Most of all, spend some time asking questions of what the family wants. Make a general determination if they are looking for more casual shots, or formal arrangements. So long as you know the general direction of what the family is looking for, you can score big in the capture.

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Christina N Dickson is a visionary artist and philanthropist in Portland Oregon. Her work includes wedding photography www.BrideInspired.com and leadership with www.RevMediaBlog.com.

  • http://www.stonecafecreations.com Kris Stone

    This is really cool thanks for the thoughts. I saw the word storyboarding in your article, so I went and looked up storyboarding regarding photography (I know they do it for films) and learned something else new! Two things in one day, can’t beat that! :D Thanks

  • http://aaronmaffeiphotography.webs.com Aaron Maffei

    Great tips, I’ll see if I can try it next time I’m with the family.

  • Peter

    Very nice tips!… i have a family portrait coming up in a few weeks and these tips WILL help….thanks you DPS…

  • http://www.MariaSabalaPhotography.com Maria Sabala

    Thank you so much for this post, Christina! I love the tips and appreciate your good timing. I am stressing out about a large family portrait session I have scheduled for August 1st. I’ve never done a group of 16 people (5 of them babies/preschoolers). Now I’m thinking about it a little differently. :) Thanks!

  • http://www.imageserenity.com Amandalynn

    I really like the “mini groups” suggestion, thinking of arranging people this way makes SO MUCH MORE SENSE to me now. Thanks!

  • http://www.onegoodphotographer.wordpress.com Bridget Casas

    Putting people in some kind of little groups is a great idea. I did this for a bridal party photo and it came out real well. It is so much better than having people in a straight line or staggered. Thank you for this post!

  • http://www.ilanbresler.com Ilan

    In family photo, just like in any photos where people appear, using light can change a cliche photo to something more special.
    Of course, it’s not only the light, but that’s just one example.

    See here – http://www.ilanbresler.com/2008/10/reflections.html

  • Sarah

    Great tips!

    (Wrong form of your/you’re in #s 4 and 5.)

  • http://twitpic.com/photos/ipsul ipsul

    mini group in the large group. that’s a cool suggestion. thanks

  • sanders

    I like this.
    How can you get equal ligting on such a sunny day? Any tips for that as well?

  • Ram

    thanks really for the tips .. very useful ..

    btw chris, I loved your website … the angles you are choosing is really amazing .. i love it

  • http://theportfoliopro.org ThePortfolioPro

    Great Tips on Portraits. Nice Layout. on blogs. Thanks for sharing! :)

  • Sean George

    Good tips. One thing that surprised me a bit, though, was the large depth of field. Not judging good or bad, but I’m just surprised to see so much of the background in focus.

  • Michael Genung

    Very helpful. Thank you. Important too: “spirits of play” to help lighten up the troops. A line I’ve used with good success: “Now everyone POSE REALLY HARD for me.” When they laugh, I “grab” the shot/shots.

  • Sheila

    Thanks, for the tips. I was thinking about shooting our family photos this weekend. I haven’t ever taken any family photos yet, So I will be practicing on my family. These tips will definitely help. Thanks again.

  • Liza

    “The more people you have in a shot, the less time you have to create it.”

    What do you mean by this? Just hoping you might expand on that thought some.

  • Lisa

    Yes- I’ve got these great large aperture lenses but the short depth-of-field means photographing more than one person at a time is tricky, and it’s difficult to tell if anyone’s out of focus unil seen on a big screen. Using flash helps, but not always the effect I’m after – how can you set the depth of field securely for a group?

  • Lisa

    Have just seen the next article – hyperfocal distance! Brilliant – just what I need. Thank you so much!

  • http://jpm8jpm@i.ph jpm8jpm

    thanks guys for sharing! i love dps every time u email me i always find time to read all your posts! thanks and keep up the good work!

  • Joey

    Tip #9: Don’t crop people at joints. There are very few things more disturbing to the subconscious brain when looking at portraits than to see someone cut off at the knee, elbow, ankle, wrist, etc… (such as the lady on the left side of the example image in this post)

    Tip #10: Don’t schedule outdoor shoots between 11:00AM and 3:00PM on clear, sunny days unless you’re A) not shooting in direct sunlight [ex: effectively using open shade, reflectors or diffusion panels] or B) have the correct lighting equipment and knowledge of lighting ratios so you can balance out the inevitably harsh sunlight.

    Tip #11: If you want your clients to respect you as a professional, do not get the usage of your and you’re mixed up unless they haven’t made it past the 5th grade. It hurts everyone involved.

    Tip #12: DO NOT CENTER THE SUBJECT IN YOUR VIEWFINDER. The only exception to this rule when you are first learning photography is if you are taking a meter reading or locking focus and then re-framing the scene. When you press that shutter, if your subject is in the direct middle of your photo you have lost the game (unless of course you were going for that ironic, devil-may-care, trendy, hipster kitsch look).

    ==========

    For extra street cred and 50 cool points: Take your subject out to the beach at 12:00noon on a cloudless day without supplemental lighting or reflectors of any kind, center your subject in the frame (making sure to lop them off at the wrist and knee or ankle), add a super cool vignette in post (+10 cool points for taking laziness one-step further and using a vignette action you found on DeviantArt) and then sell the client a $200 11×14 print. You may then and only then call yourself an “accomplished, award-winning, professional” photographer.

    At least that’s what flickr and craigslist are teaching people nowadays.

  • daniel van

    i wonder to know how to make the color so soft like that…can you tell me please… i lke the color.
    please e-mail me at (d_van04@yahoo.com)

    thanks

  • Tami McNeil

    Where can I get more info on my camera? I have a Sony a350. I love the camera but, have trouble using it properly and therefore get bad outcome. Where can I purchase a DVD on my camera and details about how to work it properly. I have checked with different people locally and no one can help me.
    Please let me know asap…very frustrated!
    Thanks for your time
    Tami McNeil

  • http://www.globetrottingbride.com Globetrotting Bride

    Great tips!! Thanks for sharing! We’re having a baby this fall so I’ll put them to good use!

  • http://jlynnpro.redbubble.com Jennifer Moore

    Oooo! The thoughts on storyboarding and groups of 2s and 3s are pure gold! Thanks for that! I never would have thought of that!

    I may have my first family portraits give in August. *fingers crossed*

  • http://jlynnpro.redbubble.com Jennifer Moore

    I meant “gig.” “Family portraits GIG.”

    Oy.

  • http://www.elizabethannphotography.org Elizabeth Weitz

    thanks for the tips for families. I have a large family photo shoot next week (11 people) and I wanted to get some creative ideas going for them. Thanks so much…you’ve helped me a lot with your posts.

  • kristy

    Dear Joey,
    We’re all real proud of your accomplishments and apostrophe knowledge…If I were a photographer in 1927, your ideas might be relevant….and even then, your ideas would be outdated.

    Great tips, Christina!

  • John

    Kristy,

    I couldn’t agree more. He needs to zip it. Talks too much.

    Daniel Van,

    What I do in photoshop is to make a layer that is solid white on top of the photo, then tone down the opacity of the layer to 2-5 or which ever would make you happy. That usually gives me a softer or a washed out effect. I hope that helps

  • Dan Eternal Images Photography

    On a bright sunny day, find a spot of shade, an overhang, or any place where the sun isn’t shining directly on your subjects at or near midday. If that is not possible, then put the sun behind them and use something to reflect some light back towards them. A white poster board, a wall behind you, anything that is light, neutral colored and reflects some softer light. A white vehicle even works. Learn to be creative with what you have on hand. While the tree is a great setting, you may want to be creative in your positioning of your subjects and/or the positioning and angle you are shooting from to try to eliminate background clutter. It that is not an option use an aperture of f8.0, 5.6 or possibly 4.0 and a longer lens (telephoto lens) to blur the cluttered background. Pro lenses often open up to f2.8 or more to create a great bokeh (that nicely blurred background). Take you camera to a mall, park or other public place and inconspicuously practice some of this. It is a great way to improve by practice, and you can self critique your efforts.

  • wutswut

    The tips are generally very good, but the photo doesn’t back them up.

    Joey has a lot of good points. If you’re going to blog, you should know basic grammar, punctuation and spelling. “Your” is possessive and “you’re” means “you are.” Just always think of the apostrophe as a replacement for missing letters. Note that the period and comma belong inside the quotes. (ex. Remember “levels.” / such as “vibrant,” “bold,” “pastels,”) I also agree with all of Joey’s comments about photography.

    Here are a few other things to remember.
    1. You should always make sure your horizon is straight unless the goal is to do an edgy obviously slanted horizon. I understand that this photo was taken from a low viewpoint on purpose, but these people look like they’re all sitting on a hill; however, it’s not slanted enough to appear as if it’s an intentional slant.
    2. If you’re selling a photo, you SHOULD stress about avoiding splotchy lighting. Reflectors or fill flash can be used to avoid it. If it’s just your own family in the shot, then you can get away with it and maybe fix it in Photoshop.
    3. Make sure the colors (white balance) are accurate and everything doesn’t look too yellow.
    4. It’s distracting (and kind of ugly) to show the bottoms of a subject’s shoes.
    5. Make sure parts of people’s faces are not hidden behind other people (like the man’s chin).
    This picture could be improved somewhat in Photoshop by using levels or curves, straighten tool, and color adjustments.

  • Ausdoc

    Dear Tami McNeil,
    Have you tried the site esupport.sony.com? There are many manuals and handbooks there.

  • Jim

    What do you do about the person in the group who doesn’t want their picture taken and therefore stirs up the rest of the group?

  • Ryan

    Looks like someone else likes your images a lot and is passing it off as his along with countless others.
    http://www.timothydejeanphotography.com/Index.html

  • Lea

    What if it’s the middle of the day and you can’t find any shade? How do you use your flash? How do you change your flash settings, on the camera body or on the external flash itself?

Some older comments

  • Lea

    May 2, 2012 07:33 pm

    What if it's the middle of the day and you can't find any shade? How do you use your flash? How do you change your flash settings, on the camera body or on the external flash itself?

  • Ryan

    April 11, 2012 12:02 pm

    Looks like someone else likes your images a lot and is passing it off as his along with countless others.
    http://www.timothydejeanphotography.com/Index.html

  • Jim

    October 27, 2011 03:13 am

    What do you do about the person in the group who doesn't want their picture taken and therefore stirs up the rest of the group?

  • Ausdoc

    October 4, 2011 04:32 pm

    Dear Tami McNeil,
    Have you tried the site esupport.sony.com? There are many manuals and handbooks there.

  • wutswut

    December 29, 2010 04:29 pm

    The tips are generally very good, but the photo doesn't back them up.

    Joey has a lot of good points. If you're going to blog, you should know basic grammar, punctuation and spelling. "Your" is possessive and "you're" means "you are." Just always think of the apostrophe as a replacement for missing letters. Note that the period and comma belong inside the quotes. (ex. Remember “levels.” / such as “vibrant," “bold,” “pastels,”) I also agree with all of Joey's comments about photography.

    Here are a few other things to remember.
    1. You should always make sure your horizon is straight unless the goal is to do an edgy obviously slanted horizon. I understand that this photo was taken from a low viewpoint on purpose, but these people look like they're all sitting on a hill; however, it's not slanted enough to appear as if it's an intentional slant.
    2. If you're selling a photo, you SHOULD stress about avoiding splotchy lighting. Reflectors or fill flash can be used to avoid it. If it's just your own family in the shot, then you can get away with it and maybe fix it in Photoshop.
    3. Make sure the colors (white balance) are accurate and everything doesn't look too yellow.
    4. It's distracting (and kind of ugly) to show the bottoms of a subject's shoes.
    5. Make sure parts of people's faces are not hidden behind other people (like the man's chin).
    This picture could be improved somewhat in Photoshop by using levels or curves, straighten tool, and color adjustments.

  • Dan Eternal Images Photography

    December 4, 2010 06:25 am

    On a bright sunny day, find a spot of shade, an overhang, or any place where the sun isn't shining directly on your subjects at or near midday. If that is not possible, then put the sun behind them and use something to reflect some light back towards them. A white poster board, a wall behind you, anything that is light, neutral colored and reflects some softer light. A white vehicle even works. Learn to be creative with what you have on hand. While the tree is a great setting, you may want to be creative in your positioning of your subjects and/or the positioning and angle you are shooting from to try to eliminate background clutter. It that is not an option use an aperture of f8.0, 5.6 or possibly 4.0 and a longer lens (telephoto lens) to blur the cluttered background. Pro lenses often open up to f2.8 or more to create a great bokeh (that nicely blurred background). Take you camera to a mall, park or other public place and inconspicuously practice some of this. It is a great way to improve by practice, and you can self critique your efforts.

  • John

    August 20, 2010 06:36 am

    Kristy,

    I couldn't agree more. He needs to zip it. Talks too much.

    Daniel Van,

    What I do in photoshop is to make a layer that is solid white on top of the photo, then tone down the opacity of the layer to 2-5 or which ever would make you happy. That usually gives me a softer or a washed out effect. I hope that helps

  • kristy

    March 31, 2010 03:36 pm

    Dear Joey,
    We're all real proud of your accomplishments and apostrophe knowledge...If I were a photographer in 1927, your ideas might be relevant....and even then, your ideas would be outdated.

    Great tips, Christina!

  • Elizabeth Weitz

    March 27, 2010 12:09 am

    thanks for the tips for families. I have a large family photo shoot next week (11 people) and I wanted to get some creative ideas going for them. Thanks so much...you've helped me a lot with your posts.

  • Jennifer Moore

    July 21, 2009 11:54 pm

    I meant "gig." "Family portraits GIG."

    Oy.

  • Jennifer Moore

    July 21, 2009 11:53 pm

    Oooo! The thoughts on storyboarding and groups of 2s and 3s are pure gold! Thanks for that! I never would have thought of that!

    I may have my first family portraits give in August. *fingers crossed*

  • Globetrotting Bride

    July 21, 2009 03:02 am

    Great tips!! Thanks for sharing! We're having a baby this fall so I'll put them to good use!

  • Tami McNeil

    July 17, 2009 02:46 am

    Where can I get more info on my camera? I have a Sony a350. I love the camera but, have trouble using it properly and therefore get bad outcome. Where can I purchase a DVD on my camera and details about how to work it properly. I have checked with different people locally and no one can help me.
    Please let me know asap...very frustrated!
    Thanks for your time
    Tami McNeil

  • daniel van

    July 8, 2009 02:55 pm

    i wonder to know how to make the color so soft like that...can you tell me please... i lke the color.
    please e-mail me at (d_van04@yahoo.com)

    thanks

  • Joey

    July 5, 2009 03:53 pm

    Tip #9: Don't crop people at joints. There are very few things more disturbing to the subconscious brain when looking at portraits than to see someone cut off at the knee, elbow, ankle, wrist, etc... (such as the lady on the left side of the example image in this post)

    Tip #10: Don't schedule outdoor shoots between 11:00AM and 3:00PM on clear, sunny days unless you're A) not shooting in direct sunlight [ex: effectively using open shade, reflectors or diffusion panels] or B) have the correct lighting equipment and knowledge of lighting ratios so you can balance out the inevitably harsh sunlight.

    Tip #11: If you want your clients to respect you as a professional, do not get the usage of your and you're mixed up unless they haven't made it past the 5th grade. It hurts everyone involved.

    Tip #12: DO NOT CENTER THE SUBJECT IN YOUR VIEWFINDER. The only exception to this rule when you are first learning photography is if you are taking a meter reading or locking focus and then re-framing the scene. When you press that shutter, if your subject is in the direct middle of your photo you have lost the game (unless of course you were going for that ironic, devil-may-care, trendy, hipster kitsch look).

    ==========

    For extra street cred and 50 cool points: Take your subject out to the beach at 12:00noon on a cloudless day without supplemental lighting or reflectors of any kind, center your subject in the frame (making sure to lop them off at the wrist and knee or ankle), add a super cool vignette in post (+10 cool points for taking laziness one-step further and using a vignette action you found on DeviantArt) and then sell the client a $200 11x14 print. You may then and only then call yourself an "accomplished, award-winning, professional" photographer.

    At least that's what flickr and craigslist are teaching people nowadays.

  • jpm8jpm

    July 3, 2009 10:18 am

    thanks guys for sharing! i love dps every time u email me i always find time to read all your posts! thanks and keep up the good work!

  • Lisa

    July 3, 2009 08:19 am

    Have just seen the next article - hyperfocal distance! Brilliant - just what I need. Thank you so much!

  • Lisa

    July 3, 2009 08:18 am

    Yes- I've got these great large aperture lenses but the short depth-of-field means photographing more than one person at a time is tricky, and it's difficult to tell if anyone's out of focus unil seen on a big screen. Using flash helps, but not always the effect I'm after - how can you set the depth of field securely for a group?

  • Liza

    July 3, 2009 07:54 am

    "The more people you have in a shot, the less time you have to create it."

    What do you mean by this? Just hoping you might expand on that thought some.

  • Sheila

    July 3, 2009 04:10 am

    Thanks, for the tips. I was thinking about shooting our family photos this weekend. I haven't ever taken any family photos yet, So I will be practicing on my family. These tips will definitely help. Thanks again.

  • Michael Genung

    July 3, 2009 03:58 am

    Very helpful. Thank you. Important too: "spirits of play" to help lighten up the troops. A line I've used with good success: "Now everyone POSE REALLY HARD for me." When they laugh, I "grab" the shot/shots.

  • Sean George

    July 2, 2009 09:21 am

    Good tips. One thing that surprised me a bit, though, was the large depth of field. Not judging good or bad, but I'm just surprised to see so much of the background in focus.

  • ThePortfolioPro

    July 2, 2009 02:35 am

    Great Tips on Portraits. Nice Layout. on blogs. Thanks for sharing! :)

  • Ram

    July 2, 2009 01:55 am

    thanks really for the tips .. very useful ..

    btw chris, I loved your website ... the angles you are choosing is really amazing .. i love it

  • sanders

    July 1, 2009 05:54 pm

    I like this.
    How can you get equal ligting on such a sunny day? Any tips for that as well?

  • ipsul

    July 1, 2009 04:03 pm

    mini group in the large group. that's a cool suggestion. thanks

  • Sarah

    July 1, 2009 03:42 pm

    Great tips!

    (Wrong form of your/you're in #s 4 and 5.)

  • Ilan

    July 1, 2009 03:04 pm

    In family photo, just like in any photos where people appear, using light can change a cliche photo to something more special.
    Of course, it's not only the light, but that's just one example.

    See here - http://www.ilanbresler.com/2008/10/reflections.html

  • Bridget Casas

    July 1, 2009 02:39 pm

    Putting people in some kind of little groups is a great idea. I did this for a bridal party photo and it came out real well. It is so much better than having people in a straight line or staggered. Thank you for this post!

  • Amandalynn

    July 1, 2009 02:20 pm

    I really like the "mini groups" suggestion, thinking of arranging people this way makes SO MUCH MORE SENSE to me now. Thanks!

  • Maria Sabala

    July 1, 2009 12:39 pm

    Thank you so much for this post, Christina! I love the tips and appreciate your good timing. I am stressing out about a large family portrait session I have scheduled for August 1st. I've never done a group of 16 people (5 of them babies/preschoolers). Now I'm thinking about it a little differently. :) Thanks!

  • Peter

    July 1, 2009 10:48 am

    Very nice tips!... i have a family portrait coming up in a few weeks and these tips WILL help....thanks you DPS...

  • Aaron Maffei

    July 1, 2009 10:32 am

    Great tips, I'll see if I can try it next time I'm with the family.

  • Kris Stone

    July 1, 2009 08:43 am

    This is really cool thanks for the thoughts. I saw the word storyboarding in your article, so I went and looked up storyboarding regarding photography (I know they do it for films) and learned something else new! Two things in one day, can't beat that! :D Thanks

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