Family photography might just be the most universal type of photography out there, the type of photography most widely appreciated across the world. So how do you master this photography genre?

By most widely appreciated, we don’t mean everyone everywhere is going to care all of your family photography. In fact, each family photo session you do is only going to be truly appreciated by a small group of people. But the people in the photo are going to love and connect with these photos faster and more intensely than any type of commercial or landscape photograph on the internet. And most families around the world are going to appreciate a photo of themselves.

Lessons from a family photographer, appearing in front of the lens

What is family photography? 

family photography outdoors

Family photography is a snapshot in time of family, a portrait of how much they love each other. Family photography is a memory of how small the kids were, what mom’s style was, how goofy your child looked with their missing tooth, and how dad played with the kids at that age. It pulls on the heartstrings and brings back memories of happy times. In the best or worst case scenario, family photography helps us remember the people close to us that are no longer with us. Family photography is full of meaning and importance, and should be treated with a caring hand. 

Improve your ability to capture emotion and connection in your family portraits

Lucky for you, most families can’t resist photos of themselves. Most often these photos are taken by a family member on a smartphone in less than ideal lighting conditions. These photos will almost always have an important family member missing from them because one of the family members has to take the photo. This is where you, the family photographer truly gets to shine. You get to be the modest, behind the scenes protagonist taking the shot of the whole family together! Each family has moments in time that are just too cute, too precious, too special to let pass without saving that to look back on in the future. Your job as a family photographer is to create these memories and make them beautiful. For that you need the right camera settings to properly expose your photo.

What settings should I use for family photography?

family photos fast moving

You’ll notice exposure come up in so many of our Cole’s Classroom. This is because proper exposure coupled with finding the light are arguably the most important steps in creating a good photo. Without finding the light and properly exposing for it, your photo is hardly higher quality than those taken by your client. We want to help you get to a place where families like your work so much better than their own that they want to come back to you again and again. So we’re going to talk camera settings.

Please understand asking which setting to use in family photography is a bit like asking someone what you should wear tomorrow. What is the weather like where you live? What is the forecast supposed to be like specifically tomorrow? Will you be staying indoors or going outdoors? Will you be moving about quickly, or will your activity level be minimal? As you can see, the answer depends on a lot of different factors. We definitely recommend taking the time to properly educate yourself on the three elements of exposure and how they interact so you can decide which camera setting to change in which circumstance. 

For family photography, it’s probably a good assumption you’re working with kids that move lots. To avoid blurry photos, start with 1/200 shutter speed for slower children, and 1/500 for running and biking. When outdoors, your ISO will likely be around 100, but closer to 1000 or higher when working indoors. If you want photos with blurry backgrounds you’ll need to change your aperture to be as wide open as possible. With each of those examples you will need to change your other settings (ISO, shutter speed, and aperture) to ensure proper exposure.

What is the best camera for family photography? 

family photos connection

Ah, the holy grail of questions for new photographers! Luckily for you, there is no best camera. It’s not a camera that takes good photos, it’s the photographer controlling which camera settings are used that takes a good photo. The best photographer in the world can take beautiful photos on the most basic camera, and you can too. If you don’t yet have a camera then check out this post for some camera suggestions. We recommend getting a starter or beginner level camera if you’re just getting into photography. We wouldn’t want you spending lots of money on an expensive camera and then discover you hardly ever use it. After working with a specific camera consistently, and you find it has shortcomings you can use the same post above for some more advanced level cameras.

What is the best lens for family photography? 

Much like the best photographer in the world taking beautiful photos with any camera, they can also take gorgeous images with the most basic lenses. This article explains the difference between kinds of lenses and where they come in handy. Our favourite lenses are the 24-70mm, the 50mm, and the 70-200mm focal length ranges. With these lenses, we tend to favour the ones with the largest aperture (smaller f-stop number). For example, there is a 24-70mm f4.0 lens but also a 24-70mm f2.8 lens. The f2.8 lens will allow you to take better photos in low light conditions but it will also allow you to get blurrier backgrounds in your photos. Regardless of which lens you own, learning these useful composition techniques will take your photos to the next level!

Family photography poses

family photography poses

This is the best part of family photography! There are endless possibilities for posing your families from snuggling on a blanket to walking hand in hand. One pose, such as taking a walk holding hands can result in so many different pictures. You can take a wide angle shot of the whole family walking towards or away from you. Then zoom in and capture the bond that started the family. Take a photo of mom and dad’s hands clasped together (or two moms or two dads). Capture the love a parent has for their child by asking a parent and child to look at each other. You can capture a child excitedly swinging her legs while mom and dad hold on tight. Ask the kids racing ahead while mom and dad trail behind them with proud smiles on their faces. 

family photography poses

Start off with a general prompt, such as run and give mom a bear hug, and be amazed how differently each family interprets those instructions. One child may grasp onto her standing dad’s leg, while another child may run and leap into dad’s outstretched arms. We’ve got so many more suggestions that won’t all fit into this article! Remember to move your feet, circle the family and take photos from different sides. Also try changing your angles by getting low and shooting up, or get high up and shooting down. Encourage your families as they interact to ease their discomfort at being photographed. Give lots of complements to let them know they’re doing a good job and that you’re getting beautiful shots of them as you go along. They’re going to love you as much for your photographs as the way you make them feel during the session!

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