Preserving Memories: Strategies for Successful Family Portraits

family-photographyFamily portraits are an important part of our heritage. They preserve history. They record family growth. They document changing styles (some good, some not-so-good!). More than that, however, portraits seem to call to us and will garner our attention almost immediately when we enter a room. These, among many other reasons, are why family portraits continue to be so popular. It’s also why portraiture is one of the most popular areas of study at photography schools.

While almost all get looked at, only a few spark the phrase, “That’s a good picture!” Why is it that since most photographers go through photography school, only some family portraits gain compliments while others seem ordinary? The posing strategies and selections of photographers play a big role. Photographers tend to get into ruts taking the same styles of portraits over and over. When you feel this happening to you, it’s time to shake things up with new ideas about posing families.

Natural Sittings (and Settings) Are Popular

First and foremost, keep things light. The days of stiff family portraits where everybody is in exactly the same pose are over! Today, more natural-looking poses (even “formal” portraits) are what give that noteworthy appearance.

Let the family members be themselves. Keep your eye behind the lens, always looking for an opportune shot as family members interact with each other. You’ll also want to encourage natural laughter and smiles rather than forced “cheese” smiles.

Creative Family Poses

Get creative! Use your imagination and a host of props or natural settings to capture moments that are truly unique. For young families, consider placing baby in a bassinet with siblings and parents looking at baby, not at the camera. Perhaps toddlers could play at the edges of brooks or streams with mom and dad.

Other memorable (not to mention adorable) shots could include toddlers chasing bubbles or butterflies and toddlers playing with puppies, bunnies or other small (but tame) pets.

For families with older children, head outside! Fabulous portraits can be created with the family standing behind a fence (smaller kids sitting on the fence). Try a portrait of all silhouettes or of the family gathered on the front porch sipping lemonade. Families can even lounge at the edges of ponds or brooks for creative shots.


While there’s a place to use your tripod, it may not be during a family portrait shoot. If you feel your posing is getting stale, toss the tripod and try alternate angles. Shoot from above or to the side or experiment with lighting. If the family isn’t sure of exactly what they want, offer to take a variety of portraits and let them choose the style they like best once they see the results.

When you break down the barriers that squelch your creativity, you free yourself to produce your best work yet. You’ll enjoy the sessions more, and your clients will be thrilled with the results!

About the Author
Carla White manages public relations for Brooks Institute of Photography, a photography schoolin California for those who aspire to become professional photographers, graphic designers or filmmakers. Courses are taught by dedicated professionals who believe in the philosophy of “learning by doing.”

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