Yep, we’re talking posing! This family posing guide will give you posing suggestions and some fundamental compositional guidelines to go out and capture really beautiful, authentic family photos with engaging compositions.
As you start to master the basics of photography, the next step to improving your portrait photography and taking your family photos next level, is by paying close attention to posing details and they will elevate your family photos to a more professional level.
When we pose families standing, they tend to all turn toward the lens, arms at their side. Stiff much?
Connect them in interesting ways such as leaning on one another, arms around waists, heads on shoulders, heads in laps, small children wrapping their arms around mum or dad’s legs. And everyone doesn’t have to be facing the camera – mix it up by asking kids to turn and hug mum or dad’s belly or leg.
Having them leaning against something is a really easy way to get them to relax and mix up the poses.
It can be tricky working out how to seat a family without positioning them side by side (boring!). So how do you pose them?
By using shape and lines! In this shot below, mum and her two girls form a triangle, and those diagonal lines create a visually strong image.
Similarly, check out all the diagonal lines formed by the varied positions in this shot below. It’s sooo much more interesting than if they were seated side by side on the grass, and it’s gone a long way to convey connection and love.
You can get a load of variety of images from this one position too:
Sometimes you can’t avoid positioning subjects side by side, eg. in this shot below where they were seated on a fence. But you can easily elevate it by getting them in close together, and prompting them to put their arms around one another. Dig deep and find your inner child, be silly and engage them to draw out natural smiles and laughter.
Related: 10 Ways to Get Real Smiles From Kids
Throw a family in a pile (not literally, please!) and ask them to play, tickle, and do whatever they would normally when they’re trying to get their children to laugh. Then stand above and shoot down.
In this way you can get tonnes of variety in your compositions without needing to move them, and it’s another interesting way to pose.
You’ll convey connection far better when subjects are encouraged to turn their bodies toward one another rather than your lens, either fully or partially.
Unless you’re trying this beautiful pose! It’s important to note dad’s head resting on his wife’s head may seem a small thing but it’s the difference between a more formal pose and one with lots of love and connection.
Avoid awkward, lifeless family photos and capture natural connection instead by prompting interactions. Ask your subjects to turn toward one another and suggest kisses, tickles and games such as singing to draw out playfulness.
Bring children up to the height of their parents by asking them to pick them up and snuggle them close.
A great way to add some variety to the gallery is to take a break from posing and photograph kids and parents playing. You’ll need a fast shutter speed to freeze the motion.
The bonus of doing this is breaking up the session with some fun stuff which makes it much easier to keep the kids invested and happy!
Related: How to Take Action Shots
Avoid posing families so that adults are standing and small children are much lower in the frame. That difference in heights makes it much harder for families to connect physically, ensuring there’s no emotion for you to capture. It also forces you to shoot much wider to get everyone in.
Instead, ask adults to get down to their children’s level. You’ll be amazed at the difference it will make to their interactions as soon as you put them closer.
…or bring them up to their parent’s height!
That being said, don’t completely rule out everyone standing at the same height… because you can take shots like this. Note how dad’s arms and hands acting to beautifully framing her face.
Or this gorgeous family shot, which cleverly conveys the love and protection for this little girl, without even showing her family’s faces.
And this one which conveys the cheeky playfulness of these boys and the unique dynamic of this family.
Avoid big gaps between your subjects, whilst at the same time ensuring they don’t look too squashed together… unless you’re shooting a group hug, in which case all bets are off! Squish them up!
At all costs, avoid creating straight lines with head heights (eg. shortest to tallest or vice versa). You’ll create a visually stronger image by mixing up head heights and thereby adding levels.
For something really stunning, the kind of wall worthy photo that make everyone say “wow!!”, try a sunset silhouette.
You’ll need to use the light that comes around sunset or sunrise, and there are some key technical and compositional aspects you’ll need to consider in order to nail it. Luckily, we have a silhouette tutorial we prepared earlier, which includes settings you need and even where to focus.
Related Post: How to Shoot a Sunset Silhouette
I touched on shape and lines earlier in the piece specifically in relation to seated subjects, but it goes deeper than that.
To me, posing to me has three important functions – composition, connection and meaning.
Using shapes in our posing is an easy way to create strong compositions that convey connections.
We can easily create connections between our subjects (both environmental and emotional) by bringing them together physically, but try and also incorporate shapes in how you pose your groups together.
Use strong shapes to enhance composition of family portraits.
Ok so now you have some fabulous posing ideas to try, lets talk about some other considerations that will make the difference between snap shot and professional portrait.
We always talk about the huge difference light makes in an image, and when we’re aiming for portraits it really is best to look for soft light to create the most flattering portraits.
You can recognise soft light by the absence of strong harsh shadows. Have a look outside at different times of the day and watch how the shadows change from early morning to middle of the day when the bright sun is at it’s highest.
Soft light is the most flattering for portrait photos, and it’s easy to find! Head outside early or late in the day when the sun is low in the sky, or simply find shade!
Open shaded areas such as doorways, porches, garage doorways, the shade of a tree (but make sure you don’t get any dappled light on your subjects faces) are perfect for taking portraits and will make a huge difference to your shots! I love shooting in my shaded patio entrance to my front door.
When considering your location, firstly choose it with light in mind, remembering all of the above.
Secondly consider comfort. I don’t just mean physical comfort either… although that’s very important too, if your subject is physically uncomfortable, they’ll look uncomfortable in their photos, it will be harder to engage them, and you’ll probably lose the kids pretty quickly!
I’m talking about a relaxed location which will make for a relaxed family, because that always shows in photos too. So think of places where they would normally chill out or have fun.
Some places I love to shoot families include:
Remember that any clutter in the background of your shot will detract from your main subject and turn your portrait into a snapshot.
Clutter is anything in the frame that doesn’t need to be there. When shooting outdoors, look for things like parked cars, poles, rubbish bins or people in the distance behind your subject, and watch out for the dappled light that can be caused by trees. If you can’t move the item, move your subject or reposition yourself so that you can frame it out or blur it into insignificance.
When your location is indoors, clutter might come in the form of stray toys, a basket of laundry, a pile of newspapers, dishes in the sink.
Related: Clear the Clutter
Once you’ve chosen your location, take a moment to look around for any items that need to moved, and move them (or adjust your subjects accordingly).
A plain wall can be great and totally free of clutter, but finding somewhere with a little more interest will provide a more natural and interesting image!
I love parks and gardens for natural and beautiful portraits that are vastly clutter free!
My motto is to keep it simple. I try to keep colours neutral and my styling simple by removing clutter and any elements that don’t need to be in the shot.
For example when shooting on beds, a busy, brightly coloured bed covering with multiple cushions and other elements can be busy and distracting. It may work wonderfully if you’re looking for a busy crazy, fun and exuberant image, or if it suits the family’s personality.
But otherwise, white or neutral coloured bedding with complementary surrounds helps ensure the subject is the main focus.
When shooting outdoors in nature locations such as parks, gardens and beaches, look for spots where the background is simple.
Or fill the frame with foliage and get terrific bokeh!
Related: How to Take Bokeh Photos
When shooting on a beach, open shade is rare so you’ll either be wanting an overcast day when the sun is filtered through clouds, or you’ll need to shoot during the golden hours of the day, which is the 1-2 hours before sunset or after sunrise.
Related: Shooting in the Golden Hour
Too many patterns and colours in subjects clothing can work to distract and is a form of clutter in photos.
Aim to keep it simple with classic patterns such as stripes, spots and checks, and by ensuring a good mix of solids and patterns (more solids than patterns). Look for outfits that compliment one another in varying tones within a colour family, without being matchy-matchy in a cheesy way.
Framing our subjects using the environment or architecture is a great way to draw your viewers eye directly to your subject, and create an impactful composition.
Consider your lenses if you have more than one to choose from. Wide angle lenses will elongate limbs and flatten faces, leading to a cartoonish look when photographed up close.
Whereas longer focal lengths compress the background, enhance the bokeh effect and will help your subjects pop beautifully from the background.
Related: How Lenses Affect Portraits
If shooting outside make the most of this effect by selecting your longest focal length, ensure a good distance between your subject and background, and open up your aperture for best effect. This image was taken with my favourite lens, a Canon 135mm f/2
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