7 Easy Tips for Family Photography Poses

7 tips to best pose a family photoshoot

How to pose family members for a family photography session.

As a photographer, one of the biggest challenges can be figuring out how to best pose family members in a family photoshoot.

You can easily run out of ideas after starting your photo shoot if you don’t come prepared! So here are my top 7 simple tips for posing family members that are guaranteed to make you and your families feel accomplished after the session.

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1. Prepare your photo shot list in advance

The easy way to start with success occurs before the shoot begins. Prepare your shot list IN ADVANCE.

This is the most important way to ensure you have plenty of ideas in mind for posing family photo shoots.

In the future, I will go further in-depth on how to prepare for an awesome photo shoot in a separate post but will stick to this topic’s relevant points here.

You can provide a questionnaire to your clients beforehand asking questions such as the following:

  • How many family members will be involved?
  • If there are children, how many, what are their names and how old are they?

Knowing the ages especially for small children can help you as the professional photographer, adjust your timeline of photos to best optimize their energy.

  • What list of photos or poses are an absolute MUST have?

This is your way of finding out what family portraits are most important to your clients.

And this will give you insight on their perspective as to what is important versus what is not.

Obtain a shot list from the client that is booking the session.

  • Are there are any style photos or poses they absolutely do NOT want?
  • Are there any conflicts that you need to be aware of that could affect the photo shoot?
  • Will all family members arrive at the same time?

Your questionnaire does not have to be long but enough for you to obtain the answers you need to make sure all parties involved have a clear understanding of the expectations at, during, and from the photoshoot.

And always add a disclaimer at the end to remind your clients that there is no guarantee that you will be able to accommodate everything on their list but you will do your best to include their input.

2: Poses: Use a basic pose with different variations to it

Okay, here is the fun part. Brainstorming.

Now you get to think of different poses for the family you’ll be working with.

A great way to do this is to use a simple pose but in a different way in many ways.

Here’s a real-life example of three basic poses with changes built around them. And take note that while many of the following examples shown depict family photoshoot session outdoors, these can easily be done inside as well.

STANDING

Let’s start with simply standing. Well, that’s boring, you say. No, my friend. We are not quite done yet.

You can do so many things with just standing.

For example, for a large group have everyone spaced apart at equal distances, strike a unique pose, look serious and straight on at the camera.

Standing pose for family photos

Or have everyone spaced apart at equal distances, strike a unique pose, smile and look straight on at the camera.

Simple standing pose for family photoshoot

Have everyone spaced apart at equal distances, hold hands, smile and look straight on at the camera.

Have everyone spaced apart at equal distances, hold hands, smile and look at each other. Or don’t hold hands, but do something fun, or laugh. 

Any variation of facial expressions, emotion or slight change in posture or physical interaction will work.

Family holding hands outdoors pose
Standing unique pose for family outdoors photo

Keep in mind that you can use any available natural props for this. Meaning if you’re outside doing outdoor family portraits and there’s a stairwell available, use it. If you’re inside a building like a church, do the same. If there is a bridge outside, use that.

Let your mind go in any creative direction and fly with what you come up with.

WALKING

Here’s the beauty about incorporating walking into your shoot… simply repeat similar poses from the standing section, and boom! You have just as many ideas to work with!

The important thing to keep in mind is to keep things simple. Sometimes we can overcomplicate things and if we keep things simple like having everyone walk together, holding hands, looking at each other, then looking at the camera, it will help create candid moments all with one main action.

There have been countless times when parents will worry about how their little kids may behave in a family photoshoot but when they start walking and follow instructions I’m throwing at them, the girls start giggling, parents start genuinely smiling and great result ensues.

My only caveat is that in most shots with walking, it appears distant and even awkward to not have family members touching in some manner. So, I usually have the clients holding hands or arms around the waist, linking elbows, etc.

Family walking and holding hands outside pose

One exception (and there are always exceptions), is if you’re doing a single file walk with everyone in a line, one behind the other. That’s when I would not have family members holding hands. 

In addition, it is an absolute MUST (in my humble opinion) to have family members walk away and then turn to the camera. Either have them stop and look at the camera, smiling or serious, and then have them walk back towards the camera. I consider this a staple shot in family sessions, regardless of whether they end up being in the final cut.

There is something about making these black and white images that always look great.

SITTING

There is so much potential for these types of shots by simply brainstorming variations.

For example, use stairs or a ledge to have some family members sit on, and others lean against.

*TOP TIP for large families or a small group

Have everyone sit and have different family members sit on different steps in a symmetrical fashion, but have the parents coupled up in a front to back hug and children hugging on either side of dad (or mom).

Or have couples “coupled” up with the maternal (or paternal) figure in the middle. No matter the size, you can make these work and family members don’t mind because they’re sitting as opposed to standing.

You can vary these poses by having everyone look serious, then smile, then look towards whoever is at the center, then the sides, both right and left. Boom. 4-5 different poses all without changing position.

Now what if you don’t have a ledge or stairwell? Easy.

Just have everyone sit on the ground. You can work this out the same way by varying how family members are arranged by some more in the back, others more in the front. Couples coupled up, children on the outside versus the inside or even have children on the inside and parents on the outside.

The beauty about family photographs is that there are really NO SET RULES when it comes to poses.

The example I have for you is that of a family of three.

Because her son was so antsy and really the photoshoot was about him anyway, he was centered in his mom’s lap and her husband centered behind her. We easily varied up these shots by having the husband peek over her shoulder at his son, having them both kiss while her son was doing whatever he wanted to do, and then simply having them both look at the camera.

3. Use your client’s shot list to inspire your family photoshoot ideas

Not only is your client’s shot list a way to ensure your photo shoot results meet his or her expectations, but it is also a way to incorporate his or her input.

This allows the client to feel their ideas and desires are part of the creative process and will help ensure they are happy (likely more so) with the results.

You can obtain this by sending them a questionnaire as we discussed earlier in the first tip. Ask them to list what shots they are expecting or have them create a pinterest board and share with you what photos they would love to emulate for their session. Or simply just speak with them about the goals for the shoot so each session is guaranteed to have a unique take.

You will find quickly who has certain expectations versus who does not.

I, myself, have dealt with clients who simply told me their goal was to commemorate an anniversary while others had a list of must-haves. And usually these must-haves specified the people they wanted in their shots, i.e. family members split into certain photos like a big group photo, then couples, then children, etc.

Having a list of their must-haves will help you focus your brainstorming ideas and keep you from second-guessing what they may or may not like.

Trust me, avoiding assumptions is the best way to go when it comes to your clients’ family photo shoot!

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4: Write your posing list down

This is a MUST, in my humble opinion.

Now, when I say “write” that can be a relative term since nowadays everyone just texts or types up a note in their phone.

This is important because it does, at minimum, two things. It helps you gather your posing ideas into a cohesive plan AND helps you reinforce that plan.

As a photographer, you will likely have multiple shoots planned even if you’re starting out and in the beginning stages of booking. Because your mind will be BUSY, you will want to avoid mixing up different clients’ photo shoot shot list expectations OR forgetting their ideas.

Sometimes when you’re in the moment, whether it be nerves or just having a lot on your mind, it can be easy to forget what was discussed for a family photo shoot. No matter how professional you are at taking photos, you can still get important details mixed up! So type your family portrait poses up in a note on your phone, email yourself your list, upload it to your dropbox and review it right before your session!

EVEN if you don’t refer back to your list during your shoot, you are MORE likely to remember components of your list that will help you recall that particular client’s expectations and ensure you get the appropriate shots.

Trust me, try this at least once and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how helpful it is!

5. Ask them for their ideas DURING the shoot

This was briefly mentioned already but even if your clients’ give you a lot of leeway with the photo shoot, at some time during the shoot, see if they have any input for the posing or actions they want captured.

Don’t be afraid to ask them if there is anything you may have missed or anything you have not done that they’d like to do. In fact, I make it a point to do this because then they realize that I, the photographer am doing my best to keep their expectations at the forefront. Making their family pictures exactly as they would hope is not just words but truly a priority and many times, their respect level for me as their photographer, rises.

Sometimes you don’t even need to ask. They will get inspired and their inspiration will give them a voice to speak up and tell you that they’d like this type of shot versus another.

DO NOT get offended at this. Do NOT take it as a means of their disliking what you’ve done so far.

Take it as a COMPLIMENT that they want to get involved and want to share their thoughts. This means they are enjoying the photo shoot and they are starting to give you further insight on their personality, their family’s personality and their vision of what’s to come with the final results.

This does nothing but enhance the photo shoot experience for your client, enhance the photographer-customer relationship, and indirectly gives your business as a family photographer respect that you wouldn’t expect.

6. The Best Time of Day for Beautiful Family Portraits

Any professional photographer out there is going to let you know that golden hour is the ideal time to ensure beautiful photographs.

What is golden hour?

Golden hour is 1 hour after sunrise or before sunset.

Golden Hour is the best time for family photography

It is considered the perfect time of day and the best light for many natural light photographers because the intensity of sunlight is filtered down and thus softer as opposed to harsh lighting. Stunning shots can result from this soft light creating one-of-a-kind family portraits.

Sometimes, however, this early morning time may not work out for your outdoor family photoshoot. Whether it’s due to work schedules, seasonal weather or even the number of people at the planned location, you can still have a great session by working around this.

This will do more than just cause you to be more creative with your shots. It will force you to learn how to use the natural light you do have to work for your family photo sessions as opposed to against them.

Do this by looking for areas of open shade or structures that block the harshness of the sun. The goal is to create even lighting for your family members. You can even use shadows created by a tree, building or other structures to create a certain look to the family portraits that will make them stand out against the norm.

It is absolutely possible to make the lighting work for your session if the idyllic golden hour does not work out!

7. Adjust Your Camera Settings!

For those aspiring professional family photographers out there, this is a huge one. ADJUST your camera settings each time the lighting changes or you move to new locations!

The same photo taken with different lighting, can make a huge difference in affecting the look of the family portraits.

The best way to ensure you’re capturing the best look is to check and adjust the white balance, aperture and shutter speed as needed throughout the shoot. Try to keep that ISO as low as possible and use the other settings to adjust for lighting as much as possible.

For low light settings, some of the best cameras include the Sony a7III, Nikon D780 and Fujifilm X-T4 to name a few. RTings has a great review of these cameras that you can read about.

In conclusion, those are my TOP 7 simple tips for ideas for family photography poses.

Brainstorming ideas of how to pose family members is not, by itself, enough. It will cause you to fall short of the photo shoot experience for both yourself and your clients.

But keeping in mind that their input is important before and during the shoot, preparing adequately with a shot list and then incorporating your ideas and expertise will all interlock to contribute to a killer photo shoot session for families.

So get out there, my fellow-photographer peer!

If you’re just starting out, offer a free session to a family and try these out.

If you’re looking to improve your family photo shoots, try these out on the next one and do me a favor and drop a comment or connect with me to give me your feedback!

Til’ next time, cheers!

Ruth Elaine

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