Family Photography Tips

The family portrait is one image that will be displayed and cherished for many years to come. There is no reason to take an awkward, stilted photograph. Instead, there are plenty of ways to be creative and compose a fun and beautiful shot.


Position Pleasingly

Lying family with children on grass

Be creative with how you place people in a family portrait. This will depend on how many people you are dealing with and how much space you have but with your average family with 2 kids, you can create a pleasing head to head circle. Get everyone on the ground holding hands and use a standard or wide-angle lens; from 17mm to 50mm. Stand above them or use a ladder. Focus on the center of the image using a medium DOF (depth of field); f/9 to f/16 is ideal.


Group them Together

A family portrait on the shore of the ocean

If dealing with a large family, get people to stand together but in groups. Tall, younger people at the back, older people at the center and children at the front. Also remember to keep the taller people at the ends of the photograph. For a casual effect don’t have any strict, ‘short to tall’ order as this seems contrived. Use an external flash to light any shadows and freeze faces, and a wider depth of field to keep everyone sharp.


Express Relationships

Mother, father and daughter

A great idea is to show emotion and closeness in your family portraits. Let your subjects hold and hug each other. You can also make generational differences obvious; a grandmother followed by daughter followed by granddaughter; usually the age differences are clear. Take these kinds of shots with natural light and fast shutter speeds to capture any big smiles the moment they happen; asking people to hold a smile gives an unnatural effect.


Dress Right

Portrait of Caucasian family of four posing on beach looking at viewer smiling

Family portraits are an occasion to look your best. Try getting every one to wear shades of the same color or the same type of clothes for an interesting effect. Ask everyone in the family portrait to dress in clothes that work well together or try mixing and matching for a more varied effect. You can get everyone in the family portrait to dress in formal wear for instance. However, try to avoid the overly harsh look of reds. Also experiment with the mixing and matching of colors for a casual look.


Use the Entire Frame

Mother and daughter face to face looking at each other

Close-ups are a great way to convey emotion. Take two people who are close, it can be a wife and husband, siblings or a parent and child and get them to talk to each other as closely as possible. Use a macro or standard lens and crop closely. Wait for the moment; it can be a smile or a look then take the photograph. Use flash to freeze the moment, and a shallow depth of field to keep the background blurred.


Use Acute Angles

Family with child on a background of the sky

Experiment with angles. These kinds of photos are interesting and conversation pieces. A great technique to try is to get on the ground and look up with your subjects standing over you. You will need to use flash to light up the subjects faces against a bright sky. Get the subjects to tip their heads down so you aren’t shooting up their noses!


Recommended Settings

Exposure settings for family portraits are varied although you will always want to get a balanced and sharp image. Therefore use flash if necessary and reasonable shutter speeds of at least 1/125s. Use a deeper depth of field (f/11-f/22) if you are dealing with a group, so that everyone is in focus. However, if dealing with three people or less, use a shallow depth of field (f/2-f/5.6) to keep the background blurred.


Recommended Equipment

Family shots take more time to perfect and people are generally willing to take the time to get them right. Use lenses such as a wide angle for fitting people in and use a tripod and separate flash device if necessary. Various reflectors are always useful to bounce light into big groups, although you may need a stand or a helper to use them outdoors.



Be creative when it comes to family portraits. Today’s modern image is taken outdoors with natural light and natural stances and poses. Don’t overdress your family and keep things happy and tender. Remember a key consideration is how many people you will be photographing. If you need to, take people out of a larger group to photograph in pairs. This method can give a nice mixture of family images that can be presented together in a montage.

Attila Kun

Attila is the founder and editor-in-chief of Exposure Guide. He is an avid photographer, graphic designer, bedroom DJ and devoted Mac addict. Attila got his first DSLR camera, a Canon 10D, back in 2003 and he has been hooked on photography ever since.