4 Things Every Family Photographer Should Know

4 Things Every Family Photographer Should Know

Being a family photographer is hard. Ask anyone who does it or who has tried it. But it's also one of the most rewarding fields of photography - in my opinion at least. Family photos are a treasure in most families. They showcase who your loved ones were at the time they were taken, they show off your kids' personalities, and most importantly, they bring to life memories of loved ones that have passed. These tips I've explained within will help elevate your family photography to a new level.

I will never forget the first time I took a family's portraits. I was still new in the photography world and the images didn't turn out the best, but the next week I was scrolling through a local news website and saw one of those images as a thumbnail for an article. The family I photographed was involved in a car accident and the youngest child had passed away. I vowed then and there that I would make sure that if my images were the last ones a family ever received, they would be proud of them. My point is to never under estimate the value of an image. I hope these tips will help you be proud of the images you take.

Pictures Are Stressful for Your Clients

If you have ever tried getting your family ready for photos, you know what I'm talking about. If not, imagine trying to find outfits for your whole family that match, and that everyone likes. Then imagine getting your toddlers dressed, getting their hair done, making sure they don't mess anything up, or spill anything on their clothes. Then it's picture time and the whole while you are worried about how you look, if your child is looking in the right direction (let alone smiling), and if the photographer knows what they are doing. The whole process is a headache. Your job as the photographer is to make the actual shoot as pain-free and as fun as possible. There are many ways to do this, but my personal favorite is to use humor. If I can get the parents to relax and have fun, the children usually follow suit. Another way to relieve the parents' stress is let them know their job is over. They got the family ready and to wherever the session is, but the rest is up to you. Don't be afraid to ask questions and have conversations between poses. Get to know the family. Who are they? What do they enjoy? Knowing these key points will not only take their mind off the stress of having pictures taken, but it will give you a better idea on how to pose them. If you can end the session with the family feeling like they have been hanging out with a friend, you've done your job!

This family drove from Ohio to Utah to have their photos taken.


This family drove down from Ohio to have their photos taken. Rachel, the mom here, was super stressed out, especially because her husband forgot to pack his shoes for pictures. The kids were feeding off her stress and were very stiff, so I had to work super hard to get the whole family to relax and have a good time. In the end, we pulled it off and everyone looked great!

You Have to Earn Their Trust

This is arguably one of the most important aspects of taking good family portraits. If the family doesn't trust you, they won't feel comfortable in your poses, and it will reflect so in the images. Gaining trust in a portrait session is something that should be done before you even meet your clients. They should gain trust in you by seeing the work in your portfolio and on your social media, in customer reviews online and through word-of-mouth, as well as one-on-one when you talk with them about their session. Gaining trust during the actual photo shoot is something that may take some time to perfect. The biggest tip I have is to be confident in all that you do: from posing, to choosing locations, to getting the right expressions, it's key to do it all with an approachable poise. That confidence will show through to the family, breaking down any walls and allowing you to get the best out of them. One quick and easy way to gain some trust is to show the family some images on the back of your camera. I know some people are against this and think it's tacky, but if a family is having a hard time trusting you, keeping the photos a mystery will make the whole session extremely difficult. Sometimes you need to gain some additional trust, and often that's easily accomplished by just showing off a few solid images.

At first they weren't so sure about the location I decided on.

This family, specifically mom, wasn't too sure about the location I chose for her family photos. This was the first shot I took when we walked down the frozen river bed. I showed her this shot on the camera immediately after I took it. After she saw the image, I had complete freedom for the rest of the session because I gained her trust.

Make Them Look Good

This statement is an obvious one, but go beyond just making them look good, and make them look like who they are. I take photos of families that come in all shapes and sizes who have varied backgrounds. When I say make them look like who they are, I mean find out who each family is, what they enjoy, what their relationships with one another are like, and use that to guide how you pose them. If they have a daughter who is a total daddy's girl, it might be fun to highlight that relationship. One of my major rules when posing a family is to make mom look awesome. If mom doesn't like how she looks, she isn't going to want to buy any prints.

(My next write-up will be on how to pose families, so I will cover how to get everyone looking & feeling amazing in the next article.)

This little guy loved the puddles.

Every time we went to walk to a new location during this family session, Zane, the little boy here, had to be holding both mom and dad's hands. He was also deeply interested in the puddles that had formed during an earlier rain storm. I decided to show this relationship he had with his parents, and it turned out to be one of my favorites from our session together.

Every Family is Different

Once again, that's a bland over-used statement, but let me elaborate. When I say that every family is different, not only do I mean in what they look like, but in what they want. Some families are very traditional and want traditional images. Some want very candid styled images. Don't be afraid to be honest with families. If I get one who asks me to do something I'm not completely confident I can deliver, I will be honest with them and let them know I may not be able to deliver exactly what they're looking for. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try new things though. If it doesn't turn out well, make sure you study the images so you will know how to correct the problem when you're asked to do something similar. One more big thing that varies between families is how they interact with one another. Make sure to capture the unique interactions between family members.

This family was very close with one another, I wanted to show their relationships through a picture.

This family was very close and loved to tease one another. Knowing how they interacted with each other was key for me to be able to capture an image that truly showed off who they are as a family.

Bonus: Get Out and Practice

You can read every article, watch every tutorial, and buy every book on photography, but the real growing is when you are out shooting. Don't be afraid to push your limits, and don't be afraid to fail. On average, I shoot five family photo sessions a day, four to five days a week. It's easy to feel like you are no longer developing as a photographer when you do the same thing day in, and day out. When I get stuck in a rut, I like to research a new idea or technique not always related to family photography and go out and try it. Sometimes it turns out awesome, and sometimes it's a huge failure. But I am a firm believer that you learn most from your failures. When you fail, you are forced to find the mistakes you have made and correct them. As you grow as a photographer, it is critical to never become complacent with your skill level. Always push yourself to become a better photographer, and as you do this, I promise you will see your business grow.

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1 Comment

Thanks Kenny. Your first three sentences sum it up. Shooting weddings and families, I sometimes compare the joy of a Mom seeing her family looking there best, to a bride seeing her wedding photos for the first time. Most times accompanied by tears of happiness.