We recently had family portraits taken by a professional photographer for the first time EVER. We've been in a few brand photoshoots, we've done the self-timer thing plenty of times, and we've enlisted other photographers in our family to snap all of us together for Christmas cards. Never before, though, have we done pictures just for us, taken by someone we didn't know, for no reason other than posterity. It was a nice change of pace, and I picked up some helpful new family portrait tips from the other side of the camera.
Tanya and Katy from Third Coast Photography follow us over on Instagram, and they reached out one day to ask if they could shoot our family. No agenda, no expectations, just their camera and our boys and a fun afternoon spent together. Their style meshes with ours so perfectly: colorful and bright, with just a touch of grit. Light-hearted, inquisitive and – above all else – real. I knew that they were the perfect people to capture us in our element without a bunch of prep work or aggravation on our part. When someone you trust is behind the camera, the rest tends to fall together – but there are definitely some tips you can integrate into the process to make sure your family portraits include the shots you want.
10 Family Portrait Tips for Snapshots you'll Love
Location, location, location.
Select your setting wisely. Outdoors is almost always better than indoors when you're dealing with a big group, unless you have a complicated lighting setup. When everyone's faces are equally aglow and you're not dealing with a cluttered backdrop, it's hard to go wrong. The gals from Third Coast did a bunch of research and guided us to a spot in southeast San Diego called Hollendbeck Canyon. Public trails and open spaces are usually a safe bet for family photos. We like to use resources like AllTrails, ReserveAmerica or FreeCampsites.net to scope out spots nearby.
Timing is everything.
Repeat after me: sunrise and sunset. These are the times when your light is golden and pretty and soft. Schedule shoots for an hour or two on either side of dusk and dawn. This is also when the lighting is changing a lot, so you can get a ton of varied shots out of one sitting. Play that light to your advantage by moving your subjects so the light is glinting off their eyes and also haloed behind their heads in different shots.
Choose an outfit theme.
Truth? I slapped this outfit arrangement together in five minutes flat. That's how it goes for almost every one of our brand photoshoots, too. I start with a single piece (like Sidekick's shirt, above) and coordinate colors and styles based on that. I decided that Some Boy would be a in a plaid shirt to match his brother, and the rest of us would be in some combo of red, white, blue and black for an all-American feeling. I also packed backups of outfits for each of us in this color scheme in case anyone got dirty.
When you're trying to make a photo spread or photo wall out of a single shoot, it's gonna be super-boring if all you have is twenty shots of the same six people looking in various directions. Change it up a little. Get just the kids, one of the kids with a parent, parents together, etc. The whole shoot will look better as a collection that way.
Don't worry about perfection.
In the photo above, the photographer told me and Nate to “act like we normally do together.” My arm wrapped awkwardly around his torso definitely isn't what anyone would have staged, but this is one of my favorite photos of the bunch because this is our go-to couple snuggle. When we're greeting each other after a long day apart, this is exactly how it looks: my arms spread open against his broad chest, his head tucked sweetly into my hair, happiness all-around. Having intimate moments captured is uncommon for most couples, and it's something I will always treasure.
While I'm all about those candid in-the-moment shots, it is important to stop and get a few posed pics to ensure you have a few where everyone's looking at the camera. Stagger everyone's heads so that the viewer's eyes are pulled in a zig-zag fashion through the photograph as opposed to in a straight line. This is one of the most basic family portrait tips, but one that a lot of photographers forget when they get in the moment. Another rule of thumb is to bend every body part if you can, to avoid rigidity and unnatural positions. Encourage everyone to put a hand in a pocket, shift weight to one foot, cock a head and generally move like a normal human.
Use what you have.
There's no need to tote in a bunch of set dressings. Have everyone prop themselves up against trees, rocks, cars, or just frolic around in a field. Once when I didn't have a prop on-hand, I took a baby's shoe off and had him play with it so I could get some happy action shots. Whatever's on-hand is all you need!
As long as you're in a beautiful setting, try to get a few photos that capture the whole scene.
You should also get up close to capture the details of each person's face. Some would say that this head-on, straight-up-the-nose approach isn't super-complimentary, I like having pictures that capture my kids and myself exactly as we are. Minion always does this intense nostril flare thing when he's really focusing, and I loved that they captured this moment that some photographers might have dismissed as unflattering.
Get individual shots.
Someone down the line is going to ask you or one of your kids for individual headshots for thing ranging from websites to awards to business cards. Now is a great time to get those updated so you're prepared!
If you're looking for an incredible photo-taking duo of awesomeness, Tanya and Katy are based out of Orange County and they frequently travel for sessions. Weddings and families are their expertise, and they are PHENOMENAL with kids.
Do you take pics annually with your kids? What are your biggest family portrait tips?