Family Portrait Ideas

Stuck for exciting family portrait ideas? Look no further! We've gathered some creative ideas and tips to help you create a fun family portrait session, and produce beautiful photographs.

Today's style of family portraiture has evolved from the very stuffy and formal poses of the past, where the men were in ties, the ladies in dresses, and everyone lined up neatly and smiled into the camera. Instead, families are looking for natural, candid photos that capture something personal and unique about them.

Giving the Family Something to Do


People become stiff and awkward when they are feeling self-conscious, and there's nothing like having a camera pointed at them to draw out their insecurities! Most people are uncomfortable in front of a camera, and your first task is to set them at ease. Whether you're photographing your own family, or you're a pro shooting a family portrait session, remember that you are in charge. The family is looking to you for guidance as to what they should do. Now it's time for you to become a director!


What Are the Family Hobbies?

family portrait ideas
Family portrait ideas:
Father and son fishing.

What better way to get a family to relax than to engage them in their favorite activity? You should choose an activity that is representative of the family so that it makes the portraits meaningful and personal.

Your family portrait ideas could be sports-related, such as soccer, baseball, or swimming. They could also be associated with a hobby like fishing, cooking, gardening, camping, or fixing cars. The goal is to make the portrait more than just a lineup of family members, so that it says something about who the family is, and what is important to them.

Have the portrait tell a story about the interaction between members of the family. There's no need for everyone to be looking at the camera; having people look at each other will emphasize the passion that they share for the activity.

 



In Their Element

family portrait ideas
Family portrait ideas:
A couple cooking together in their kitchen.

Another great way to get relaxed and happy expressions from your subjects is to photograph the family in an environment that is familiar to them. This could be inside their home, in their garden, or in a nearby park.

Tip

Clothing:

Note the neutral, light-colored clothing in the image on the right. White always gives a fresh look, and neutrals don't distract from the people's faces.

Touching:

Having family members get close together, and touch each other emphasizes their bond. Read more about family portrait poses.

 


Get Moving!

An easy way to get a family to relax is to get them moving. It's much easier for people to feel at ease if they don't have to hold themselves stiffly for a portrait. Anything that feels like play will produce happy and spontaneous smiles. Family portrait ideas that get the family running or jumping together are perfect. A connection between them, such as holding hands, will symbolically create the impression of the family bond.

family portraits on the beach
Family photo ideas:
Running Together

Try a classic shot of the kids, or the whole family, running in a line together, holding hands. Note the coordinated clothing in this shot as well. Blue and white give a fresh look to the image.

Outdoor Family Portraits

If the weather is cooperative, outdoor family portraits can produce some great results. Families are often more relaxed outside than in a studio setting, leading to more natural-looking shots. There is also more room to let them be active.

You must pay careful attention to the lighting conditions when photographing outdoor family portraits. With sunlight, you may be able to get away without a flash, but not always. If the light is very bright, then you may actually need to add fill flash to eliminate harsh shadows, and balance out the sunlight. You can also look for a shady spot to pose your family. Do try to ensure that everyone in the photo is lit as evenly as possible. You don't want Mom in the sun and Dad in the shadows. Finally, try not to have anyone looking directly into bright sunlight, or you will find them blinking or squinting.

Outdoor family portraits can take advantage of the beauty of nature to provide a complimentary background for your photograph. If you're using an urban environment for your outdoor family portraits, be extra careful about busy backgrounds, and always watch out for other people walking into your shot.

Family Portraits on the Beach

Tip

Protect your gear!

Use a UV filter for your lens to protect it from salt water and scratches, and never, ever put your camera down in the sand.

If you're looking for family portrait ideas, the beach is always a favorite spot for photography, and it's wonderful to do family portraits on the beach.

The water and sand can provide a simple background canvas for you. Do make sure your shooting angle doesn't place the horizon line, where sand meets sky, through anyone's head.

Water can provide opportunities for playful interaction and splashing, which can be a source of fun family portrait ideas -- just don't get your camera wet!

The following is a shot I took of a family at the beach. The causal setting relaxed everyone, so I had no complaints while I was setting up. The uneven line of people helps keep the portrait informal. This was an unplanned shot, so the clothing is a mishmash of bright colors and logo T-shirts, making it look even more informal.

Do watch out for legs and feet sticking out toward your camera when you are using a wide angle lens; they can look disproportionately large. The effect is not too pronounced in this photo, but would be much worse if I had a smaller group that was less spread out.

family portraits on the beach
Family portraits on the beach
© Julie Waterhouse

Here is another portrait at the beach, this time of a mother and daughter. Here, the feet are nicely hidden by having the pair lie down. The soft warm light on their faces can be created by using a fill flash with a warming gel, or by bouncing light onto them with a gold reflector. If you have no flash or reflectors, then you can catch the late afternoon light as the sun begins to set.

family portraits on the beach
More family portraits on the beach

When shooting family portraits on the beach, you may need to overexpose by a stop if there is lots of light sand in the photo. Also consider using a polarizing filter to bring out the blue in the sky and the water.

The Kiss

This is a natural pose that anyone can do. Just ask, "Give Mom (or Dad!) a big kiss!" and be ready to catch the moment. Children will feel very comfortable with this kind of interaction, and the final portrait will be more natural than asking them to look at the camera. Crop in close with your composition to capture expressions and increase the emotional impact.

family portrait ideas
Daughter giving Mom a kiss.

You can reverse the pose, and have a parent give their child a kiss. This works well when photographing a baby. You can't really give posing instructions to a baby, but they will naturally look into Mom's or Dad's eyes.

family portrait ideas
Mom and baby share a tender moment.

The photo on the left was taken in a studio using a white seamless background to provide a very clean final image. All the attention is on mother and child, and the story is all about their bond and connection. The faces are arranged to create a diagonal line between the two heads, and therefore eyes, which produces a dynamic image.

You don't need to be in the studio to execute family portrait ideas like this. You can have Mom or Dad kiss their child while holding her in their arms, or lying together on the ground.

Tip

Compose carefully.

Note the carefully arranged gap between Mom and baby. Overlaps, or "mergers," can be distracting.


More Family Portrait Ideas...

Here are a few more family portrait ideas for you!

For something a bit off-beat, you get have the family play dress-up. You can create a theme with costumes, or you can just use some goofy props like hats and glasses to add some fun.

Another idea for something a little different is to try a photo on a rainy day. Umbrellas make fun and colorful props, and give people something to do with their hands. You can shoot just after rain so that no one gets wet, and you will still pick up interesting reflections in the wet pavement. Don't use umbrellas on a dry day, or it will look completely staged!

Finally, don't forget the family pet when you're looking for family portrait ideas! Although animals always add an element of unpredictability to photography, they are part of the family too, so make sure you include them in at least a few shots. A pet can be an anchor for the shot, giving family members something to interact with, or look at while you are photographing.

Tips

for Your Family Portrait Ideas

1. As the photographer, your job is to get people feeling relaxed and looking natural. Put them at ease with a little humor, and by getting them to do something fun -- not posing stiffly.

2. You must project confidence in order to put people at ease. No one wants to hear you say "this isn't working!" Instead, be positive, and say "let's try something else."

3. If the family is anxious about getting some more traditional, formal portraits taken, shoot those first. After that, everyone can relax, and you'll probably get better cooperation for your fun family portrait ideas.

4. When you're shooting those formal portraits, tell Mom and Dad that you'll wrangle the kids, and that they should just keep smiling at the camera. There's nothing worse that capturing the perfect expression on a child's face, only to find that a parent is frowning down and talking to them at the same time.

5. If you do need to get Junior to hold still, give him a coin, and tell him he can keep it if he presses it tightly between his hands while you are shooting. That usually gives him enough incentive to stay put and keep his hands still.

6. Clothing doesn't have to match perfectly, but coordinating the family a little can give a more unified look to the photo. Avoid very bright colors, logos, and bold patterns, as they are distracting. Neutrals work well, and whites give a fresh, clean look to an image.

7. Remember that the background is part of the image too. Scan your frame before you click to make sure there are no distractions like other people in the background, litter, or a tree or post that lines up behind someone's head. Using a wider aperture that gives you a fairly shallow depth of field will throw the background out of focus, and bring all the attention to your subjects.

 

Next, don't miss part two of this article, where I talk about family portrait poses.

 

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