Yanik's Photo School

15 Steps to Perfect Family Portraits

It’s time for another “steps” photography tutorial. This one is a bit special though. A few weeks ago I decided you give you guys an assignment, the first ever here on Yanik’s Photo School: give me 1 tip for great family portraits. 4 of you responded and I’ve included your great tips bellow.  Not a bad response number considering that most people never post comments. 🙂

Of course, I’ve expanded on the steps just a bit. 😉 So let’s get right to it, shall we….

Step 1 – Greet everyone. Don’t forget to greet every single person that will be in the shoot, even the children. You need to create a rapport will all of them. Children are often forgotten and they do feel left out. Of course this will affect their mood and this will show in the photos.


Step 2 – Clothing. When you first talk to your clients, it will be your responsibility to guide them with what they’ll be wearing. Suggest similar textures, styles and colors so that you won’t have some of them stick out like sore thumbs. Uniformity is pleasing to the eye. Also suggest 2 different sets of clothes. That could get their imagination going and they could come up with an interesting concept. Suggestion by Debbi.

Step 3 – Location, location, location. It’s important that the family members feel comfortable shooting in the chosen location. Ask them to think about it. It could be as close as their backyard, a park, or jumping out of a plane… or not. 😉 But your get the idea.  If you’re familiar with the area, you could also suggest a few spots that they could scout out beforehand.

Step 4 – Get rid of the junk. So you have your location. Now it’s time to clean it up! If your outside, it could be as simple as keeping things out of the frame like lamp posts, garbage cans and trees sticking out of someone’s head (seen that one many times!). If you’re inside, look for any distracting objects like toys, cushions or dishes. You might also want to remove frames off walls. Look through the eyes of a Zen Master!

Step 5 – Set up and test your lighting before the official shoot. There’s nothing more frustrating for people to have to stand there for 5-10 minutes while you fine tune your lights. If you don’t have an assistant, have the children be your assistants. Tell them how important assistants are and what they do. Most children love to help out so take advantage of that. You still might have to tweak things up a bit with everyone in the frame but it’ll be minor and quick. Suggestion by Udi Tirosh.

Step 6 – Use soft light. In almost all situations, you’ll want soft, diffused light on your subjects. This with reduce or eliminate harsh, unflattering shadows and well as get rid of baggy eyes and wrinkles. You can diffuse your light with umbrellas or softboxes.

Step 7 – Is everyone in focus? If your family members are on more than 1 row, you’ll want a higher f-stop (more depth of field) so that everyone in the photo seems in focus. Start off at f5.6 and work your way up. Suggestion by Tim.

Step 8 – Go for a soft bokeh. To go on the complete opposite thinking from Step 7, try to use the smallest f-stop possible to get a blurred background. Blurred backgrounds are great for portraits since the focus of the image is on the people and not the distracting background. Tip: use a longer lens like a 200mm, to get a softer bokeh, not to mention a tighter frame.

Step 9 – Camera angle. When you’re shooting, try to shoot at or above eye level. When shooting at eye level (or slightly higher) it creates intimacy and a stronger connection. Shooting above eye level forces your subjects to look up which makes their eyes look wider and gets rid of double chins.

Step 10 – Composition. This is a tough one to talk about since scenarios can be so different. You can start by looking at my introduction to composition tutorial and go from there. A few basic pointers though would be:
– trying unusual angles (from above or below)
– filling the frame (getting rid of the background as much as possible)

Step 11 – Avoid blinking eyes. You can do this easily by asking everybody to close their eyes and open them on the count of 3. Works almost every time!

Step 12 – Get them to squeeze in. Funny enough, to show love and friendship, body closeness is important to the eye. So get them to get closer to each other. You can even put them on an angle slightly behind each other.

Step 13- Candids. Ok, so you got the “Sears” family shots in (what I call the safe shots), now it’s time to release the hounds! Have then tell jokes or tickle each other. Also keep you camera on the ready in between setups. You can get some great candids. Suggestion by Pestbarn.

Step 14 – Take lots of photos! Don’t be afraid to shoot a ton of shots. The more you take, the more good ones you’ll have. It’s the law of probability.  Fill that memory card up.You won’t won’t regret it.

Step 15 – Don’t be afraid to direct. Communication is key. Make sure they know what to do when certain words are spoken. Give them a quick briefing beforehand. I personally like the word “freeze”. It works great with children if it’s introduced like a game. You can even practice it with them.

9 responses on "15 Steps to Perfect Family Portraits"

  1. You’ll regret filling up that memory card in the post processing part of all this

  2. I really needed this tutorial. I work for a company and was asked to take pictures of all employees for our new intranet website.

    The Director of my department (IT) recommended me and he was so excited. I don’t report to him directly but he speaks to and work with everyone in the department so well. I was so surprise that he remembered my LOVE for photography that he told other leaders of the company that I will be the photographer for this project. My weakness is lighting and I have not master that yet!

    Well, the headshots were outstanding (90% great lighting in our working location). Hahaha! So, I am not goin to take all the credit. Anywho…one image after the other I started landing new clients (co-workers) who wanted me to come to their house and take family portraits. Also, I have tons of “raves” and compliments. I have to build a website just for that…yippeee…

    I was really scared because I don’t know how their home or if the location we choose will be well lit (i still don’t understand lighting). So, I didn’t want to promise anything to me people unless I did my homework.

    I am so glad you posted this and I am so inspired and ready to go offer this to my new clients. Wish and pray for me… I really love photography and Just can’t get enough of it. LOL!!!

  3. Nice tips, I just stated doing portrait with my new home studio an those are going to help a lot thank you !!

  4. Thanks for those great tips!

  5. Nice tips I want to have fun with my nikon d90

  6. Gracias por los consejos. Para los que somos aficionados en el mundo de la fotografía nos servirán para hacer nuestros primeros pinitos como fotógrafos en las celebraciones familiares. Gracias!

  7. your school is the best plz continue whit it

  8. Good tips! Big families are particularly difficult – there’s always one who’s blinking or fidgeting. Your ‘freeze’ tip and the ‘close now open your eyes’ tips worked beautifully. I’ll need a ladder to try to shoot from the angles you suggested – I’m short!

  9. Great Post!! I think these tips are awesome! One thing I need to work with is briefing my clients beforehand…I have all these ideas and things in my head, but I think they need to know whats going on too!

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