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Family portraits can go one of two ways. They can either be one of the best photoshoot experiences or they can go horribly, horribly wrong.
It’s one of the reasons why I love them so much. They keep me on my toes.
I actually got into family portraiture by taking photos of my own family when my son was first born a number of years ago. My first ever experience with a family portrait shoot was that my wife broke down in tears within the first ten minutes.
Thankfully, I think I’ve gotten a little better since then, as I’ve listened to plenty of family portrait tips from friendly photographers. Whether you’re trying to learn how to prepare for family portraits, trying to figure out what to bring for family portraits, or are just looking for some general family portrait advice, you’ve come to the right place.
Here are my top four family portrait tips.
Prepare the Kiddos
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Nobody is happy if the kids aren’t happy, which is a pretty terrible rule considering kids are rarely happy when you want them to be. It’s why the most important family portrait tips surround the kiddos.
Now, you obviously can’t control when one child decides to attack another child with a transformer toy just like you can’t control when one child decides to have a meltdown because you cut their sandwich wrong. But, you can control a few things that are absolutely necessary if you hope to have a good shoot.
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For starters, make absolutely sure that all of the children are well rested before the photoshoot. If you decide to ignore all of the family portrait tips in the rest of this article, follow this one. Don’t plan a family portrait photoshoot during nap time. Don’t plan it too early in the morning. Don’t plan it too early in the evening. You want all of those kiddos well rested and ready to go.
You also want to make sure that everyone has eaten (and recently). I’ll get a lot of parents who are so worried about making sure that their kids’ clothing is clean that they won’t let them have snacks when they’re clearly hungry. Of course this leads to a horrific day of screaming and crying. I’m going to get to some wardrobe tips for family portraits later on in the article, but no wardrobe is worth having a hungry kid.
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I’ve read tons of family portrait tips over the years and very few of them touch on what you should make sure parents pack.
For starters, going off of my last point, bring lots of snacks. Of course, you don’t want to bring snacks that will stain your kiddos hands, teeth or tongue. You also don’t want to bring snacks that can melt or are incredibly messy. But, there are some good snacks you should pack. Things like crackers, dried fruit or meats and cheeses work wonders. Just make sure that you’re bringing far more snacks than you ever thought you would need. You’ll be thankful to have them.
You’ll also want to bring a second outfit for each person, as well as additional layers. You can follow all of these family portrait tips and still have a miserable photoshoot if everyone is freezing. And, no matter how careful you are about choosing your snacks, someone is bound to drop something somewhere. Bring backup clothing just in case.
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You should also bring any fun activities that the family likes to do together, especially if their children are young. For instance, you can bring bubbles or balls to play with. This helps to put everyone at ease and can actually lead to really fun pictures. Just make sure that your families bring whatever they enjoy.
P.S. I know I said I only had four family portrait tips for you, so I’ll count this as a bonus tip. If the family you’re photographing has a pet, but especially a dog, have them bring it along. Dogs automatically put children at ease (so long as the children are used to having the dog around). However, I’ve also had a family bring different snakes and lizards to a family photoshoot before and it turned out great.
Make Sure Everyone is Comfortable
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Just like my tip about the children needing to be happy, the parents need to be happy as well. Very few of my family portrait tips focus on this, because adults are just better at regulating their emotions than kids are, but one tip I always give parents is for them to wear something that they feel comfortable in.
I’ll frequently have parents show up in clothing that they want to like. Moms showing up in dresses that are just a little too short or too tight for their comfort zone and dads showing up in wingtips that have them limping rather than walking within a few minutes. You obviously want to look nice, but it is far important for you to be comfortable. I always let everyone know this upfront.
Once again, no family portrait photoshoot tips can make up for angry models.
Invest in Good Face Masks
You want to ensure that you're being as safe as possible when working with clients, and one of the best ways to do that is to have a good face mask to help mitigate the transmission of the COVID-19 virus.
f-stop makes a superb mask called the Dyota AG+ Ion that is washable, reusable, and has three breathable layers. There's a soft nose guard and adjustable ear loops to improve comfort, and the outer shell, which has a water-resistant treatment, wicks moisture away to help keep it dry.
The center layer is a non-woven poly that protects against particle and liquid penetration, and the innermost layer has a SILVADUR treatment to help prevent odors that result from frequent wear.
These masks are available in a variety of colors and are priced right at $19.99!
Capture Each Family’s Uniqueness
photo by Alessandro Biascioli via iStock
Another thing that family portrait tips can’t really do is give you advice for each individual family. It is especially important for you to make sure that you listen to your family. If they tell you that they adore football, then try and work that into your photoshoot. If their baby is just starting to crawl, then make sure you go somewhere where they can have fun and be safe.
Regardless of whether or not you listen to these family portrait tips, just make sure that you’re listening to your family. And when it’s all said and done, give them the option of getting big, beautiful prints of their favorite photos.
I personally like canvas for family photos because the texture of the canvas adds a little dimension to the shot. And since you can get canvas prints in very large sizes, they can make a nice statement piece for a family’s home.
If you follow my articles on PhotographyTalk, you know that I’m a big fan of CanvasHQ. I have dozens of prints from these guys and I have yet to be disappointed. That’s part of the reason why they won our $100 canvas print shootout in 2019 and again in 2020 - the quality of their prints is simply impeccable.
The CanvasHQ secret is in the quality of the materials they use. The frames are hand-build and made of kiln-dried wood. The canvas is archival grade that will last for decades to come. The inks CanvasHQ uses are also top-quality and resist fading.
Family portraits are an important part of a family’s history. Help retain that history by offering your clients the option of getting gorgeous canvas prints made by CanvasHQ!