Shooting A Family Portrait Session Part 1

Shooting A Family Portrait Session Part 1

If you’re a professional portrait photographer, this one is for you, because we’re going to share a few of our TOP TIPS in this article about shooting a family portrait session. Everyone knows that it’s important to capture beautiful photographs at a portrait session, but it’s one thing saying it and another thing to actually do it.

Photographs from a good family portrait session will be treasured for many years to come. It’s an incredibly rewarding area of photography, but it can also be a little daunting for new photographers to enter into. Your first priority should be to build a rapport with the family. Also, you should pay attention to the children to keep them on board. This will help you to meet the parents’ expectations and then everyone will be happy!  

So where do you start? Which camera settings should you choose? Here are some important pointers to help your family portrait sessions go smoothly...

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Tip N0.1: The Children’s Eye Level - Do you want to build a rapport with the children from the family that you’re photographing? One of the most effective ways of successfully building a rapport with children is to get down to their eye level. This is a widely used technique among many professions that involve working with children. Being on the same level makes a child feel like they have your full attention (like you’re speaking to an equal and not the normal definition between a child and an adult). So, bare this in mind when you’re involved in child photography.  

Doing this will lead to far more engaging photographs, as well as helping you to interact better with the child, because when children are happy, they’re more likely to respond to what you’re saying and they’ll want to keep you happy by following the instructions that you’ve given to them. When you’re speaking to a child, talk calmly, a little slower than you would normally do (as if you were talking to another adult) and be sure to smile a lot. If you’re friendly, they’ll probably be your new little best friend by the end of the session!

Tip N0.2: Centre Point Focus - Different focus settings suit different types of photography, but centre point focusing tends to be the most useful for family portraits. As you take more and more family portraits, you’ll get a feeling for whether this suits you or not. Either way, it’s a great starting point for your first session if you haven’t done one before!

If you don’t get on with it very well, then you could always take a look at your camera and see what the other settings are. Ask family members of friends to help you out if you need subjects to shoot. Before you go and accept a job to shoot a family portrait session, you should know exactly what you’re doing. So, the matter of the focus setting should have been decided well in advance for that particular shoot.

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Tip N0.3: Appropriate Aperture - Your aperture settings will be influenced by the style of photography that you prefer. As a starting point, many lifestyle/ family portrait photographers choose to shoot wide open for individual portraits (f/2.2 works really well). We suggest using around f/5.6 for group shots to ensure that everyone is in focus.

Oh, and before we forget, always double check the image before moving on. What if the image has blurred or the child on the end isn’t in focus at all? That’s no good to anyone and your clients certainly won’t be purchasing those images. You’re only as good as your weakest photograph, so be sure that you have a decent number of good quality images to show your clients at the end of the session.

Tip N0.4: The Shutter Speed - You will probably find yourself needing a slightly faster shutter speed for family portrait sessions than you’d need for many other kinds of portraits. Children move fast, and sometimes unpredictably! Then of course, the parent will follow to either stop them from doing what they’re doing, or they’ll be looking at the child and not the camera when the photo is being taken. Not every photo will come out absolutely perfect, but having a fast shutter speed will help you out a lot!

Of course, you can increase the shutter speed if movement is intentional. You can definitely get creative with this one. A good setting to start with is 1/250th. This will give you flexibility for children rolling over or waving. If you have a situation where someone is moving very fast, such as a child jumping or racing off into the distance, choose a much faster shutter speed like 1/800th.

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Tip N0.5: Auto ISO - While you’re familiarising yourself with the apertures and shutter speeds that work for you during family portrait sessions, consider setting your ISO to auto mode. The results are usually satisfactory and it’s one less thing to think about on the day.

As you gain experience and confidence, you can start to select the ISO as you go along and you’ll know what ISO off that bat the situation calls for. However, don’t try and jump into this too soon before knowing your stuff. You could end up sacrificing images because you’re trying to run before you can walk. Let the camera help you out a bit before controlling everything yourself. Think of these settings as metaphorical stabilisers. Anyhow, that is it from us for Part 1. We’ll have Part 2 of the article coming next week for you, so stay tuned for the next half!

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