Lifestyle photography is a style that aims to capture organic moments as they unfold, without posing. However when a family has many children, unless you’re photographing them all in a confined space, it can be like herding cats!
Sarah Croker learned her craft through our Enthusiast Photography Course and our Advanced Photography Course. She’s since gone on to become a professional lifestyle photographer of newborns, children, families and weddings based in a rural area of Australia, so she’s accustomed to capturing large families in unconfined spaces!
Read on to learn how Sarah directs a lifestyle session with a large (or large-ish!) family and produces a gallery of authentic images.
“I always ask the family before the session if they have any specific locations around their home they want me to use. I also like to have at least one up my sleeve which will give me great light for a whole family shot, so I allow time to scope around before we start.
Their property had an amazing driveway lined with poplars and a rusty old farm gate, and I knew that I wanted to try some shots using both so that gave me a starting point. Luckily we were blessed with an overcast afternoon, so I had the freedom to shoot anywhere and still get even light.
When I photograph families, I always capture them in a lifestyle manner, which means a large portion of the session will be unposed. But when you have a larger family, a little more direction is needed. However the end result doesn’t have to be unnatural. Simply:
- Gather the family rather than posing;
- Then tweak their positions to get a balanced grouping (if needed);
- Use prompts to create some fun banter;
- Be ready to capture their candid responses.
When you’re taking the obligatory whole family shot, it really helps when the location has something for members of the family to lean on and sit on to mix it up, bring small people up to the height of the big people, and add interest. So for those reasons, the rusty farm gate was perfect.
For this shot, the only posing I did was to relocate the youngest boy from the middle to the right to get a more balanced composition. Then I chatted to them and got them laughing, and these are the moments you’re looking for… the set up is loosely directed, but the responses are real.
3. Relaxed Direction
The ultimate goal is a family led session – more organic, less directed and as little posing as possible. But it can take a good handful of frames to get there… even when a family book a lifestyle session because they want an unposed style, most will still wait for direction at the start of the session. After all, it’s unlikely they do this every other day, they don’t know how it works! Plus, the kids probably don’t know you, and they need time to get familiar and confident enough to be themselves.
As the session progresses and the family relax, they will lead more and more. Especially the kids, and especially with prompting.
I asked the family to walk away from me then walk back… but not all in a line. I suggested they walk just as they would if they were walking from the car to the footy fields, some in front, some behind, someone holding hands etc. This way it looks far more natural and no cheese!
I use cues non stop to try and get them to laugh or interact with one another (preferably both!). I’ll say silly things or ask questions, for example…
- “Who snores the loudest?”
- “Who’s the best cook?”
- “Who’s got the worst jokes?”
- “Look at your favourite person.”
- “What’s your craziest dinner?”
- Tell a fart joke, pull a funny face, etc.
If kids have something else to concentrate on, they aren’t posing and most kids love to have a photo with their favourite sidekick or possession, so I always encourage this in my shoots. Think farm animals, favourite toys, bikes, footballs, pony, dog, cat, etc. Farm kids in particular have so much going on around them that it makes my job pretty easy. I snap away while they’re getting ready then take a couple more posed shots as well.
These kids wanted photos with their sheep dogs, and they’re rugby mad so I also made sure to capture them playing with the football. If they’re having fun, and doing what they love, they will let you shoot for hours.
5. Let Them Direct
I like to let them direct the shoot to an extent. These kids wanted to go up to the old hay shed, which happened to be a gorgeous backdrop in great light. Winning!
…and it just happened to have a fallen tree about 20 metres away. Bingo!
If the kids are picking up sticks or looking for insects, interacting with their parents, throwing around the football or… running with the sheep (!!)… capture that.
You can ask them all to balance along a tree, or walk in a straight line in each others foot steps. Say something stupid and watch them all naturally look at one another and laugh.
Asking them to try a group hug or stacks on will always result in fun photo opportunities. Just remember to make sure they don’t pile on the littlest one!
The extra bonus is kids get bored quickly, but if they’re laughing and having fun, are not only allowed but encouraged to be silly, they will want to continue.
In all this unplanned shooting, don’t forget to try for some close up portraits of children to record each of them at that point in time. Also look for special connections between pairs of family members. You can ask them to stop and pose if they’re already together, but be on the lookout for spontaneous moments.
7. Last Shots
If your session is scheduled for late in the day, try to hang around for sunset. Sunset silhouette shots are easy to do and look amazing. This was an opportunity for some more whole family shots, only this time entirely unposed, undirected, no one looking at camera – just everyone doing what they love to do together.
End of the session is also often the time when you’ll capture mum or dad giving someone a cuddle, unprompted. Why? Because, tired kids looking for comfort. So don’t put your camera away until you’ve said goodbye and you’re driving away!
8. Best Gear
For these shoots, I generally use my 70-200mm f/2.8. That way I can stand back, enabling the family to interact more naturally and not interfere. I tend to shoot around f/2.8 and will only go to f/3.5 or f/4 when I want to ensure everyone is in focus for group shots, but generally a more shallow depth of field is my preferred style.
9. Top Tips
- Every mum just wants one nice photo of her whole family, and every other image is a bonus. Of course you’re there to get far more than one shot! But get that whole family photo first up, then no matter what happens throughout the rest of the session, you’ve got at least one in the bag!
- Don’t walk away from a session regretting you didn’t take more images. So asking people to do something twice is not a bad thing, it might just mean that you get the image you were hoping for. Just be mindful of not doing it too many times, or kids will get bored and you’ll lose them. Mix it up if you need to, get them to do something slightly different, so boredom doesn’t set in.
- Take shots of the same set ups at different angles, perspectives, and focal lengths to mix up their gallery.
- Learn what the family are interested in before you get there. It helps to know their favourite hobbies, sports, tv shows, songs, toys etc so that you’ve got things to talk about with each child, which makes it easier to make a connection and engage them.
- At every shoot I do, there are some images that just don’t work. But don’t let it fluster you during the shoot… just say “thank you, that was awesome! Ooh what’s the shiny thing over there?”. If you don’t try different set ups or angles, you’ll never know if it could have been an amazing shot. It’s a part of the process.
- When you’re all caught up having fun with the kids… don’t forget mum and dad! Most parents don’t have many photos of just themselves together.
Lifestyle is definitely a mix of some directing, prompting children to explore and lead, following, observing, but overall engaging them to interact and laugh. Invent some cues that work to draw out what you need, or use mine. Try things, keep what works, throw away what doesn’t, and tweak that which sorta worked. Most importantly, be yourself and trust it will be warmly received as authentic.
It can be challenging when starting out shooting this way, as it’s a bit fly by the seat of your pants. But the moments you can capture are priceless, and so worth the effort!”
A BIG thank you to Sarah for your generous advice, and patience as I asked you for “just one more photo… ok just one more… ok this is the LAST one I promise!”. Mwahh!
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