Family Photo Techniques

Photographs from a good family portrait session will be treasured for many years to come. It’s an incredibly rewarding area of photography, but it can also be a little daunting for new photographers. You need to build a rapport with the family fast, keep the children on board, and meet the parents’ expectations with gorgeous photographs.

When most people ask questions about print or digital photography, one quickly realize that they think that all a photographer should do is grab the camera, point it at something until that something looks pretty, and then press the shutter button. If you’re just getting into photography, you might think that too.

There’s more to photography than clicking a button, though, and it all depends on two things: light and technique. Light is the most important factor in any type of photography, but knowing different techniques on how to harness its power is an essential part of being a good photographer.


1. Lower yourself to the eye level

The most important step in photography is to get down to eye level of your kids. This will lead to far more engaging photographs, as well as helping you to interact better with the child.

2. Use the centre focus of the camera to align the picture

Different focus settings suit different photographers, but center point focusing tends to be the most useful for family portraits. As you take more and more family portraits, you’ll get a feeling for whether this suits you, But it’s a great starting point for your first session.

3. Aperture: Setup the camera in advance with the appropriate settings

Your aperture settings will be influenced by the style you prefer. As a starting point, many lifestyle family photographers choose to shoot wide open for individual portraits (f/2.2 works really well), and around f/5.6 for group shots to ensure everyone is in focus.

4. Shutter Speed: It helps to control light and ambiance

You will probably find yourself needing a slightly faster shutter speed for family portraits than you’d need for many other kinds of portraits. Children move fast, and sometimes unpredictably! A good setting to start with is 1/250th, which will give you flexibility for children rolling over or waving. If you have a situation where someone is moving very fast, such as a child jumping or racing off into the distance, choose a much faster shutter speed like 1/800th.

5. ISO: Set the camera to use auto ISO

While you’re familiarizing yourself with the apertures and shutter speeds that work for you on family portrait sessions, consider setting your ISO to auto. The results are usually satisfactory, and it’s one less thing to think about on the day. As you gain experience and confidence, you can start to select the ISO as you go along.

6. Metering: What is meeting and why is so important

Certain metering options seem to suit some photographers better than others. As you take more family portraits, you’ll soon see which works best for you. To start with, try using spot metering for individual portraits, and evaluative metering for a group shot.

7. Use RAW format whenever is possible

The editing options open significantly in Lightroom, and you’ll have a far greater range of colors and detail recorded if you shoot in the RAW format.

8. White Balance: Set the camera to use auto white balance

Set your white balance to auto if you’re doing a location shoot. You’ll be working in a variety of locations with different lighting, and you won’t have much time for setting white balance as you go. Correcting white balance is an easy edit in Lightroom, so you’d be better off spending the time engaging with the family you’re photographing.

9. Lenses: The one thing not to ignore, select a good lenses for each occasion

Consider which lenses to take with you to the family portrait session. If your budget doesn’t stretch to having several lenses, consider renting some. It can be surprisingly economical, and it gives you the opportunity to try out different focal lengths to see which suit you best.

Using several lenses throughout a family portrait session will give you lots of variety in the images, as well as meaning you can cope with most locations. A zoom lens like a 24-70mm will give you lots of flexibility, or a popular prime lens for family portraits is an 85mm lens, which is very flattering for portraits. A wide lens like a 35mm will help you to set the scene.

10. Do not stress yourself or your family, take your time

Limit yourself to taking five versions of each scene. This will train your eye to look for the details and expressions you want to capture and to make sure you ultimately combine them all in one photograph.