Learn To Take A Family Portrait Like A Pro

brisbane photographer

Take A Better Family Portrait

If you’re getting together with family this holiday season, chances are someone will have the camera out to snap a festive family portrait! Or maybe you received a fancy new camera for Christmas and want to give it a test run. Either way, when the family get together it’s a perfect opportunity to update that family portrait. So, I thought I’d share some basic tips for getting the best family portraits you can.

Styling Your Family Portrait

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. Think plain, simple, affordable and timeless.

Choose Your Environment

Now Christmas time is hot and sunny, so late afternoon is best for that 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 the 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.

family portrait


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 nightmare! Have a look on the ground and if you see blotches of shadows and bright light, then this is what will be on your subjects. You need to choose a location that’s either full sun or full shade. And shade is the obvious choice as your subjects won’t be squinting into the harsh sun or sweating. 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 by the sun!

Notice the Small Things!

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 weird shapes in people’s pants pockets!


And don’t 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 image shows an adorable little brother who just loves to cuddle and wrestle his big brother. It’s so much more authentic than a static pose. And their mum loved it.

And encourage cuddles and kisses, tickles and laughter. Because these are the moments that families love to remember.

family portrait

family portrait

A Family Portrait With Adults

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.


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 photos.

family portrait

Choose Your Camera Settings Wisely

However, when you’re photographing small children, you’ll need your running shoes. Because kids rarely stay still, 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 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. 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!

family portrait


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 1/200 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 😉

family portrait

Improve Your Next Family Portrait

So there you have it! A few basic tips to turn your family snapshot into a fabulous family portrait. If you’d like to learn more, I hold beginners photography classes in my north Brisbane studio. If you’d like to book a one-on-one photography lesson with me, click here for more details.

About Alison – Family Portrait Photographer Brisbane

Alison Cooke Photography is a Brisbane photographer who specialises in family portrait photography, newborn and wedding photography. Alison was a finalist in the 2018 and 2019 AIPP Qld Epson Photographic Awards in the Portrait category. She has over 20 years experience photographing Brisbane weddings, families and newborns.  The Courier Mail voted Alison Cooke Photography “One of the Top 10 Brisbane Wedding Photographers in 2019”  and The Wedding Diaries feature her in the “Top 30 Brisbane Wedding Photographers”. Alison is also a communications specialist, writer and freelance public relations specialist. You can view more communications work here.

error: Content is protected !!