There are so many options to choose from when you are a family photographer. You get to determine your style, not just with shooting and editing, but your style for how to run a family photography session. You can be detail oriented and pose the families each step of the way or you can be a little more relaxed with your sessions (and so many variations between those two options!). My style is to have a loose plan before we begin shooting and adapt as needed. I want the families to enjoy the session and feel like they are just hanging out spending time with people they love while I capture all those moments of connection between them. Here are a few steps I take to ensure that I get photos that my client will love and want to look at over & over.
- No.01Have a plan in mind before you begin
Before every session I always review the poses and photos I need to capture to make absolute sure that I get them all for the family; The family photo, each parent with the kids, parents with just each other, the kids together, each child alone, photos of relationships and connections and all the moments in between. If I am shooting in a new location then I will make sure to visit a few days ahead at the same time as the session so I know what the light looks like and I can plan out the spots I want for shooting. This allows me to take control of the session from the start which I think allows the family to feel confident in my ability to capture their family. I make sure to use the family questionnaire that I send out once the session is booked to help me plan. I use the parent’s answers to make sure I add any other photo combinations that are important to them to my list. The questionnaire also gives me some insight into being able to connect quickly with them. This is especially helpful with older kids. You can jump right into conversations about their hobbies and interests if you already know a few of them.
- No.02Be willing to throw the plan out the window if needed
One of the most important things to me is that the family I am photographing feels comfortable and is having fun. I don’t want taking family photos to be a chore or feel like when I was a kid and we went to the local studio at the mall where every finger was posed into just the right spot but they didn’t really capture the essence of our family. I want to take photos that tell the story of the family. The connections they have with each other. Their individual personalities. Some kids (and some parents) are more shy. I want to capture that for them. Some kids are full of energy and ready to be crazy in front of the camera. And I want to capture that too. The plan doesn’t always go as planned. And when it doesn’t, I keep the shot list in my head and just try to make sure I am checking off the boxes of getting all the shots I want as I let the family lead.
- No.03Become familiar with your location ahead of time
When you are familiar with the location before you arrive it allows you to be flexible. Had a spot planned for that starting family pose but another photographer is already there? No problem because you already scoped out other spots to start that will give you the space, style, and light that you are looking for so you can easily transition the family to the new spot. It also helps to know the area in case the kids start to run off one way and you need to redirect them to head another way. It’s also important for me to be confident in how the light will impact my session based on the location. I live in an area that has hills (I like to call them mountains but I don’t think they really are!) and often times the sun will be below the “hill” much earlier than if I was shooting at the beach with nothing to block the light. When I am familiar with the location, I can make sure to plan the timing of the session to match the light I want in the photos to get the best results for the family. I like having a few spots planned in one area so that it gives time to walk between shooting. At least the family thinks they are getting time off. Really I am continuing to watch for moments and connections as we move, like a little one reaching up for her mom’s hand. Doesn’t every mom want to remember what those little hands felt like when they are all grown?
- No.04step by step family posing workflow
Keep in mind that this may not work for your shooting style, but it is what I have found works best for me so hopefully it will be helpful!
- I start with the group family photo because the kids are still fresh and trying to please right at the start. Everyone is ready to go and following instructions (usually! although you could always have the independent toddler trying to run the show!). Because I am already familiar with my location, I have the spot picked out for this starting pose and lead the family right to the spot. I will get the family to stand (or sit depending on the family) as close together as they can for this image because I love the connection that this creates. Usually it leads to a more relaxed and natural stance for the family. As long as I have the light where I want it then I take a couple of shots here making micro-adjustments to the posing as needed. I am making conversation during this time too which typically leads to the parents looking at each other and the kids along with laughter and natural facial expressions. During this time I am shooting all the in between moments too. Those are usually my favorite and the ones I post on my social media and blog, but I can be confident that I already have the posed smiling family photo that we all know the grandparents love.
- After those I move into each parent with the kids. This gives each parent a break for a few minutes and ensures that I have the mom with the kids + the dad with the kids. This also allows for the in between moments where often the other parent is standing just on the edge of the frame watching. I love the expressions that I can capture from that parent. Usually it is an expression full of love as they look on towards their spouse with the kids.
- This naturally leads into getting images with just the kids because they have now had some time away from the more formal posing and some play time with each parent. Depending on the age of the kids I will give general direction (to make sure they stay in the right light or the area that will provide the composition that I am looking for) or I will just take their lead moving around to get the light & composition that I want. It is a great way to capture the kids true personalities including their interactions with each other. My goal is to always get three photos of each child: the environmental photo that includes the child + shows the location, the 3/4 portrait style photo, and a close up detail photo (like of curls in the hair or something unique to the child).
- At the end, if everyone seems up for it, I will typically give general direction to pull the whole family back together one more time. The reason I like to spend just a couple of minutes at the end to get another family portrait is that generally the family as a whole is more comfortable. Everyone has had fun, the kids have gotten to run around & explore, the pressure is off. This is a great time to get an authentic photo.
Most importantly, have fun!
You have the ability to set the tone of the photo session. So do your best to set the tone for fun so that the family enjoys themselves. Be yourself. Connect with the family. And you will get photos they love of themselves with people they love.