Family photography is both greatly challenging and greatly rewarding. Portraiture is always an adventure: small children, big occasions, formality versus spontaneity… There are many factors to consider. Here are some tried and proven ways to make your family photography projects a resounding success.
Be smart with timing
Try to work with the family’s natural dynamic throughout the day. Especially if small children are involved, it’s usually best to do group pictures and formal shots early in the day.
You want them well-rested, after breakfast, before they begin to tire or fight. Likewise, senior family members may be too tired to smile and pose in the evening. Cooperation is the key to great family photos.
After the formal and group pictures are done, everyone can relax for the rest of the day. This is when you aim for fun, natural, spontaneous photos.
Include the entire family
Take turns being behind the camera. It’s sad seeing family photo collections with one person always excluded. Make a point of having everyone feature in these memorable snapshots.
The easiest way to accomplish that with standard family portraits is to use a tripod. Place the camera, use the self-timer, and get a full family picture. Lacking a tripod, any stable surface will do, e.g. a park bench, table, mantlepiece and so on.
For less formal photos, let your children take them. Children’s natural creativity and playfulness often results in surprisingly great compositions. Photography could become a fun family activity, and the youngsters might even pick it up as a hobby or career.
Make the most of composition
Geometry and proportions play an essential role in photography. Most family photos are typical portraits, but you can get amazing pictures without showing people’s faces. Consider the power of close-up details such as hands, or the pure joy in a blurry snap of a child mid-movement.
This is one aspect of family photography that can really benefit from professional insight. A professional photographer can take pictures you can use for reference later, or even teach you some technical tricks of the trade.
For instance, a tripod does wonders for stability when capturing delicate moments. Shutter speed greatly affects the clarity or blurriness of motion in photos. Black and white shots look timeless no matter when they were taken.
The next time you hire a professional family photographer for an occasion, strike up a conversation. They’ll appreciate a client taking an interest in their effort, and you will learn some invaluable tricks. The right combination of elements or an unusual angle can transform a generic photo into a striking work of art.
Learn about lighting
Good lighting makes or breaks photos. Take a moment to familiarise yourself with different light sources and how to best utilise them in your family photography.
Indoors, look for a well-positioned window which lets in a lot of natural light. Have your subjects position themselves so that they face towards it and you will get a beautifully illuminated portrait.
If windows are not available, or if they’re positioned inconveniently, play around with artificial lighting instead. Use it to create dramatic shading or other interesting effects. Remember that artificial lights have different undertones (yellow, white, blue) which will affect your final photos differently.
Outdoors, you want to reduce the glare of open sunlight. Look for open shade such as under tree crowns or canopies. These will ensure the light looks softer and your subject’s faces are evenly illuminated. Time of day and season also make a difference: afternoons, evenings, or the low light of winter days are much better than high noon in the midst of summer.
Tell stories through locations
Finally, when doing family photography, don’t neglect the place in favour of the people. The elements of the location greatly contribute to the overall message of the photo.
Things like architecture, foliage, background activity, etc. convey different impressions to our minds. Play around with them. Consider the natural lines and framing, the shadows, reflections, and scaling. See how your subject fits into the wider context.
A child playing will look different on their bedroom floor, surrounded with toys, and in a park next to a towering tree. Try to imagine your photo as seen by a stranger ten years from now. What message are you writing with your lens?
Great family photography depends on a few factors. Learn how to utilise different forms of lighting and how to take advantage of your surroundings. Experiment with angles and compositions to tell stories in your photos. Consider picking up a few tricks from a pro on that point. Time your photography to the subjects’ natural behaviour over the course of a day, and make sure everyone is included.