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10 Tips for Doing Your First Family Portrait Session

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

Family portrait FAMILY GROUP

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

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

1. Get down to their level

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

Family portrait INDIV GIRL flowers

2. Use Centre point focus

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

3. Choose an appropriate aperture

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

Family portrait DAD AND SON opt

This was taken at f/5.6.

Family portrait INDIV GIRL park

This was shot at f/2.2.

4. Starting shutter speed

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

Family portrait BABY opt

This was taken at 1/800th]

5. Use Auto ISO

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

6. Metering mode

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

Family portrait MUM AND BABY

This was taken with the evaluative metering mode.

7. Shoot in RAW format

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

8. Auto White Balance

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

9. Choose your lenses

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


Family portrait BABY

This was taken with an 85mm lens.

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

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

Family portrait SIBLINGS INSIDE

This was taken with a 35mm lens.

10. Set limits

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


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

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

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Louise Downham
Louise Downham

has photographed 1000+ babies and children to date, her photographs have been exhibited internationally and published in national magazines. She runs an award-winning family portrait business, Louise Rose Photography. If you’re looking for friendly support with your own photography business, Louise provides a mentoring programme.