Family Photography: The Ultimate Guide

Family preparing for a portrait

If you’re a beginner photographer, you’re going to want to learn family photography from this family photography guide. Wedding photoshoots are one thing. Capturing an entire family can sound like a daunting task.

You might find yourself stressed out at the thought of a family photography session. Screaming kids, bickering siblings, and bored teens do not sound ideal.

And while it’s not always sunshine and rainbows, it isn’t a total nightmare to shoot families as you would expect. You’ve got this!

After a short time, you’ll be a family photography pro. You’ll even find yourself having fun after getting into the swing of things. Here is a family photography guide follow when starting out as a family photographer:

Family Photography Guide Tip #1: Guide the Family

You want your families to enjoy themselves at their photoshoot, right? You would love to hope that every family is used to being in front of the camera.

But you won’t get that with most families. Whether the families you work with are big or small, young or older, you still need to guide your subjects.

Most people do not feel natural posing for the camera. Most, if not all, family members will feel uncomfortable in front of the camera. And if they fake it, discomfort may show in their pictures. That’s why you can’t only pose your families.

You want to make sure your sessions are organized. And you can include an activity to ease the slight discomfort of posing in front of a camera. For example, have your family go on a walk. Have them dance, lean against a brick wall, or peek out from the sides of trees in a park.

You could get more creative and have them play games. Having something to do, reflecting their character will ease them a bit.

Family Photography Guide Tip #2: Remember to Take Candid Photos

This is crucial when your subjects busy and not focused on the camera in front of them. Having them doing something will bring happy memories from your photoshoot.


Family Photography Guide Tip #3: Remember Not to Pose Facing the Sun

Having a strong light source in front of your family will give them weird shadows. This will result in some unflattering photos. The family, kids especially, will hate having light shining directly into their eyes.

Want to avoid this problem? Turn your squinty family around.

Do make sure you’re paying attention to exposure settings while shooting your family photography. Think about the backlight coming into your sensor.

When shooting with a semi-automatic, meter the image using Matrix Meeting. Shooting manual? Meter the light using spot metering on the family you’re shooting.

The family will have the right amount of exposure. All the while your background will be more overexposed. That way, you won’t have to deal with a family holding their eyes closed.

Family Photography Guide Tip #4: Practice Communicating Well to Your Clients

Because most families are not in front of the camera much, they will feel awkward. This means you have to make sure you pay attention to making your clients feel comfortable with you.

You can play and talk to the kids as much as you can, in a natural way. Don’t try to force it. If you’re not good with kids, this may not be the right kind of photography for you.

Try a conversation about television or movies. Or ask the parents about their hobbies or traveling. If they talk about something they like they’ll be happier and comfortable. And it will show in their pictures.

Don’t try to bring up their jobs, politics, or anything moderately stressful. It will show any negativity, so please try to avoid stressful conversations.

If they don’t seem to like a certain pose, don’t make them do it. You don’t want them looking uneasy, you want to show comfort. Tell them to let you know if they don’t like the pose.

You’ll be able to change things up much easier that way.


If your families know they are in control and aren’t forced into a pose, it builds trust and comfort. You’ll establish a better relationship, especially if you’re a new face to them.

Remember, building relationships is also key to landing repeat customers.

Family Photography Guide Tip #5: Don’t Miss Your Background

Pay attention to your surroundings. Think about the composition. Remember camera settings so you get the right exposure. Check your models, and check the environment.

You don’t want a photobomb in your professional photos, even if it’s a piece of garbage on the beach.

Make sure your subjects are safe from bumping into anything or falling. For example, if they’re sitting on a park bench. Make sure their bottoms are not hanging off for a potential accident.

Tell them to move in or move over so something like this does not happen. After some time, checking your environment will come naturally to you.

Family Photography Guide Tip #6: Telling Families How to Pose

You may feel awkward when first learning how to pose your families. Yet, as long as you know your posing directions, you will come out with the best photos for your families.

Make sure everyone is on the same track when posing, so they’re not posing in different directions all at once.

Make your instructions precise and clear. Mimic how they should be posing by using your body as an example. Also, demonstrate the pose for them at first so it’s easier.

If you need them to lean on something, you should be demonstrating how that looks with yourself first.

Avoid using “right” and “left” directions. Reference to objects nearby to clear up the confusion. An example of this might be, “Look over to the stop sign” might be clearer.  Or, “turn towards the chair.”

Family Photography Guide Tip #7: Don’t Over-Edit Your Photos

You want family photography to be memories that may span generations. You don’t want to cloud the photo with trendy editing techniques that may date them in five years.

This is something Sally might show her granddaughter down the line. The best way to stop the over-editing bug is to focus on simple and classic editing.

You can finish this off by asking yourself if you will enjoy this 30 years from now. If the answer is yes, then it is a keepsake.

Family Photography Guide Tip #8: Be Open-Minded

You probably have a shot list in your head or written down. In your head, they look great, but they might not work for every single family or at all.

Kids may not feel like doing something you had in mind, and you have to be okay with letting that shot go.

Remember to take only happy photos, not forced ones that make the kids uncomfortable.

Family Photography Guide Tip #9: Take MANY photos

Don’t take a few photos to turn around and realize that none of them are good. That’s the rookie mistake at best.

More often than not, one person in the group will have their eyes closed or hair in their face. Having many photos will result in a handful of great photos.

And the result will be at least one where everyone is well-coordinated.

Try shooting in burst mode so you can take a sequence of images. Always adjust the shutter speed so that you do not get blurry photos from movement. Start at 1/250 and go from there.

Family Photography Guide Tip #10: Use the Environment for Great Family Photography

At first, you may seem uncomfortable shooting in the middle of a park or beach. Shooting outdoor family photography can make taking the awkwardness out of family photos.

Tell your families to lean on a wall or sit on a bench. Any natural frames will add more composition to your images.

Family Photography Guide Tip #11: Aperture Value Should Not Be Too Low

For family portraits, you want your subjects sharp and the background blurry. This effect comes by setting a low aperture value (small f).

Try for an aperture around 2.8 for a nice blur in the background. Try reading up on creating a bokeh effect from our previous articles.

The risk here is that your models or a body part may become out of focus if they move. If you’re having difficulty, increase the aperture number to get the family to come out sharp.

Family Photography Guide Tip #12: Be a Style Guide for the Family

Many clients ask “What should we wear?” Tell them to coordinate their outfits well so they all give that feeling of togetherness. And no, that does not mean wearing identical outfits.

There’s nothing cheesier than a family all dressed in navy captains outfits. Just try for the same style: casual, elegant, or in the same colors or shades.

Natural shades of clothing are always a top choice. Try navy, khaki, white, etc. Wearing colors that stand out will catch the attention and stand out too much. This might result in an off-putting family photo.

That is unless you do want everyone wearing bright colors for a specific reason.

Make sure that your clients are also avoiding wearing illustrations.  Logos or anything eye-catching on their clothing may be a distraction.

Those are normally a higher distraction and don’t give your photos that timeless feel.

Family Photography Guide Tip #13: Make Your Meeting Time Convenient

Don’t meet with a family when it may be nap time or feeding time for the young kiddos. Doing so will result in a pretty fussy kid, and most likely ruin the shoot for the entire family.

Ask the family when a good time frame will be and try to coordinate that time with good lighting.

Some families choose to go early in the morning, to make sure that the kids are full and awake. Plus, you can use that beautiful morning glow of the golden hour.

Though, each family is going to have a different schedule, make sure you are doing it at a time they prefer.

Family Photography Guide Tip #14: Make Wonderful Memories

Remember that this is a special moment for each family you shoot. These photos will surely be around for decades, if not generations.

Make lasting memories for them by making your families happy. Their bright faces will show in the photos.

What Settings Should I Use for Family Portraits?

In this family photography guide, we’re guiding you through a family photoshoot. But, it will obviously take much more than that. You need the right photo settings to get the perfect family photos:

Use Center Point Focus


As a photographer, if you haven’t already figured out your favorite focus settings, you will soon. Though, you should start out by using center point focusing when getting started with family photography. You’ll find out by experience if it works for you.

Choosing Aperture


Your photography style influences your aperture settings. However, it’s best to start out wide for portraits (such as individuals). For group family shots, try to start at about f/5.6 so that you get everyone in focus.

Shutter Speed


Family portraits generally need a little bit faster of a shutter speed than other kinds of photography. Because children tend to be on the move and run fast, start out at 1/250th.


This shutter speed gives you more flexibility for the unpredictable movement of kids. If the young ones are particularly fast, try a faster shutter speed. 1/800th should do for those kinds of family photoshoots.


Auto ISO

If you’re still getting familiar with family photography sessions, try out ISO auto at first. It’s one less item you need to think about when preparing for your family photo session. Start selecting ISO’s when you’re more comfortable with family photography.

Metering Mode


Starting off using spot metering is the best place to start when preparing for family photo sessions, specifically individual portraits. Use evaluative metering for group family photo sessions.


If there’s a certain metering option that works best for you, you can play around with your own. Find out what works best for you as you go.

Shoot in RAW Format


If you want a better range of colors and detail in your photos when you go to edit, shoot in a RAW format. You’ll thank us later.

Auto White Balance

On location family photo shoots? Always have your white balance set to auto. Because you’re working will various different lighting and backgrounds, you are short on time. To save time from setting different white balance location to location, set to auto.


You can always edit white balance when you go to edit. Spend more time getting the family comfortable for their family photo session.

Preparing for Your Family Photo Session


Lens Choices

Lenses make or break a family photo session. Starting out low on cash? Look to rent some lenses. This is because you may need multiple lenses, especially if shooting on location.


You want to have a variety of lens options available. Try using a zoom lens at 24-70mm for flexibility. This lens is the most popular for family photo sessions.


For a prime lens choice for family portraits, choose an 85mm lens. Your clients will appreciate how flattering this lens shoots.


For setting the scene for group shots, choose a wide enough lens like a 35mm lens.


It won’t take you long to figure out which lenses shoot better for family photo sessions. With experience, you will be able to narrow them down. Perhaps this will give you time to invest in some quality lenses.

Give Yourself Limits


It can be easy to get a series of shots in each family photo session scene. Give yourself a limit to the number of versions of shots you get with each scene. Start by limiting yourself to five versions per scene.


Doing so will help train your photography eye for expressions as well as details to capture during each scene.


Eventually, while editing, you can combine all the best of one scene to make one complete photograph.

Getting Comfortable with Family Photo Sessions


To familiarize yourself with family photoshoot best practices, try out a free session on your own family or family friends in a variety of different settings and locations.


When you gain professional clients, they will be impressed with the level of professionalism you have, especially on location.