How to Plan the Ultimate Family Portrait


The traditional studio shot of families is fine, but boring as call can be!  The reason very few people are excited about having a family portrait done is because they usually lack creativity, involve standing around with fake smiles and wearing a matching outfit with the rest of your family.  BORING!

Taking the ultimate family portrait is about capturing moments within the family dynamic, it goes beyond lining family members up from tallest to shortest or putting on white button down shirts, khaki pants and sitting on a beach.  Think outside the box and look beyond normal standards for ways to get a group shot unlike any other your family, or your client has ever seen!

This great family portrait has some unique characteristics about it.  First of all, Flickr user RKHawaii was both photographer and model, this is a self / family portrait.  He had a trigger in his hand to take the actual shot and utilized a strobe with a power pack to light it since the sun was at his back and he took an interesting angle, by putting the camera low he is able to capture the foreground, the mountains, sky and some of the solar glare from the sun for a really nice capture.  You'll also notice no one is looking into the camera.  These more casual family portraits are the growing trend, they look far less staged and seem to tell a better story.

Photo by Laercio Cavalcanti

Flickr user Mhogan35 took a much different approach to shooting himself with his brother.  This image has been heavily post processed, but at the core is a rather unique image.  Location, attire and posing are the key factors in this photograph.  It works extremely well due to the symmetry and emotion.

The anti family portrait!  Flickr user 1Happysnapper (photography) uploaded this wonderfully rich photograph of a family where none of the faces are visible, yet this is still a family portrait at the purest sense of the word.  Taking some bad weather into account and making the best of it, the use of large colorful umbrellas and punchy post-processing help transform a line of family members into a fun and quirky portrait.

To plan for these types of portraits you need to look for:

  • Opportunity
  • Location
  • Posing
  • Focus
  • Story

Examining these one by one, you look for opportunity to capture moments between making moments.  By this, I mean don't always expect to shoot the perfect family portrait by staging the shot, sometimes the best portraits are captured between the staging and positioning of all family members, or when someone cracks a joke, or makes a funny face.  These idiosyncrasies are what make families, and how they remember each other.

When choosing a location, don't pay as much focus to where you're shooting, but how you will capture the family in that moment.  Equally stunning photographs can be taken in a living room, garage, open field or studio, it's how you pose the family and utilize them in relation to the location.

Photo by Isaac Smith

Directly in relation with location is posing, which has been mentioned here a few times.  In the first example the family is very casual, almost as if they don't know the camera is there.  This style is often called photo-journalistic, but it can be posed.  As a photographer, if this is the style you are after ask that your family just enjoy their company, shoot the breeze and forget you are there.  In the second photo is a much more rigid pose, the two brothers are positioned to mirror one another, side by side.  This is slightly more classic, but given the dynamic of the image, it works really well. In the last photo the family isn't even facing in the direction of the camera and their faces aren't visible.  Think outside the box, look towards creative ways to capture people within the environment they are in.

The focus of a family portrait should always be the family but that's not to say they need to be in focus, or even centered.  The last photo is a prime example of this, however utilizing other photographic techniques like wide open aperture for a creamy bokeh can deliver breathtaking photos.

Every photo tells a story in some way shape or form.  Each of these three examples tell you something about who the families are, what their relationship is like, where they live or what they like to do, and in the last photos, what happened that day.  Step back and try to imagine in your head what words would be used if a monologue was being told while you were shooting this.  What would you title the shot and what would a stranger take away from looking at it; more importantly, will the family look back years from now and remember how the air smelled or what the wind felt like by looking at your photographs?

This is a guide on how to shoot with passion more-so then an any particular technique.  While specific techniques are required to capture the shot, when shooting people and families, how the moment is captured is ultimately the most import ingredient, and sadly one of the most over-looked by photographers.

About Author

is a professional photographer. See his site at Mike Panic Photography.

Hi there, I just want to say many thanks for the very useful information on portraiture photography. I will be back soon for more help.


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