Family Portraits Dos and Don'ts - Digital Photography School
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Family Portraits Dos and Don’ts

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For a photographer, skills in family portraits are are essential and are usually the bread and butter for up and coming photographers. Looking at the history of photography, one of the first popular uses the camera was not for abstract art, or photographing the family pet, but for photographing people and their families. Because of the expense and difficulty of each photo taken, they became masters at getting things right the first time and being able to fit in as many people as possible into the frame. In order to hone in on the small things that make a difference in this classic and often overlooked form of photography, I have come up with my five DOs and five DONT’s of Family Portraits. I’ve also included a few examples from portrait sessions we have done.

Family Portraits DOs

1) Do squish your groups together

Most likely, even though they are family they won’t be getting close enough. Maybe it’s an American personal space thing, but it’s always been an issue for me and having everyone in tight truly makes a difference in the tone of the picture. When families are physically close, it emits a warmth and visually shows what families should be like…close. Even if you are photographing the Adam’s family, when you get everyone rubbing shoulders they look like a model family and the overall composition is more finished than a typical snapshot. As a starter, try having people stand at slight angles with shoulders overlapping. Also, consider the age of your family. If Grandma is present, make sure you have a chair for her. If grandma and grandpa are both there, you’ll will need two chairs.

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2) Do coordinate clothing

Before you meet with your family you should guide them in a wardrobe choice. Ultimately it is up to them and their families style to choose what they wear but simply reminding them to possibly overlap in a color scheme, avoid extreme colors, prints and logos on their clothing can make a big difference. This will give you an easier time post production, and you will have both options in color and black and white. As I said, it’s their picture and their choice, but a casual recommendation from a professional is usually appreciated.

3) Do check the screen for blinking

Shooting and shooting is OK for one or two people, but in a larger group it can be hit and miss and you may miss that one photo where everyone has their eyes open. I used to think “Hey, its digital. I’ll use the rapid fire method and surely I’ll get one right.” After a few sessions of transplanting eyes from one photo to another in Photoshop, I’ve changed my methods. You can get away with a weak smile but if someone looks like they are sleeping or on drugs in their first family portrait in 10 years, the customer may not be too happy. With experience you learn to quickly scan across everyone’s eyes in an instant.

4) Try and be funny to get some genuine smiles

A few cheesy jokes work surprisingly well to break the tension. A typical photographer joke might be saying “Ok, I need everyone to get in focus.” Or asking everyone to strike their best glamor pose. Other ways to get a smile is to get them doing something they don’t normally do. Have them try jumping, running, human pyramids or whatever comes to mind. If you have a one-liner you’ve used SUCCESSFULLY, or a creative and fun pose, sound off in the comments for the rest of us.

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5.) Do try and blur the background

Choose the largest aperture setting you can, while still keeping everyone sharp. An aperture of 2.8 might make the trees and shrubbery look silky smooth, but it might make Uncle Bob at the end of the line look fuzzy. This is especially a problem when everyone is standing on different focal planes. The solution is often to shoot a few clicks smaller than the lenses widest aperture, then use the preview screen and zoom button on your camera to make sure everyone is looking good. Then adjust and continue. If you’re really serious about this, I’ve even heard of photographers setting out cups length-wise on a picnic table to estimate the distances you start to loose focus. Seems extreme to me, just don’t forget about Uncle Bob.

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Family Portraits DON’TS

1.) Don’t forget to check ALL your basic camera settings before clicking away

ISO (go as low as possible), Image Size (RAW, fine), Exposure Compensation, Metering etc. It would be sad to get to the end of a great session and realize you didn’t change the low quality settings from the last time you used your camera shooting Garbage Pal Kids you planned on selling on Ebay. Of course in-door and out-door settings will differ as will naturally lit an artificially lit.

2.) Don’t let your subjects tilt their heads into each other

This is fine for your everyday Joe at the family Bar-b-que, but not a paid photographer. Subjects tend to think they will fit into the picture better if they tilt and lower their heads. Funny thing is, I’ve even caught myself doing this when I was being photographed. Watch for it and avoid it. There is always the lovey-dovey pose where they intentionally lean heads in, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

3.) Don’t sound insecure

Don’t say things like “This isn’t working.” Rephrase it into a positive, “Great, lets try a few more positions.” The more you tell them the pictures are looking great the better looking the pictures will get. Think high fashion cliche’s like, “Love it,” “Your beautiful,” “What a great one.” If you act like you have never seen such great photos the energy will give you just what your looking for and they will show confidence in their smiles.

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4/5.) These last two may seem to contradict each other so I want to put them together. 4.) Don’t let Mom run the show. 5.) Don’t be afraid to let Mom, Dad, and kids come up with ideas and posing.

First about Mom. We all remember the drill, no running, no jumping, no dirt, and pretty much no fun until after the pictures. If you do this you can get a treat on the way home. This is probably the best way to ruin family picture day for the rest of every 8 year old’s life. Besides the fact that it is almost impossible to control what 8 year old’s do, it makes for bad portrait sessions. If you are sensing a strong arm from Mother, make sure to get the squeaky clean formals done right off the bat. They are easy and traditional. After that let mom know that you’ve got it covered and now you want to have fun with the kids. Let them be kids, let them wrestle and play and capture them at their best. Once in awhile you will find families that are more relaxed. They may have seen fun family photos of their friends and want do do some in a similar fashion. Take their suggestions without letting them think you have none of your own and work them in. Often they will turn out great and they’ll feel like they had a little more to do with the pictures than just a pretty face.

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Chas Elliott is a freelance photographer in the Northern Virginia and DC area. See more of his work at www.chaselliott.com.

  • Donna

    Here’s a trick I use to thwart the chronic blinker and to reduce the chance of one person in a group blinking. Have everyone close their eyes and then open them at your word. Once you say “open sezme” or whatever word you choose, give them a second to focus and make the shot. A funny word will have them opening and smiling at the same time. It usually works!

  • Mario (Purely,Simply,Photography.)

    Great helpful tips as my next assignment on Sunday week is shots of family groups, followed by one of 450 primary school kids in a couple of weeks. The jumping group reminds me of a Toyota ad, but it takes some doing. Like the one of father and sons too. Sound and useful suggestions. thank you.

  • http://Www.folafayo.blogspot.com Fola”Fayo

    Very helpful tips for someone sarting out like me…good humour too and also from many comments on their experiences.

  • http://www.trufocusphotography.com Karen

    My favorite tips are:
    1. I set up the shot I want, then tell them I am going to take a few test shots first. If they don’t think the shots “count” then they are more relaxed and I often find these are much better than the “real” shots.
    2. For children have them say something silly sounding instead of cheese. I like Platypus. It is fun to say and usually gets a giggle.
    I like the “stinky” suggestion too.
    3. For younger kids getting restless. I sing the alphabet song. They have usually heard this before and it gets their attention so thy look towards the camera.
    4. Scout the internet for posing ideas. You don’t have to copy poses you see, but it is great to have a starting point.

  • Chris R. Munoz

    I’m kinda new to photography. And all your tips are excellent.. Thank you

  • Gary

    not sure if it was mentioned bit what metering and AF area modes are best used for groups of four shot standing in a row?

  • Luxxy

    Very well written and informative. I enjoyed reading your tips!

  • Irene Hall

    Not all moms are crazy omg it has to be perfect pictures….I used to be that way until I started having a very independent 20month old. Now after realizing its a little easier on both her and I to let her be herself I get better pictures.

    This leads me to my suggestion to dealing with moms who may be this way. Gently suggest before you ever make an appointment with someone that you want to capture the spirit of their child. You want them to be as natural as possible. This seems to work well for me. I’ve gotten some amazing family pictures with genuine smiles because of that suggeation.

  • Steph

    I might add a bullet point for DO is set up expectations in advance, and have a plan you’ve discussed with your clients especially for young families. :) Funny enough I’ve found that the dads need help as well (for different reasons, even the most congenial dads that I’ve photographed are really there because mom wants pictures for the most part). :) I live on Oahu so most of my sessions are on the beach with young children ranging from infants-6 years old and water and sand can get exciting especially if we don’t have a good understanding ahead of time if it is okay for the children to get wet and sandy at the second half of the session (or if spare towels/clothes aren’t packed because even if its not okay it sometimes happens anyways). I go in with a plan that I’ve discussed with the parents to keep the session fluid so children do not get restless (mixing in posed family portraits and play time where I photograph individual children, and just mom and dad etc… and bring some tricks to help the kiddos cooperate without even realizing it) The communication ahead of time allows for parents to have input if they want for the photos they want and we can execute when we get to the location so we are all working towards the same thing. Since I’ve started discussing a plan for the session and expectations for children in my pre-consult and follow up letter, I’ve only had positive feedback from parents of how the session was fun and so easy. They also have more trust/confidence in letting me take the lead in directing them. I think that good communication is key in a successful photo session for families. When I first began photography I had a couple sessions that had mom/dad wanting to take the lead in directing the session and I was able to get them good photos but since I’ve given parents the opportunity to give me back the reigns Its been the difference between good and great. :) Love the article thanks so much! I am always learning from this site and appreciate the bloggers/writters who have shared there tips and secrets. Mahalo!

  • Barry E Warren

    Well written, Thanks

  • K.Ace

    Hi I’m a new photographer i
    have my first family portrait shoot in 2 weeks love all the tips. Question the
    family i’m going to do consist of ten (10) members mom, dad, 2 grandkids
    1&4 believe 3 young ladies 18, 22, 29 an there boyfriends how do i keep everyone
    interested an how long should keep the session before they start getting bored

  • Dave Doherty

    Great Tips for the family pictures

  • http://india.dialus.com/ dialus

    iI agree with your points.Thank you.

Some older comments

  • Gary

    June 25, 2013 02:32 am

    not sure if it was mentioned bit what metering and AF area modes are best used for groups of four shot standing in a row?

  • Chris R. Munoz

    June 22, 2013 02:54 pm

    I'm kinda new to photography. And all your tips are excellent.. Thank you

  • Karen

    June 16, 2013 06:38 am

    My favorite tips are:
    1. I set up the shot I want, then tell them I am going to take a few test shots first. If they don't think the shots "count" then they are more relaxed and I often find these are much better than the "real" shots.
    2. For children have them say something silly sounding instead of cheese. I like Platypus. It is fun to say and usually gets a giggle.
    I like the "stinky" suggestion too.
    3. For younger kids getting restless. I sing the alphabet song. They have usually heard this before and it gets their attention so thy look towards the camera.
    4. Scout the internet for posing ideas. You don't have to copy poses you see, but it is great to have a starting point.

  • Fola''Fayo

    June 15, 2013 07:14 am

    Very helpful tips for someone sarting out like me...good humour too and also from many comments on their experiences.

  • Mario (Purely,Simply,Photography.)

    June 14, 2013 03:58 pm

    Great helpful tips as my next assignment on Sunday week is shots of family groups, followed by one of 450 primary school kids in a couple of weeks. The jumping group reminds me of a Toyota ad, but it takes some doing. Like the one of father and sons too. Sound and useful suggestions. thank you.

  • Donna

    June 14, 2013 10:00 am

    Here's a trick I use to thwart the chronic blinker and to reduce the chance of one person in a group blinking. Have everyone close their eyes and then open them at your word. Once you say "open sezme" or whatever word you choose, give them a second to focus and make the shot. A funny word will have them opening and smiling at the same time. It usually works!

  • Javier

    June 14, 2013 09:49 am

    Hello Chas:

    Thank you for writing this suggestions. The last advise will help us allow them to be authentic while we focus on taking the picture. It is not easy. I have 3 kids, and on the fun of taking photos one of them can be making funny faces, not willing to be in the frame, wants to cover someone, etc. Yes, sometimes we just get fun, and the family picture is not complete, but we keep trying.

  • Sarah

    June 14, 2013 04:45 am

    Addams family*

    Some other grammar issues here. Ugh.

    Also, not all moms are like that.

  • Geoff Naylor

    June 14, 2013 03:19 am

    Are you family of Erwitt Elliott, Chas?

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer

    June 14, 2013 03:09 am

    @kim -- I would never use P exposure mode for anything. For still subjects use manual. For moving subjects, you might use shutter priority mode, but even for walking down the beach shots I use manual because it is not fast moving action against a changing background or in changing light, so I just use manual exposure mode for that too.

    I am sure dPS has tutorials or guides for how to shoot in manual. I offer photography tips on my site as well for this specific topic:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2013/6/6/dslr-photography-tip-adjust-shutter-speed-first-to-fix-expos.html

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer

    June 14, 2013 03:05 am

    I have commented on this post one of the previous times it was published and either the lead photo has changed or I did not notice before, but why would a back-focused shot lead an instructional post on how to make portraits? The top photo in this post has the water in the background in focus and the family blurry (and unexposed). Or it is a case of using too slow of a shutter speed and the people are blurry because of that, though since the waves are sharp I'd say the shot is back-focused. Either way, just surprised to see it lead the post.

    One new tip in addition to my older comment above, you can still get candid shots on the beach using speedlights off camera. My current technique uses two speedlights (on light stands) allowing for well exposed sunset background images. Some examples of candids using strobist technique:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/tag/family-beach-portrait

  • Dorothy Middleton

    June 14, 2013 02:16 am

    I've had good luck with older men and women in pictures if I tell them things like, "Ok, try to look sexy, busty, or like Atlas".

  • GM Studio

    June 13, 2013 08:25 pm

    Hi, thanks for these hints, I think they are very useful, especially the last point 4 and 5 on how to handle the mom or any other person that start to try to direct the shoot, it's not always easy to handle these situations but they became easier with more experience.

  • Rinus van der Craats

    June 13, 2013 04:36 am

    When I have to make photo of a bigger group. I ask them to close their eyes and to open them on my sign for a few seconds. Untill now it was always succesfull

  • Jiri Ruzek

    June 13, 2013 04:06 am

    Especially the "this doesn't work" and so must be forbidden words, I absolutely agree with that.

  • Kim

    June 8, 2013 05:47 pm

    I am very new at this so have a question about the P and Tv settings. I'm taking photographs of a family of 4 outdoors so which should I use? P or Tv? I have taken a lot of photos if just my granddaughter and I always use P because they are mostly close ups for modeling.

  • Maui Photographer by Jen

    December 3, 2012 05:11 pm

    Great tips! I love having mom or dad acting silly behind me while shooting the kids. They sincerely laugh which turn into adorable portraits. :) If nothing else works, smarties are great for kids!

  • Krissy

    October 10, 2012 05:27 am

    I am a photographer just starting out, trying new things and this is helpful if you want to get that perfect shot

  • Craig

    August 20, 2012 03:26 pm

    One that I've been using for years to get people to smile is to simply tell them to "Say 'cheese'". After everyone says "cheese", I'll then say, "You pronounced that very well." It's then that I actually take the shot, often with very genuine smiles and expressions as they comprehend what just happened.

  • Gina

    May 30, 2012 09:55 am

    I always talk to to the kids tell them to say monkey...did you call me a monkey? Generally mom and dad laugh if their kids are laughing

  • Donna

    May 19, 2012 10:38 pm

    I'm doing a family photo of 35 people outside, at noon - in Kansas - in July! How do you get all those people in a nice grouping and how do you keep them from being grumpy in the heat and humidity? The oldest in my group is 85, the youngest 2 months. I would appreciate any advice!

  • Lea

    May 2, 2012 06:55 pm

    How do you get a strong sparkle in people's eyes? Is that added in post production or is there a way of setting up the portraits so that the eyes always have that bright look?

  • Colin

    March 23, 2012 12:18 am

    This post is great.. thank you for the tips...

    To add to this, to make sure your subjects are totally relaxed, I get them to stand for a pose, then (before lifting my camera up) I ask them to shake their hands and bodies to loosen up... this usually works as they all start laughing.

    If they are reluctant, I say, I will join in. it might make you look silly but you grab their attention and they have every confidence in you..

    Colin

  • rizz

    March 10, 2012 11:54 pm

    I take a lot of group photos in a high school. Instead of ME counting to three, I tell THEM to count to three. It really gets them engaged. Have them count in several different languages.

  • Adrian McTiernan

    January 16, 2012 06:17 pm

    For Jenny, and keeping everyone in a group shot in focus - with the Canon camera, it is probably easiest to use the depth setting, which is A-Dep on the dial. This looks at everything in the picture using all the focus points, and will set an aperture which will try and keep everything sharp at all focus points which are showing accross the group. It will help also if you use iso 400, which means that the flash will use less power to fill in the shadowed area. You say you will be shooting with the sun behind them, but remember on a wide angle lens, there is a danger of getting the sun in the picture, which will darken the exposure down a lot. Make sure the sun is hidden behind the people, and not showing, as even a bright sky will darken things. A few test shots first would be good to check these things before you actually have to shoot the real event. Even a sloping wall will give you a good idea of how this will work on the day.

  • claudine

    January 15, 2012 08:04 am

    I'm a mom, and I came here to see different ideas for a family photo. first off we run the show cause we want to see nice smiles,big nice eyes, and something that I can give to great great grandad without him saying which one is which?! I can't tell who's who!. Fun and out of the box pictures are cool but they're not something the whole family can enjoy. Frankly as a mom, the pictures you chose to put in this article were something i could of done.

  • Chris Smith

    December 6, 2011 04:01 pm

    I've got one word," Cheesy!"

  • KK

    November 25, 2011 06:14 pm

    I was part of a group shot at a midwifery workshop, and just before they took the shot, one of the speakers, a very distinguished gynecologist, said, "Everyone say 'Pap Smear'!" It definitely got some genuine smiles and relaxed attitudes.

  • MicheleF

    November 25, 2011 12:55 am

    When I have a line of people to photograph (like the women in the second photo) just before I shoot, I say "Tits UP!" - everyone stands straight, laughs, and it is always a good shot. Of course, probably easier for me to say because I'm a woman.

    I've also had great success in a posed environment where I take the first shot, look at the screen, shake my head and say "Could I get one where you look like you actually LIKE each other?" - again, everyone laughs and relaxes and I'm ready to fire when they do.

  • Andrew

    November 24, 2011 07:55 pm

    A freind of mine who has been doing portraits for 30+ years always says, Smile if you had sex last night....gets everyone smiling every time

  • Andrew

    November 17, 2011 03:39 pm

    It's important to know the family as much as you can. If they aren't people you know as well, ask what other family they have in the area, but be prepared in case there is any family drama going on and be sure to use good judgement. As what they think they might use their photos with or who they might share with.

    Being confident is the most important part. I nearly always use a small stepladder to get a higher perspective. It's always usually best if everybody's face is pointed directly at the camera instead of out of the side of their eyes.

    As for things to say, some of my colleagues and I have liked to say "fuzzy pickles!" as something for the family to repeat. Otherwise, with the season we're in, there's something to be said for "Turkey Day, presents, and Santa Claus." I tend to pick on dad more than mom in terms of saying things like "dad has stinky feet" or " dad snores!" When I photograph couples, it's important for them to be close. Say something like, now we need to get you guys nice and close if we're going to convince them that you love each other. For older couples, or couples who have been married a while, I like to have them say weekend alone, second honeymoon, or 'hey baby.'

    For younger kids, I find little hand puppets good. If you have an animal puppet you can say that the puppet likes to eat hands and that will get kids laughing. It's important to laugh while you're doing this because it doesn't give children mixed messages.

    I saw somebody ask about different poses for different size groups. It's tough until you have done it a bit. I'd suggest looking around at advertisements for some of the established photo studios, even if it's a sears, jcpenney, church directory website. I work for a church directory company myself and it's been one of the best things to help my posed, formal portraiture.

  • Colchester Wedding Photographer

    November 16, 2011 03:01 am

    Some very sound and useful tips, especially about tilting heads in to each other this can really upset the balance and look a bit overdone.

  • Wanda

    October 25, 2011 10:39 am

    Thank's for all the tip's Im doing a group of 8 tommorrow and I'm nervous I will mess it up I Love Photography and want to get serious I get alot of complanit's on my photo's but I have never shot this big of a group just want to make sure I do a really good job I still have alot to learn and all the tip's have helped Thank You

  • Aubrey Lee

    October 19, 2011 10:23 am

    Wow. I am loving your site. I'm just starting out as a photographer and have learned most of what I'm using now in photo shoots from digital photography school. :) Thank you so much for all the great tips! Can't wait to put some of these in practice in a shoot I have tomorrow.

  • Lewis

    October 18, 2011 08:25 pm

    Hi,

    I've been shooting portraits for a long time and I considered myself to be quite good at it but I feel like I've hit a wall. My last few photo shoots haven't been up to my personal standard, and what's worse, I don't feel they were what the client expected either. Are there any tips for making up for a failed session gracefully as well as how to overcome creative slumps?

    Thanks

  • Melody

    October 12, 2011 11:25 pm

    Tripod or Monopod...I use both, tripod takes a little time to set up and people usually need to go to where the tripod is, however with a monopod I can carry it around and catch those candid shots without people even realizing I am there. Downfall of monopod is that it is not as stable as the tripod, you can still get some wiggle...just be sure that you have a sturdy ground area and that you actually set the monopod on the ground. (people do use the monopod for holding the camera mid air, I guess it works...Maybe ????) Basically I guess what I am saying is Tripod is formal, Monopod not so much...most of all..just have fun!

  • Rachel

    September 23, 2011 04:19 am

    This article is extremely helpful. I'm a photojournalism student with very little experience doing posed photography and am doing my first family portraits in a few weeks. Thank you.

  • Wanda Whitehead

    September 21, 2011 08:51 am

    When taking pics of a family with younger kids I get the kids only to say "Mom/Dad has stinky feet"...always gets a giggle from the kids and usually a surprised/smiling face from the parents...

  • Paul

    September 18, 2011 08:22 pm

    Insted of closing their eyes, I get groups to look down and relax, then look back at me; that's when to nail the image!

  • angela

    September 9, 2011 06:26 am

    Is there anywhere on line that gives ideas of good poses for different sized groups of people? Like some sitting, some standing, how to arrange everyone etc

  • Randall Murrow

    September 9, 2011 05:55 am

    Some great ideas here. I would go even further and direct them to interact, make each other laugh. Rather than the photographer be the funny guy, maybe ask Dad to crack a joke and capture them interacting with each other rather than the photographer/camera/viewer. I always aim for a pleasing mix of "looking at the camera/viewer" and interaction, but weighted more toward interaction. Best for smaller groups, families, etc. rather than large groups.

  • Reznolio

    September 7, 2011 03:36 am

    Here's a DON'T. Instead of "cheese", I once had a baseball team shout "homerun!". Instead of nice smiles it looked like everyone blowing smoke rings.

  • KTG

    September 3, 2011 08:57 am

    A very useful tip from experience. Don't use words with 's' to get peoples mouths into a smiley shape. Our daughter had a lisp as a child and although cute, it really did spoil many photos for her!! We started using DADDY instead and got wonderful results.

  • Tyson

    August 31, 2011 12:23 pm

    One thing I've found ALWAYS ALWAYS gets real smiles (even laughs) is getting everyone to say "MOM'S A TURKEY!" It's supposed to get everyone's mouth to make a smile when they say the "key" part of the word turkey, but it almost always gets real smiles, regardless of age. It's hilarious to see people's reactions, and gets great shots. Try it sometime...

  • anh

    August 30, 2011 08:13 am

    great tips! I am planning a family portrait sometime before xmas so this article really helps.

  • Jason

    August 28, 2011 02:38 pm

    Katrina asked a question about aperture: She said her lens was a F4.0, would F4.5 be enough. One of the answers was you need F9 to F11. This is partially true. It is important to note that there are three things that effect the depth of field. Aperture is only one of these. The focal length and the distance from the objects being shot.

    I did a shoot with approximately 150 people - and trying to see each and every eyeball and expression on a 3 inch LCD screen is simply NOT possible. There are a few techniques that I have used to ensure the shot is a winner.

    1. Tether the SLR to a laptop - the larger screen will help you see a lot more detail, and usually much brighter as well.
    2. Use a remote to trigger the exposure. Standing behind the camera makes your voice bounce off the back of your camera and very hard for people to hear you - even if you scream.
    3. Surprise them - trigger a test flash and then immediately take the real picture. Some people twitch waiting for the picture to be taken - almost afraid of the flash brightness. Once they think its over- they relax
    4. Make them laugh is huge - everyone knows that one - but depending on the group - push the envelope - if they think (OMG - did he just say that - in a funny way of course) they will have an energy second to none. The fart comment is right on the money with bridesmaids or groomsmen - but grandma will hate you. So you have to know your audience.
    5. Shoot in Manual mode
    6. Use manual focus - especially in low light it can be difficult to get a focus lock. You want the shutter to fire at the moment you press the release - not let it try to refocus.
    7. Tell them you will be taking multiple pictures - and even though you didn't see someone blink, point your finger at someone and say - you blinked - didn't I tell you that wasn't allowed. That way they truly understand why you need to take 20-30 pictures.

    At one shoot, I just couldn't get every eyeball to be open - so I used a little secret I have in my bag. A pyrotechnic confetti device. Human nature to a loud noise is to blink, immediately after a blink eyes are open again ;)

    There are some examples on my homepage at www.bestexposures.com

    Jason

  • David

    August 27, 2011 09:01 pm

    Was very happy that this article came up this week. I'm shooting a friend's extended family tomorrow and am kinda nervous about getting a result that would justify them actually paying me. I haven't done larger family portraits before (have done a few group shots at parties & stuff - but not quite the same). Depth of field is definitely something I have learned to think about the hard way. Tomorrow I will be shooting off a tripod, to make sure it's easy to Photoshop eyes etc. if required, but I'm hoping through some of these pointers I won't need to touch the image other than minor touches in LR.
    Another tool I'm planning to use is the Android App "DOF calculator". By allowing enough setup time before the family are ready, I hope to plan my aperture according to how much depth I need in focus to fit 15 people or so in whatever configurations work with the location. It's a very handy app that will let you get a little closer to "ideal" aperture before anyone has even started tucking in shirts and polishing glasses.
    Any time you can save before you start shooting will mean less "Is he STILL shooting?" moments, especially with kids in the equation.

  • Photographer Aspen CO

    August 27, 2011 06:29 am

    I tell groups and kids to say "happy". It ends in a y which makes for a great smile, and it makes them happy.

  • Julie

    August 27, 2011 06:12 am

    I recently had a shoot with a child who simply didnt want to be there..he is 4yrs old. He decided prior to the shoot that he was going to simply not listen to his mothers directions ( Yes, I had the Mother issue too to deal with) so instead of trying to direct him, I began to shoot family portraits with out him..this irked him and he eventually wandered over to where his family was and sat in..right where I would have liked him to end up too! He then took one of his shoes off and acted like it was a phone..pretty funny to me but irked his Mom..I told him not to "eat" his shoe please and they all laughed..It made a very cute shot..the entire shoot pretty much went this way and I just kept clicking - CANDID images that followed were very sweet and honestly showed this familes true structure. I am glad that I just let them be and recorded it. I am a fly on the wall type of Photographer I guess..

  • Larry Lourcey

    August 27, 2011 05:54 am

    Family portraits are one of the toughest things to do well and unfortunately - many people make a mess of them. These are some great tips.

  • Steve Hepburn

    August 26, 2011 05:45 pm

    @Simon "punch in the nose, photoshop out the bruises" I love it! I did a soccer league this year. 12 - 17 kids be they 8 year olds, 10's or 12's I'd relax the faces by telling them not to smile too hard because then it's fake and it looks like they're grunting trying to poop. I don't think there was one kid that didn't relax and laugh. The odd parent raised an eyebrow, but not one complained about the end product. As for aperture and depth of field....know your gear! Set up a table with pop cans, signs, whatever. Space them in a row going away from you, about 6" apart each. Do about 8 or 10. Then put your camera on a tripod. Measure the distance to the first cup. Focus on it and shoot at f2.8, then in increments for 6 or 7 f-stops. Move the tripod back 6 - 12" and do it again. Then study and remember your results. If you know your depth of field with a given aperture, focal length, and distance to subject like the inside of your eyelids, then you can 'focus' on the composition and not worry if you are going to capture it successfully.

  • Ali Brandt

    August 26, 2011 03:41 pm

    One tip for family pictures: after a while, people get tired of smiling. If you tell them to put their tongue behind their front teeth, it will produce a natural looking smiling, even for those grumpy kids.

  • Ravi

    August 26, 2011 05:27 am

    Scott Kelby recommends that subjects bring their heads closer to bring warmth (not lighting, but love) to the picture.

  • Jay Walker

    August 26, 2011 04:31 am

    I realize that this thread is a long chronological one.... but I just want to offer a tip for keeping large groups in focus. Take along a 6' or 8' step ladder. Get the your subject group snugged tightly together (especially front to rear) and then get up on the ladder and shoot downward. Doing so can get everyone's face into essentially the same focus plane and you can get the majority of the faces in sharp focus. Afterall, it is the faces we want to see and recognize, not what they are wearing.

    Another thought too... If you make up your large group of small groups of 5 or 6 people and then snug the small groups together, you can depart from "lined up like chord wood" appearance and get a more informal, more natural feeling to the group. The people within the small groups can be turned toward each, different heights etc.

    One last thing, if you have more than one person in your "group" you can count on a few shots with someone's eyes shut or at least one person talking to another and paying no attention to you! Just grin and bear it !!!!

  • David

    August 26, 2011 03:39 am

    The line I have found that makes a family smile is to have them say, 'We don't fight.' This is especially affective since a lot of times the kids are not always agreeable with what the adults want. It breaks the tension.

  • Dale Boyce

    August 26, 2011 02:40 am

    One trick I use to make sure everyone's are open is I tell everyone to shut their eyes then I count backwards from 3, say open, wait 2 seconds and 9 times out of 10 you will get a great photo. Also, if someone has a hard time relaxing ask them to take a deep breath - as they let out their breath slowly, smile at the end - works like a charm

  • Angela

    August 25, 2011 09:40 am

    I find the best way to get young children to smile naturally is get them to say anything with 'stinky' at the start; stinky sandwiches is a personally fav and almost always guarantees them to crack up laughing. (followed closely by stinky squashed bananas!)

  • New Bern Photographer

    August 24, 2011 02:31 pm

    Since nobody likes a picture of themselves squinting, one thing I have found to help me is to not wear sunglasses, this forces me to be more aware of how bright the sun is if the group has to look towards the sun or a reflection.

  • Sarah Davis

    August 24, 2011 06:23 am

    I had an engagement shoot a couple weeks ago, and they said they could feel their smiles getting "fake" so I was trying so hard to entertain them. :) I said, "If it was a child, I'd know what to do - shoot "spiderwebs" (Spiderman) at a little boy and sing Dora the Explorer songs for a little girl" So they said, "Oh, just sing Dora, we promise to laugh" Well, I'm not quite that outgoing...But I did start saying "Dora, Dora..." a couple times out of the blue, and they'd start laughing and I'd snap away. The best expression I got was at the very end and they were about done, but I wanted one more good one....So they got their fixed smiles all in place, and I said, "Oh come on! What kind of smile is that?!" and they cracked up and I got an awesome shot. :)

  • Adrian McTiernan

    August 23, 2011 07:10 am

    I like the jump idea - even go further - in a studio setting, have a trampette, (individual round trampoline), and ask your sitter to do some jumps on it. The idea is to get them at the top of the jump, when the expression is usually best, and they are stationary. Their feet are off the ground, so even a full length shot looks impressive. They can do silly thing if they want - it can be a fun thing for families too, with a bigger trampoline of course. You can edit the trampoline off if you want a wide big studio setting shot.

    I tried it with my cat, and you can have both of you in mid air, with puss floating slightly out of your arms - can look really good. You need a relaxed pet, of course, one who is used to daftness in the owner. I used it on a young man who looked like he was made for the part of Jesus in a film. I got him to jump, and touch his toes before coming back down, and he was so intent, and the hair lifting and loose, that he looked just like I imagine the Lord would look. He liked the pix, and so did I. Well worth a try

  • Bob Frankly

    August 23, 2011 06:22 am

    A one-liner I use to great effect is used when a couple or small group puts forth their fake smiles. "Smile!" Gets the fake smile. "OK, now smile as if you like each other!" tends to push them over the edge and release the real smile for a great photo!

  • Greg

    August 22, 2011 06:14 am

    When kids are involved in something more formal try to get those shots first and fast as they will turn off onto to something else. Then turn them loose for a little while and then go for those candid shots we all love.

  • Don

    August 20, 2011 09:41 pm

    Hi all
    Its me again try defferent typs of photography it will also make you more rounded and better at it.And learn to use faster lenses a realy good learing lens i feel is what is called by many is the nifty fifty 50mm f 1.8 get good with it and go to better and faster lens like 50mm f 1.4 and then f2.8 the faster lenses cost more but well worth it every penny of it.Slower lenses are good for learning on most of kit lenses are the slower lenses f5.6 ect and read up on the defferent lenses there are many many typs and sites like this are a good learning tool AND dont worry about askig we ALL started out knowing little or noting take your time dont get ahead of yourself takes time.
    Peace Don.

  • Don

    August 20, 2011 09:08 pm

    Hi all
    There are some great tips her .For those just starting out 1 tip i used when i first started out i asked a freind if they would mind helping me out it could be a family member as well have them stand in different poess and try defferent settings and defferent back drops and shoot and shoot somemore and have fun above all just enjoy it.If you do that before you do an outing with your family or what ever the sission wll be its even better if you can go to the location before and look it over that way you can look fore the best places to take the photos and use defferent settings on your camera that will also help you learn the what the settings will do.BUT i feel the best tip fore anyone just starting out when you buy a camera read the MANUAL and i dont mean to just flip though the pages read them and put the information to use and do learn to use manual settings you will be glad you did it will make you understand what photography is all about and make you better at it Have fun shoot and shoot somemore Peace Don.

  • Mei Teng

    August 20, 2011 10:43 am

    Great tips. Thanks for sharing.

  • Killian

    August 20, 2011 05:41 am

    It wasn't a "family" portrait, but I was shooting team shots for a local high school. Of course, the big bad boys were scowling, so I got them all arranged and then said, "Look at the sweater puppies!" They all cracked up and I got great shots. =)

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer

    August 20, 2011 04:32 am

    I would definitely second the do not sound insecure tip. Often the family/client will say, "ok, so what do we do now." I feel that is a key time to show confidence and one's past experience. As one does more family portraits the experience piles up fast. Looking at some of my own work from just late last year, I can see things I would do differently, particularly with editing:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2010/12/22/big-family-candid-beach-portraits-at-tradewinds-resort-st-pe.html

    For don'ts, I would definitely add do not vignette color photos, and use it very sparingly even for black & white shots. To me, the only reason to add a vignette or other gimmick like that is because the photo is not strong enough to stand on its own.

    For beach portraits with a large family, like in the link above, another challenge is finding enough open space without people walking in and out of the shots constantly. In that example, they chose the beach right behind their hotel which was a very busy section. I normally take clients to more natural, hotel free beaches which tend to have less people to wander into shots.

  • Richard Gunther

    August 20, 2011 03:41 am

    The terrible pose of hands in front of crotch in a group shot can be cured with 'This is not a soccer game guys"
    always gets a laugh and almost always works.

  • Bekah

    August 20, 2011 03:08 am

    Good tips.
    I, when just shooting friends and stuff will randomly say "poop" and that gets people giggling. I don't say it to everyone though, because some people get weirded out by that. Lame and immature? Yes, but it works.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck

    August 20, 2011 01:14 am

    Hi

    We like to sit down with the Family in advance, show some of our previous work and ask what they are looking for, show some trends and most importantly, just listen. Oftem, cute ideas, like a Baby in a Basket (yuck) are not something folks want to see. Here is one special request for a Gerber Baby look!

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2011/06/20/the-new-gerber-baby/

  • Rachel

    July 26, 2011 02:16 am

    Love the advice and all of the comments! Incredibly informative and entertaining! One thing my husband says when taking pictures is "think of your favorite sin"...it gets laughs 99% of the time. You do have to be careful and pick your audiences carefully. Some may not find that funny. ...Love the "popsickles in your armpits" line! Thanks everyone!!

  • Michelle Scotti

    June 30, 2011 06:03 am

    I will often ask the group to make a funny face, then tell them to make funny faces at each other. 98% of the time they all end up cracking each other up and I shoot the resulting natural laughter.

  • Cathy

    June 26, 2011 02:15 pm

    I am also just starting out, have done mainly single portraits, a newborn, a 3 month old, and a family group of 3..BUT I have been hired to do TWO family reunions in July and August, both outside at cookouts, so I am planning mainly candid shots unless the clients specifically ask for group shots. Have to admit to being a bit nervous about this, one family is local, but the other one has members coming from all over the country and I really want to do a great job. I also don't have reflectors or anything, although I do have an extra flash for the camera.
    One question, should I use the tripod or the monopod? And what settings would you recommend for taking photos of groups with both dark and light complexions? I have seen photos that the lighter complexions are all washed out or on the other extreme the darker ones are so dark you can't make out any features. Is there a *magic setting* to attain a nice balance?
    And thanks for all the great tips, I will surely use some of them.
    Oh, one thing I use on my own family is to tell them NOT to smile, as in.."ok now nobody smile! Wait I think I see one creeping in,,don't smile..all said in a teasing voice, works especially great for kids I've noticed. In fact all I have to say to my oldest that I see a dimple and he breaks down with the greatest smile.

  • Amber

    June 5, 2011 06:17 am

    My husband and I take outdoor portraits as a side business and these trip are very helpful - especially about the head tilt because it is a very natural thing to do. I would also add that you should encourage groups to coordinate, but not match. It is nearly impossible to get relaxed, natural looking photos when people have on the same thing. Since people don't normally dress the same, when you see it, it just doesn't look natural, no matter how relaxed/genuine the expressions - you'll get a gimmicky or unnatural feeling. I had one mom insist on dressing her family the same against my advice (black shirts and khakis) , she ended up asking me if I could change the colors of their shirts because, "We look like we're wearing uniforms!" I politely declined..

    But honestly, I think the best advice I can give photographers just starting out is to be relaxed with your clients. I've encountered way too may photographers who "act" silly or goofy to get clients to relax, but a lot of the time you come off as weird and it makes people uneasy. I've read though the comments and having people yell things like sex or making a fart joke can really, really rub some people the wrong way and make them very uncomfortable.

  • Tony_Portrait Photography Braintree

    June 3, 2011 06:58 pm

    I am doing a family portrait shoot tomorrow with groups between 2 and 12 people, this has been a great help, the article itself and everyone elses comments. Many thanks.

  • Sarah

    May 22, 2011 06:02 am

    I always find that everyone is always stiff and not relaxed. I always say to relax as I take a deep breath and shake out my arms. I act like all the feeling or strength went out of my arms, It not only helps them relax, it makes them laugh at the same time

  • d.muralidharan

    May 16, 2011 10:18 pm

    i do a lot of portraits pl cheak my website and let me know about my work if you guys like it.
    i take a lot of tips frm you guys also.
    thks.

  • Timothy Adei

    April 9, 2011 11:19 pm

    ive stumbled across an interesting way to get difficult people to smile. tell everyone in the group to say "TEA" really loud. surprisingly it actually works ... albeit only 50% of the time.

  • Ethan

    March 18, 2011 11:57 pm

    I'm in the process of scheduling my first family shoot. Until now I've done mostly events. Concerts, etc.. This helped a lot! Thanks. Oh and I will sometimes just break into an accent and say something weird to get smiles. IT WORKS. Especially hick.

  • Lili

    January 30, 2011 08:47 pm

    Hahahahahhahhaahah....lmbo!!!!!!! You guys are amazing!!!! I love that were all serious about making a fool out of ourselves any time for the perfect shot....=p You guys rock with these comments....you gave me a laughter attack.....starting with you jeff! I still have the image in my head of the dude with the eyes closed.....lol

    Wow thank you I needed to laugh:) hugs to all of you....

    And about you Chas....great work! Bookmark!!!! I just saw the date posted....but still very practical advice.=)

  • Jennifer

    December 7, 2010 07:53 am

    Thanks so much for the tips! My sister has enlisted me to take family portraits this Christmas while our Grandmother is in town. I was wondering if anybody had any tips on how to organize the family; in other words, how should I have them stand? I'm getting a chair for my Grandma but I also have a 5 year old nephew and a 1 year old niece. Along with two siblings and two sibling-in-laws and my parents.

  • pic

    May 13, 2010 04:03 am

    i got a fam protrait n 2weeks first timer just started any tips apreciated

  • Eric

    May 9, 2010 02:50 pm

    @Fiona: Quote you mean price? I'm not sure. Maybe offer to do it for free, depends on your relationship.

    @Jenny: I don't know, not really. what lens do you have? The thing with auto is your camera is doing the guess work. There isn't really a "large group" auto setting. You might try landscape, but otherwise it's better to learn
    Av/Tv and M.

  • Len

    April 21, 2010 10:59 am

    I did a presentation for a group of mothers at a local church on how to take better family photographs. I wrote up the article on my website. You can see it at http://www.lenspoden.com/home/2010/3/16/better-family-photography.html

  • Jenny

    April 15, 2010 11:31 pm

    Hi all

    I am a TOTAL newbie and have no idea how to set my aparture (spelling is wrong, I know) setting. I have a Canon Digital EOS Rebel XT.

    Can anyone tell me if there is a particular setting I should use that will keep everyone in a group shot in focus? I will be photographing 9 people with a wide angle lense, sunshine but it will be about 3pm so the sun will be behind them, I will use fill flash in front, but I dont know how to set anything on my camera manually, so is their an auto setting you would recommend to have all nine people in focus??

  • Kate Tugwell

    March 5, 2010 09:35 pm

    I am a portrait artist and paint based on a photograph. I know the importance of a good photograph and get my husband to take a quality pic - makes the difference.

  • zz07

    February 12, 2010 04:50 am

    * that would be for older families/ family members..... haha

  • zz07

    February 12, 2010 04:49 am

    One of my photography profs. was talking to us the other day about things to say to get people to laugh.... One of his suggestions was having them say "sex" instead of cheese...... Haven't tried it out yet but he says it works really well....

  • Jay Rodriguez

    December 31, 2009 03:31 pm

    Great Read!
    Very Informative!

  • Timothy

    December 1, 2009 02:21 am

    I really do appreciate this post. I have my first family holiday shoot this week and this information was very necessary. Thanks for taking the time to help us amateur photographers.

    Tim

  • Endless Boudoir

    November 23, 2009 03:33 am

    Don't forget to be yourself! The clients can sense when you are being false. Just relax and go with the flow of the session, you will have way more fun and your clients will love you for it!

  • Plum Tree Studio

    November 23, 2009 03:32 am

    Great article! Just don't forget to coordinate clothing with weather outside and/or backdrop. You don't want red sweaters on a red background. Make sure you communicate before the session!

  • Carol

    November 21, 2009 11:48 pm

    a sure fire laugh line "okay, now everybody say Mom has stinky feeeeeeeeet!" works every time : )

  • Catherine

    October 22, 2009 10:50 am

    A one-liner for bridal party groups.... "Can the bride and groom have a kiss please (click). Now EVERYBODY have a kiss (laugh - click)"

  • Bill

    June 29, 2009 01:46 pm

    I have successfully used an idea that sounds like it won't work, but for me it did. When taking a picture of a lot of people, it is almost impossible to get one with no one blinking. Tell everyone to blink on the count of three and then take the picture on four. Tell them ahead of time what you are going to do so they understand the purpose of it all.

  • Mary Wano

    June 20, 2009 12:25 pm

    Fantastic article - I just happened to come across it this evening while prepping for a shoot tomorrow. Really great tips and tricks. I'm still a young photographer, and I'm still super nervous about paying clients, so it was nice to have the "3.) Don’t sound insecure" rule reiterated. Thanks for the valuable information.

  • Kraig Henry

    June 16, 2009 07:22 am

    Great tips...I've only been taking photos seriously for approx. 4 years. I've never really had any formal training, and I usually use one of the programmed settings on my Nikon D80. It all started with my sons playing football, soccer and baseball, so I specialize in Sports Photography. Well needless to say taking pics outside on a sunny day is so easy that a monkey to do it, but when the sun is not out, it's cloudy and overcast or it's a night game with cheesy lights everything gets alittle complicated. I guess the point I'm trying to make is f-stops and ISO's are very important, when you have to manually set them. I've been asked to do weddings, family portraits, proms, baby showers, suprise birthday parties etc. but I'm intimidated because of f-stops, ISO, etc. The tips pointed out here are very informative, however some have stated that they inadvertantly shot in the wrong settings. Are there specific ISO's for indoor, outdoor, overcast, cloudy, bright sun, field lights, moon light etc. How can you determine ISO so you won't be dependant on the programed settings. I usually shoot ISO 1000-1600 to freeze the action when I do go M or AP and adjust the WB for Flourcent of incandecent light for indoor games but i really try to avoid them.

  • Hussey Photography

    June 6, 2009 11:34 pm

    This is a great article to keep in the back of your mind as a good reference for shooting families!
    I'd def' recommend the having fun aspect of it. If your clients only want formals, offer to have them to some fun/crazy as well to loosen them up! And then stick to what they hired you for :)

    -Tim

  • Fiona

    May 11, 2009 11:43 pm

    I am pretty new to photography (have always loved it but only recently have taken it up seriously) and have had my first request for a family portfolio shoot. I work with a Canon 40D, 17-85mm lens but also have my Canon 2.8 100mm macro lens which I know is good for portraiture (have done some self portraits and portraits of my husband etc). I also use the wireless remote (Hahnel).
    I don't have a studio, I don't have all the other photographic equipment like reflectors etc.
    How on earth do I quote on something like this - husband and wife with 2 kids - they are worried that they haven't taken many 'family photos' and time goes by etc ... so I'm sure whatever I do will be fine, but as its my first request I'm nervous and scared that I'm going to stuff things up and also how do I quote?
    Any ideas, suggestions, tips etc would be appreciated. Also aware that as a new photographer I need the experience and to also build my portfolio ...

  • PRH

    May 8, 2009 07:01 pm

    "don't let mum run the show..."
    hehehe that's hilarious....
    no running, no jumping, no dirt, no fun...hold on, I'm that mum ;)

  • Joe

    May 6, 2009 07:04 pm

    Excellent tips. Thanks for this post.

  • Simon

    May 6, 2009 01:33 am

    Tame the beast! Yes don't let the mother take over, or anyone else for that matter. One thing that always bugs me is the control freak in the family that has to check for themselves that everyone else is smiling correctly just as I take the shot.

    Usually a punch in the nose fixes it, then photoshop out the bruises.

    Simon ;)

  • Marie-Claire

    May 2, 2009 11:58 am

    thanx for the article, just thought I'd leave a note re a one liner I seem to use without actually planning to use a one liner :) I mainly shoot weddings and when taking the group shot after getting everyone into position I do find myself often saying, "right now then i want everyone to look as gorgeous as possible!" seems to relax everyone, puts a smile on their faces and voila - they do look as gorgeous as possible :) Guess it'd work for family groups too! Worth a try :)

  • Natalie Brown

    April 30, 2009 01:09 pm

    With little kids that are getting the glazed over look after a couple minutes of shooting, I'll say, "Hey who's ticklish here? Let's see who's more ticklish". It usually breaks up the pose, but you can get some good close up candids. It even works for adults sometimes.

  • Gina O

    April 24, 2009 12:06 am

    Thanks so much for the tips. I'm photographing a young family of 10 this weekend so I will be taking those all on board. It's always great to learn of new ways of getting people to smile naturally plus different methods for getting natural shots rather than posed shots of kids. Makes my job easier!

  • Claudia

    April 18, 2009 10:21 am

    A friend of mine gets natural smiles in group photos by saying "Now, everybody frown!"

  • MikeRB

    April 18, 2009 10:07 am

    Great topic! Here's a tip that works for me - instead of "cheese" have them say "Barney!" - you will get a great wide smile (and a few chuckles) and saves some embarrassment should any of your subjects happen to have a lisp. You also get to avoid what my daughter calls the creepy Barbie smile.

  • Freida

    April 15, 2009 11:47 am

    these tips are oh so great!!!! i reaaly think our family photos will be better this year...thanks!

  • Jack Fussell

    April 15, 2009 08:21 am

    Good points. I did my first family photo shoot last fall and after the whole thing was done realized I had forgot to change back my ISO setting from a previous indoor trial. I shot the whole thing at 1600 and was wondering why I was having to compensate with a small aperture setting. Duh, I felt so dumb afterwards.

  • R. Roy Miller

    April 14, 2009 01:21 pm

    Just a comment about placing a subject/family/couple in front of a big flowery bush. I have found in my many years as a wedding photographer that a visually quiet, unassuming background sells better. I find the distraction of a louder background draws the eye away from the subject too much.

  • Courtney

    April 14, 2009 01:05 am

    Instead of the old "cheese" have the subject say "yes" ... it looks way more natural, and sometimes it gives a nice open mouth looking smile that looks like soft lauphter.

  • fantasmic2tek

    April 13, 2009 11:24 pm

    "A closed eyes tip I picked up years ago that I’ve used with a group of 170 is to have everyone shut their eyes. Then count down from three and have everyone open at the one count. Everyone should be open without the need to blink a second later when you make the exposure."

    My sister uses the same tactic, Especially on me because my eyes are always closed in flash pictures.

  • sara

    April 13, 2009 09:58 pm

    I heard recently as an easy rule of thumb, set your aperture with the number of people in a shot (2 = 2.8; 4 = 4.0; etc) it's probably not absolute perfection but has saved me when I'm switching back and forth from 1-2 kids to the larger group. After, of course, I ruined a whole series of shots being in 2.8 for a family of 4 and mom and dad were blurred in all of them. Also helped me out for a family of 13.

  • Marissa Noe

    April 13, 2009 11:00 am

    My dad used to say "popsicles under your armpits!" to get us to smile for pictures-- I have now started using that in my photography especially when there are kids and it gets GREAT smiles. We then come up with other things to put under your armpits- it keeps the joke and laughs going!

  • Dick Beery

    April 12, 2009 04:14 am

    A combination that I find that combines several technichques is to Auto-Bracket + and - .3ev and then you get people not knowing when shot is taken and also have 3 shots that can be combined in Photoshop very easily.

  • Jacquie

    April 11, 2009 01:29 pm

    I really enjoyed this information. I don't think I could say, "Did you Fart", LOL, my face would be so RED.

  • liz

    April 11, 2009 11:28 am

    When shooting portraits, i sometimes tell more self-concious subjects that "It's too late for them to break the camera, your brother already did." That tends to produce a smile.

  • jennhx

    April 11, 2009 06:37 am

    Thanks for the tips, very useful for me as I'm developing my repertoire. I shot my friend's informal wedding last weekend and both the bride and groom are the types of folks who close their eyes a LOT more than most-- many of my shots wound up with one or the other having their eyes closed. Next time I'll try the countdown approach to get them to open their eyes.

  • Amy Long

    April 11, 2009 04:33 am

    Typically it is the guys who are the hardest to get to relax and pose for me. When they are with their family or significant other and look frozen, I tell them to "pretend you like this lovely lady beside you"... usually it gets some smiles I can grab. Or I "threaten" them. I tell them if they don't "smile nice for the camera" their lovely lady will let them share Rover's bed or, and only if I know them well enough for them to know that this overweight photographer is not serious... I tell them I will have to start stripping if they don't relax.... I'll start taking my shoe off or the like and it usually ends in a true laugh.

  • Nancy

    April 11, 2009 03:00 am

    Loved this article. No technical jargon that someone who isn't advanced can't understand. Just great practical, usable tips.

  • savio

    April 10, 2009 06:26 pm

    hi... i really love these newsletters that i almost look forward to receiving them... i will be doing a family portrait shortly (my first one) n was just waiting for tips like these... really good tips also thanks to everyone who has put in their tips as well... certainly takes off some pressure for me...
    continue the good work guys... appreciate it...

  • Lucian

    April 10, 2009 01:10 pm

    I loved the 2nd point on DONS, it happens so often ...

    great post, loved the other comments as well !!

  • Tom

    April 10, 2009 10:02 am

    for katrina

    From f4 close the opening to something like f8 or even f11. Most lenses give sharper results in that f-stop range simply because of lens geometry.

  • Karen

    April 10, 2009 08:20 am

    When taking a family pic, I always say "now act like you like each other!" Works every time.

  • Chas

    April 10, 2009 07:24 am

    @Katrina,

    Depth of field issues are often too complex for any set rule. Much depends on the lens and subject distance etc. If you have a lens that opens up to 4, that should be a safe starting point. Take a few and see if some things appear sharp and in focus, while other things seem too soft. If you think it might be an issue 4.5 would be a great next test. Good luck!

  • katrina

    April 10, 2009 07:11 am

    sorry my last post was actually a question i left the ?

  • katrina

    April 10, 2009 07:10 am

    "a few clicks smaller than the lenses widest apeture..... so if my widest apeture is say 4.0 would you then shoot the photo in say a 4.5"

  • ashley

    April 10, 2009 04:36 am

    one tip to loosen the mood--ask everyone to whistle to see who can go the longest without smiling or laughing.

  • Skip

    April 10, 2009 04:00 am

    I've used most of these tips with great results.
    "Lick your lips, or I'll lick them for you" usually gets a good candid natural smile.

  • Virginia

    April 10, 2009 02:25 am

    I always enjoy these articles and learn so much. I have been asked to take pictures at our first ever family reunion. I am a novice and am nervous about doing a good job and capturing great memories. Any suggestions for LARGE groups? My husband has five brothers and his cousin's family has eleven - and that's only the beginning!! Thanks in advance - I could use all the help I can get!

  • Sara

    April 10, 2009 02:13 am

    I often try to take some family portrait and the picts examples are more effective than many words. But we also need to reed some useful tips so.. thank you a lot!!! Sara

  • Bonny

    April 10, 2009 02:10 am

    This is going to be really obvious to everyne here, but I've seen this too many times. Choose a place or a backdrop where the group or family is NOT facing into the sunlight. My BIL recently had everyone posed for a family shot after a church event standing in front of beautiful flowering trees, but they were all squinting. NOT a good result. He had the background okay, but forgot about the light source. Small thing but easy to overlook.

  • Monika

    April 10, 2009 01:54 am

    great tutorial, right before Easter, thanks!! :D

  • Jeff Frese

    April 10, 2009 01:39 am

    I get many email newsletters and have eliminated all but yours - it actually is the one with great value and I seem to learn something new with each edition. This article about family portraits is fantastic. Thank you for that.

  • Ashleigh

    April 10, 2009 01:36 am

    Excellent!

    I love the tips. Thanks.

  • Sarah

    April 9, 2009 11:49 am

    Thanks for the great tutorial - I've had problems getting everyone to look AND smile AND have their eyes open also. Thanks for everyone else's tips also - and I'm among the ones needing the tattoo on the forehead I think!

  • Allegra

    April 9, 2009 09:45 am

    Having the family give each other a big group hug before or during the shoot can reveal a number of expressions and help ease shyness and insecurities.

  • junj

    April 9, 2009 03:05 am

    I used the close-the-eye technique with some friends of mine. While everybody had their eyes closed, i took a shot and they were very surprised. When i asked them to close their eyes again, they were already smiling.

  • case

    April 9, 2009 01:25 am

    often after i get everybody posed, i will tell them to squish in a little closer. i have had good results saying something to the effect of "come on, closer... let's -pretend- like we like each other..." (said in an obviously joking manner with a big smile on my face, of course). typically it gets them to move in closer and smile naturally for a few seconds. and i love the "everybody get into focus" line. that one made me laugh. :)

  • Eric Mesa

    April 9, 2009 12:26 am

    For all those who find the settings a problems, I read recently what you should do. Make it a habit every night (or after every shoot) to reset your camera to known settings that will work most of the time. IOW - put your ISO back to 100, exposure compensation to 0, etc so when you pick it up, you don't need to remember to reset it.

  • WIlliam Rackley

    April 9, 2009 12:20 am

    Cavale, Canonmaiden– i'm with you guys. Its always the ISO from the night before that I lose the first 3-10 shots to.

    Pramathesh, love it. Chas, love the focus line.

    One of the ones I like to use that is a bit unorthodox is to request that the model give a great big genuine happy smile. When she does, I usually wrinkle up my face in fear, scream lightly, and request that she never do that again. I trigger the shot on the confused 'what' face, and the genuine laugh after I tell her I was just trying to get that confused expression.

    Not exactly a one-liner, but I've gotten some great results with it.

  • Eric Mesa

    April 8, 2009 11:55 pm

    The first shot (jumping) is a huge family. The shot looks AWESOME! The dad looks especially happy. In fact, everyone except the mother seems to REALLY be enjoying themselves.

    I really like the one with the guys lying on the grass as well.

    Great tips!

  • eranga

    April 8, 2009 08:24 pm

    Great post... I have made a jump picture my self have look here..

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/30023038@N02/3015715754/

    Last Page.

  • April

    April 8, 2009 12:08 pm

    "Your beautiful"

    My beautiful what?

  • CanonMaiden

    April 8, 2009 11:31 am

    Great post.
    cavale... I KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN! Maybe stuck to the back of my camera will do. ;)

  • Aimee Greeblemonkey

    April 8, 2009 05:38 am

    Great post! I learned this at a conference, when I want to use 2.8 or lower f-stops, I try to line people up, by asking them to line up against an invisible glass wall. It helps get more of them in focus, depending on the pose. I also ask for a series of "silly, mad, funny, then happy" faces... usually loosens everyone up.

  • Tina P

    April 8, 2009 03:24 am

    Our favorite line is the "Why'd you make that face? Did someone fart?

  • cavale

    April 8, 2009 03:13 am

    "Don’t forget to check ALL your basic camera settings before clicking away"

    i think i need to get that TATTOOED TO MY FOREHEAD.

  • professional photo retouching

    April 8, 2009 02:56 am

    Nice and clear tutorials for thse who wish to improve their photographic skills

  • cristiano007

    April 8, 2009 02:54 am

    Sorry, I forgot to say that the person screaming is in the group behind everybody, so if you're not part of the family you will need an insider to do it for you (the tall funny guy of the family).

  • cristiano007

    April 8, 2009 02:49 am

    OK this about professional family portrait which I don't do. But I can share two ideas:

    - Candid action takes have lots more life and personality than posed takes. It's like classic street photography but inside the family. I did a niece's Sweet 16 this way and was very interesting. The official photographer did a great job but my photos are more funny to look and chat around.

    - One of my wife's brothers do something very effective when we do the family reunion portrait. He screams very loud right before the shot, something like "SMIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIILE!!!". That release all the tension in the group and everybody laugh and smile spontaneusly. Funny thing, he pose very serious.

    Really my two cents.

  • Jeffrey Kontur

    April 8, 2009 02:06 am

    Two clarifications to the "have-everyone-close-their-eyes-then-open-them-at-the-count-of-one" idea:

    1. Don't have them keep their eyes closed too long. Don't even mention it until you're ready to shoot. Some people are a bit too literal. You may have someone standing there for five minutes with their eyes closed while you're setting up. (Don't laugh, it happens!)

    2. Ask them to open their eyes exaggeratedly wide. Not cartoonishly wide but some people (including me) are naturally squinty. This looks terrible in portraits. Asking people to open their eyes wider than is natural actually ends up looking more natural (and more flattering).

  • dcclark

    April 8, 2009 01:51 am

    If I'm counting off a shot for the family (OK, ready in 3, 2, 1, ...), I almost always actually take the shot on "2" -- it has the effect of helping avoid forced smiles, catches them off-guard if they're trying to force it, and often makes poses a little more genuine looking. It's a small thing, but I like it.

  • Ilan

    April 8, 2009 01:49 am

    Great tips, I specially loved the 'contradictory' last one - so true :)
    About closed eye's - Why not to use 'rapid fire' as you stated, and then in photoshop combine the best result over one frame? Just shoot 4-5 (10?) photos, as much as the buffer allows, and at home choose the best faces (sounds funny, but works)

  • Pramathesh

    April 8, 2009 01:19 am

    I have used a cliched line while taking group pictures and that is " Don't worry, I am the photographer!".
    This line has multiple effects like genuine smiles, rarely captured expressions, etc. Try it and every time it works differently.

  • K. Praslowicz

    April 8, 2009 01:01 am

    A closed eyes tip I picked up years ago that I've used with a group of 170 is to have everyone shut their eyes. Then count down from three and have everyone open at the one count. Everyone should be open without the need to blink a second later when you make the exposure.

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