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Learn our 5 Keys for Photographers and Start Taking Better Family Photos Today!

If you are just venturing into the world of family portraits, the idea of managing an entire family photo session and turning out great images can be an intimidating one. But after shooting hundreds of family sessions, I can tell you that there are several things you can do to ensure your own success. These 5 things will give you a great base to work from to get you on your way to taking better family photos.

Location

You might be inclined to believe that I am mentioning location first because it is the most important, but that’s actually not true. In fact, I would say that compared to the other keys to your success that we are discussing today, location is the least important. I’m choosing to discuss location first to 1) dispel the myth that a pretty location is what makes great photos, and 2) to give you some direction to choosing the right locations for your sessions.

Myth: A stunning location is needed for great photos.

This simply is not true. Of course a gorgeous location is always a dream to photograph, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that will be your most important part of a session. You can take great photos anywhere!! Read more about how to do that here! 

Truth: Choosing locations wisely can go a long way towards great photos.

Now that I’ve cleared my system and busted the myth that location matters most, I will say that choosing your location wisely can be a great asset to your session. I love to get to know my clients ahead of the session and help them choose a location that fits their personality and vision for their photos. I always have a few “go-to” places, and there are a few key things that I look for when choosing a location. You can read about what I look for here.

Light

When it comes to photography of any kind, the light will make or break you. This is just as true with family sessions. Whenever I am setting up a shot during a session, I set it up based first and foremost on the light. Light is priority. If there is a gorgeous background, but using it means that my clients will have dappled or harsh light across their faces, we choose another background. As a people-centered photographer, the most important thing to me is that my clients look good, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to put them in flattering lighting, which is usually soft and even.

taking better family photos

It is also important to know how to shoot in all different kinds of lighting situations, so that lighting is never a reason for you to be thrown off during a session. You can read more about how to shoot with all different types of light in our Finding the Light series.

Preparation

Helping your clients prepare for their session is one of the easiest ways to not only set yourself apart as a photographer, but to also ensure that your clients have a seamless and positive experience working with you. Don’t assume that once your clients book you, they won’t need anything from you until session day. Be available to help them with wardrobe decisions, or maybe even provide your clients with a session guide that gives them suggestions for what to wear, what to bring, and what to expect during the session. During the days leading up to their session, be in communication with them to confirm their session or to discuss weather that may arise.

You can also help prepare your clients on the day of the session by starting the session off with an overview of what they can expect while you’re together. For many people, one of the biggest anxieties of a photo session is not knowing what to do or if they are doing it “right.” By giving an overview of what the session will entail, you can relax them and take the pressure off while assuring them that you have everything covered.

Now that you know how to prep your clients, are you wondering about how to prep yourself?
Click here to read more on how to calm your own pre-session jitters
Click here for our easy steps to prepare for your photo sessions

Lens Choice

Making a lens choice is very much a personal decision that should be driven by your style and the type of session you are shooting. The most frequently used lenses for family portraits are the 35mm, 50mm, 85mm or a longer lens like the 135mm or the 70-200mm. Each of these lenses will produce a different look, so consider your personal shooting style when choosing the lens that is right for you, and then take into consideration the physical limitations that your location may give you.

While there is no one “right” lens for family portraits, I do have a couple of favorites. I use my Canon 135L for about 90% of my sessions. I love that it puts me at just enough of a distance from my clients that they don’t feel like I’m in their space, but not so far away that I can’t still give them direction when needed. When my shooting situation is a little tighter, I prefer to use my 85mm lens. And I always have either my 50mm or 35mm attached to my second camera for going in close and capturing more of those close, candid shots. I love the variety that using a couple of different lenses gives to my galleries. Below are examples of images taken in the same session, just minutes apart with different lenses.

Taken with the Canon 135L
Taken with the Sigma Art 50mm

Connection

The very best family photos go beyond a standard “portrait” to displaying a deeper level of connection. When you learn to coach your clients into authentic, connected moments, you are able to capture photos that are more than pictures: those photos become treasures that showcase the special bond the family shares.

I have found that giving my clients permission up front not to look at the camera the whole time can go a long way towards making them more comfortable with these candid, in between moments during their session. When they know they don’t have to always be “posing,” they can relax and just enjoy their family… and that’s when the magic happens.

taking better family photos

We are confident that these 5 tips are going to These 5 things are going to get you well on your way to taking better family photos! We love to watch your growth and answering your questions, so be sure to leave us your questions in the comments!

You might also love these Family Portrait resources:

Click here to learn more about our Family Portraits Toolkit
Click here to learn more about our Family Posing Guide