How To Take Better Family Photos
Are you sick of having blurry out-of-focus family photos? Do you even have a recent family photo? With Christmas approaching, it means family gatherings and festivities. So now is the time to start planning. And chances are someone will have the camera out to snap a festive family portrait. Or maybe you’ll get a fancy new camera for Christmas and want to give it a test run. Either way, when the family gets together it’s a perfect opportunity to update that family portrait. So, I thought I’d share some basic tips on how to take better family photos this Christmas.
1. Styling Your Family for Better Photos
If you have the luxury of planning ahead, ask your family members to bring a change of neutral clothing for your family get-together.
If you can avoid patterns, logos or bright designs, your family portrait will stay in fashion a lot longer.
Even if it’s just some plain t-shirts from Kmart in a range of pastels, greys, browns and blues.
You don’t need to spend a lot of money or do the whole denim bottoms and white shirts that was huge in the 1990s.
Although I kinda like the old denim and white look.
I was in the 80s after all.
But if you want take better family photos, think plain, simple, affordable and timeless.
2. Choose Your Environment
Now Christmas time is hot and sunny, so late afternoon is better for the perfect family portrait. Ideally, you want to shoot your family portrait in the hour or so before the sun sets.
This is what we photographers call golden hour because we have beautiful golden light filtering through the trees.
However, if this isn’t possible because, let’s face it, you’re most likely dealing with uncooperative small children, try and find a shady location with some nice greenery in the background.
The location for your shoot is key to better family photos.
3. Lighting Can Make Or Break Your Photo
Now, because we’re humans and our eyes adapt to our environment, you might not notice shadows or bright spots of sunlight.
So you really need to pay attention to lighting.
Look for shadows.
Don’t choose to shoot under a big tree that throws dappled lighting.
It’s a photographer’s nightmare.
Have a look on the ground. If you see blotches of shadows and bright light, then this is what will be on your subjects.
To take a better family photo you need to choose a location that’s either full sun or full shade.
The shade is the obvious choice as your subjects won’t be squinting into the harsh sun or sweating up a storm.
And make sure that wherever you shoot, the sun is behind your subjects.
Because it’s pretty difficult to smile into a camera while your eyeballs are being burned out of your skull by the Queensland sun.
4. Notice the Small Things for Better Family Photos
If you’re going to the trouble of taking a family portrait, keep an eye out for the little things.
Get your family members to take their sunglasses off their heads and off their eyes.
Because they’re not rock stars and you want to see their smiling faces, right?
And look for hair ties on the ladies’ wrists and phones, keys and glasses in pockets too.
There’s nothing worse than having family portraits ruined by odd shapes in people’s pants pockets.
And…it just looks weird.
5. Want to Take Better Family Photos? Capture Connection
You don’t need to stress about having everyone looking directly at the camera, particularly when little kids are involved.
Most people prefer candid photos with a genuine connection in their family portraits.
For example, this photo shows two brothers.
Now, while it would be nice to have them both sitting and looking at the camera, it doesn’t really tell a story.
However, this photo shows an adorable little brother who loves to cuddle and wrestle his big brother.
t’s so much more authentic than a static pose.
And their mum loved it.
And remember to encourage cuddles and kisses, tickles and laughter.
Because these are the moments that families love to remember.
And they make a far better family photo.
6. Pose the Adults for Better Family Photos
As for posing the adults, start in a standing position with one shoulder facing the front.
Have them rest their weight on their back foot so they don’t look so rigid.
You can also get them to cross their arms, put a hand in their pants pocket or drape an arm on their spouse.
And once you’ve got them all in position, get them to have a chat.
Ask them to share their embarrassing childhood memories with each other.
Often, this will start some lively chatter and laughter.
So, get ready to snap that family portrait when everyone is having a giggle.
7. Capture Movement
When taking a family portrait, don’t be scared to get your subjects to move around. A great trick for adults is getting them to stand in a staggered line, then walk towards you.
Encourage them to talk amongst themselves, share some jokes or family stories.
When people are concentrating on walking, they forget all about the camera.
So you can capture some nice natural family photos.
Which are always better 🙂
8. Choose Your Camera Settings Wisely
Kids! When you’re photographing small children, you’ll need your running shoes.
Because kids rarely stay still.
So you’ll need to be on the ball.
When I’m shooting a family portrait with young children, I’ll use my Canon 70-200mm lens.
This lens is a telephoto zoom lens and allows me to get close-ups without having to madly run after my subjects.
This lens is a beautiful portrait lens because its 2.8 aperture means it’s fast (it lets in a lot of light) and has a shallow depth of field.
A shallow depth of field makes all the difference in a family portrait as it blurs the background, making the background less distracting.
Meaning a better family photo.
If you happen to have a good quality lens with a large aperture, you can use the lens to blur distracting objects and to make your subject the main focus of your portrait.
You can see in the image below that although big brother is in the picture, baby brother is the star of the show.
9. Choose the Correct Shutter Speed For Your Family Portrait
If you’re photographing small kids, you need to think like a sports photographer.
Those kiddies are super-fast so you’ll need to use a fast shutter speed to freeze the action, thus avoiding motion blur.
And another tip is to make sure your shutter speed is faster than the focal length of your lens.
This helps to reduce blur from camera shake.
For example, my 70-200mm is heavy.
It weighs almost 1.5kg so it’s really hard to keep steady.
If I shot with a shutter speed of 1/320 or less, there would be camera shake, causing my photos to be blurry.
To avoid this, I shoot as fast as possible, factoring in the lighting conditions.
For this family portrait, I bumped my shutter speed to 1/500 of a second because I knew I’d be photographing a moving target.
To compensate for the fast shutter speed, I changed my ISO setting to 1600 to increase the light sensitivity.
These settings allowed me to capture a speeding toddler without having any motion blur which can ruin a cute family portrait.
PS. See the blurry blue thing in the bottom left of the background? That’s an ugly shed that’s been blurred out using an appropriate lens with a large aperture 😉
Improve Your Next Family Portrait
So there you have it. A few basic tips to help you take a better family portrait. If you still have absolutely NO idea how to take a gorgeous family photo, drop me a line here.
After all, capturing fabulous, fun and gorgeous family portraits is what I do best 🙂
About Alison – Family Portrait Photographer Brisbane
Alison Cooke Photography is a Brisbane photographer who specialises in family and newborn photography. Alison was a finalist in the 2018 and 2019 AIPP Qld Epson Photographic Awards in the Portrait category. She has over 27 years experience photographing weddings, families and newborns.
Alison is also a freelance writer and SEO nerd.
You can view more communications work here.