Tired of the Same Old Family Photo Poses? Here are 5 Portrait Posing Tips!

Photographing big families can be stressful! These simple family portrait posing tips will help you take great pictures of even the most chaotic clients! (Photos by CLINT BARGEN)

Search the Internet for “family portrait posing” and you’ll find sun-kissed photos of smiling families reclining on beaches, strolling through parks, or enjoying unmeltable ice cream cones while their neatly-groomed dog sits sweetly at their feet.

The reality of family photography is often far less magical – and much more stressful! Parents are high-strung and exhausted, children and whiny and nap-deprived, and the family pet is determined to turn only his tush to the camera.

Mom, dad, and their two young sons pose for family portraits in front of a moody forest.
Even with excellent preparation, chaos is an unavoidable fact of photographing families. But these simple family poses can help you create beautiful family portraits with less stress – and results every family member is sure to love! | Photos by Clint Bargen

Family Portrait Posing Tip #1: Choose ONE Killer Location

When you’re trying to get five faces focused in your direction, the last thing you should be worrying about is your location. Choose a spot that provides two key features:

Keep It Easy With Open Shade

Open shade is that lovely, gentle light you find in the shade of a massive tree or on the sun-free side of a building.

Anywhere the light is even and soft, you can shoot your heart out without worrying about light-spots dappling your clients’ cheeks, harsh sun glaring in their faces, or deep shadows darkening their eyes.

A mom holds her young son while wrapped in a wool blanket.
Photo by Clint Bargen

Keep It Simple With A Gorgeous Backdrop

Cars driving by, joggers running past, unwanted street signs: these can all clutter your scene and ruin your photograph.

Sometimes the simplest spots make for the most beautiful shoots. Beautiful family portrait posing doesn’t require fields of flowers or massive architectural wonders. Those elements can be fun, but when push comes to shove, choose the location that guarantees the best outcome.

Family Portrait Posing Tip #2: Prioritize Groupings Over Poses

Kids lose interest in picture-time very quickly. To capture their brightest smiles, you’ll want to work quickly and ask the kiddos to do as little as possible.

A dad poses for portraits with his two young sons.
One of the most important aspects of family portraits is showing the bond that exists between family members. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to include everyone in every frame. Experiment with combinations such as mother and son, father and daughter, or the grandparents with the toddlers. | Photos by Clint Bargen

One solution is to diminish family portrait posing time, and prioritize the specific groupings your clients have requested. For example, let’s assume these clients requested photographs of:

  • the entire family together
  • Dad with the kids
  • Mom with the kids
  • the kids alone
  • and the parents alone

That’s five unique photographs that will require setup. If you add complicated family portrait posing to the mix, you’ll quickly burn through whatever energy your kid-clients may have left!

A husband and wife stroll through the woods with their two young sons in one of our favorite family portrait poses.
Photo by Clint Bargen

Rather than attempting multiple versions of the family grouping, settle on one comfortable pose of the family, then move on to the next grouping.

#ShootProofPRO Tip: Portrait Posing, Round Two!

If everyone is still in good spirits after you’ve completed the necessary groupings, you can begin the list again with a fresh set of family portrait poses!

Family Photo Posing Tip #3: Keep It Simple

Now that you’re focusing on a single pose for each grouping, you can relax and make your family photo poses truly lovely. Take the time to make sure your poses family look relaxed and natural, and ensure that their faces will all be in focus when you take the family picture.

Family Portrait Posing: A husband and wife pose together in the woods wearing natural tones.
Photos by Clint Bargen

You’ll Love This Easy Family Portrait Poses Series!

The best family posing often doesn’t look posed at all! These beautiful poses are recreations of real-life interactions. Let the following family portrait poses guide you:

Stroll & Smile

Invite the family to stand in a line, hold hands, and slowly stroll toward you. For a less-posed look, tell them to look at one another instead of at you. (“It’s okay to laugh!”)

Stand & Snuggle

At the end of their stroll, ask them to snuggle close. Maybe one or two of the children are little and should be held by the parents. Make slight adjustments as necessary, but you’ll likely find that the family naturally finds a “pose” that looks beautiful in a well-composed, well-exposed photograph.

Sit & Snuggle

Now invite the family to sit – right where they are. You may need to tweak their positions so they’re close together. Place kids in laps, or have a younger child stand with her arms around a parent’s shoulders. Encourage everyone to connect and interact in a natural way.

In less than 15 minutes, you’ve created six distinct family photographs from one initial pose!

A man in a blazer and striped shirt kisses a blonde woman on the forehead.
Photo by Clint Bargen

#ShootProofPRO Tip: Go Natural!

Choose poses that incorporate the family’s natural interactions. One kid only wants to be held by Mom? Build all your poses with Mom and mama’s-boy snuggled close. Is Dad significantly taller than everyone else in the family? Arrange your poses with Dad seated so you can easily keep the family’s faces on the same plane.

Family Poses, Tip #4: One Pose, Multiple Family Photos!

Maybe the above family poses don’t work for your clients. Maybe walking or sitting are impossible for one family member, or the kids are extra-challenging and you need to prioritize one simple setup.

We have great news: you can create a multitude of “looks” from a single pose!

Top family portrait poses: mom cuddles with her toddler son then kisses her husband in a woodsy outdoor session.
Photos by Clint Bargen

See the Big Picture

By changing lenses, zooming wide, or simply moving further away from your subjects, you can capture the space they’re in. These landscape-inspired photographs often wind up as canvases on clients’ walls, so don’t miss this opportunity to showcase the scenery!

Don’t Miss the Details

Telephoto lenses can do the trick, but physically moving closer to your subject changes your interaction with them and allows for some beautifully personal portraits and detail shots. These sweet close-ups are especially appreciated on your clients’ social media pages, and tend to get lots of likes.

Creatively focus on details like faces, hands, and even that sweet curl swooping over the baby’s forehead. 

Shift Your Perspective

Take a slow, 360-degree walk around your clients, and look for fresh angles. You might be surprised to find an entirely new family picture simply by taking a few steps in a new direction! And little ones who fuss when looking forward might show a happy face when they’re peering over Mom or Dad’s shoulder.

Parents are photographed from the waist-down, holding hands with their two toddler sons who are seen full-length in their fall outfits.
Photo by Clint Bargen

Family Poses, Tip #5: Consider An Assistant

If you’re still struggling to wrangle the kiddos, conjure smiles, and get great images, consider bringing an assistant along for family photographs. She doesn’t need to be a skilled portrait photographer – or any sort of photographer at all! What you really need is a helper with great energy, a love for children, and a steady hand to hold a reflector (if you like an added boost of light).

Your assistant can sing silly songs to make the babies laugh, straighten clothes once your family portrait poses are set, chase after wandering little ones, and hold family pets who need a break from picture-time.

Family portrait poses: a sweet family of four poses in the woods for beautiful portraits.
Photos by Clint Bargen

BONUS: Posing Rules & Tricks from Photographers Like YOU!

If you’ve nailed the simple family session and you’re ready for more complex challenges, read on to see how other photographers are enhancing their own family portrait sessions!

According to the pros we spoke with, here are 12 of the best family portrait poses to try at your next photo shoot:

#12: Shoot Reactions and Interactions

It’s okay if you prefer traditional, scripted family photos. But you should also consider letting your subjects relax and interact with each other in fun, playful ways. By highlighting their personalities, you’ll capture more natural poses and reactions.

#11: Kiss the Baby

Some parents will automatically kiss their kids. If they’re naturally affectionate, be ready to document these genuine moments! If the family is more stoic, encourage a kiss on the cheek or forehead. Photographers describe this as a must-have family photo when you’re wanting to capture the connection between the parents and the children.

#10: Hugging Poses

Hugging is one of those super convenient poses because, well, it’s not really a “pose.” This connection feels natural to most families, and you won’t have to do much directing to get some great hug photos. When posing families in a hug, be sure the parents are leaning toward their kids or kneeling low so everyone’s faces are photographed close together.

#9: Piggy-Back Rides

Family photography is extra-fun when there are siblings involved! If one sibling is bigger than another, you can ask if the older child can carry the younger one in a piggy-back ride. If the kids aren’t quite old enough (or steady enough) for that move, they’ll definitely love getting piggy-back rides from their parents!

#8: Form a Train

Let’s be honest, kids think trains are exciting! So what better way to organize a family into a pose than to tell them to make a train? Instead of a face-forward sitting pose, tell your subjects to sit one behind the other with their sides toward the camera. Now if you tell the kids to tickle their parents, you’ll get a fun series of silly shots!

#7: Play with a Pet

Furry friends are part of the family, too! Chat with your clients in advance to gauge the temperament and behavior of their pet. Most dogs and cats are well-trained enough to follow their owners’ commands, and, as long as you’re following leash laws, will be welcome in any outdoor space.

Make candid photos of the kids playing with their cat or the parents walking their dog. Encourage the family to bring treats or toys that you can hold to capture the pet’s attention, too!

#6: Lying Down

Ask the family members to lie down on their backs and form a circle with their heads together and their legs outstretched. You’ll shoot from above, employing the brilliant grass or textured floor as a backdrop. (A step-ladder might be necessary!)

For variation, you can have your clients lie on their stomachs, propped up on their elbows and arms. If it’s more comfortable, they can also rest their chins in the palms of their hands.

Note: be sure to check surfaces for dirt or moisture before asking anyone to lie down! You don’t want to spoil anyone’s outfit when the session has just begun.

#5: Festive Photos

Let your family portraits take inspiration from an upcoming event or holiday celebration. Take pictures of a family opening presents under a Christmas tree, snuggled beneath some Christmas holly, or decorating gingerbread cookies. If the family is celebrating a bris or the baptism of a newborn baby, document the props and tools involved in the blessing rituals. Whatever emphasizes the occasion should be included in your photos!

#4: Goofing Around

A family portrait doesn’t have to be formal or serious. In fact, you don’t need poses at all! Instead, encourage everyone to have fun, smile, and laugh. Outdoor family portraits in the winter are perfect for snowball fights, building snowmen, and making and snow angels. No snow? Kids love to jump in dry leaves or blow dandelions. And if your family is extra-energetic, it’s fun to direct a “jump shot” or, for babies, a sweet game of peek-a-boo.

#3: Follow the Leader

If you’re over all the standing and sitting poses, get your family moving! Arrange your subjects in a relaxed line holding hands. Tell the child on the end to walk, pulling their family behind them. They’ll love leading their parents and siblings in a mini parade as you snap photos of their smiles.

Any family portrait pose that involves holding hands is a great way to show connection. To enhance that vibe, tell the kids to look at their parents and vice versa instead of having everyone look directly into the camera.

#2: Play and Smile

Every parent knows the best way to make their own kids laugh or react. They know what games capture their young ones’ interest, and what elicits their silliest expressions. Encourage your clients to play with their kids just like they play at home. Do they like lifting the toddler into the air? Does the teen react with laughter when they’re hugged? Does the baby like their toes tickled? As long as safety is always considered, just about anything goes if it keeps everyone having fun!

#1: Everyone Relax on a Couch or Blanket

If you can drag a cool-looking sofa outside, you’ll have made that family’s favorite photo! But you don’t need a massive piece of furniture to create iconic family photo poses. Big fluffy blankets, lightweight chairs, and colorful ottomans are also fun props that especially interesting when used outside.

EXTRA: Shooting Advice from Other Photo Pros!

Once you know your camera like the back of your hand, you’re ready to try new compositions and techniques. Here’s what other photographers suggest to help take your family portrait poses to the next level:

Reframe for a Tight Crop

Full-length family portrait poses are a necessary part of telling a complete story, but you don’t want every picture to look the same. Experiment with more artistic photos by zooming in close, and widen your aperture to reduce distractions in the background. The facial expressions are the most important part of just about any photo, so pay close attention to your subjects’ faces.

Mind the Spaces

A too-tight crop won’t work well with large families. If you don’t leave enough space around a larger grouping, you’ll have a hard time cropping the image later for different-sized prints. Work on maintaining balance in your group photos with thoughtful placement and posing. Intimate, close-together poses create a more casual energy, while adding space between each individual hints at a more formal mood.

Whether they’re sitting or standing, you’ll need to pose each person individually when you’re working with a large family. That will ensure the most balanced final image with optimum print and product options during ordering.

Create Rows

This is one of the easiest family portrait poses to set up when you’re photographing several subjects. When you’re photographing grandparents, parents, adult relatives, teenagers, toddlers, and even babies, you need plenty of options, from sitting to standing to leaning; and creating rows will help you achieve this!

Instead of asking everyone to stand in a single line, position the family in two to three rows, with enough space to ensure no one’s face is hidden. Also pay attention to the positions of hands, legs, and arms. You’ll have a finished shot worthy of a magazine cover!

Tilt Your Camera

Most photographers show a preference for either vertical or horizontal frames. If you’re in a rut, switch up your routine with a new composition: vertical instead of horizontal, or vice versa. Remember the rule of thirds, and try new angles as you shoot. For example, move from shooting in a standing position to kneeling low on the ground.

Shoot in Continuous Mode

Much like shooting a wedding or busy event, making a family portrait involves motion and movements, and, if you’re not on your game, you might miss a moment. Taking multiple shots increases your chances of capturing crisp, clear, candid moments. To ensure even more options, have your assistant take photos from a different angle while you focus on the primary poses.

Bring the Right Lenses

If you bring several lenses or plan to switch out your gear a lot, you’ll definitely want an assistant to accompany you. You may not need a ton of gear, however, as long as you bring the right lenses for family photography:

Wide Angle or Telephoto

If you are shooting family portraits indoors, a wider lens like a 35mm or 50mm can help you navigate smaller spaces. For outdoor shoots, however, a 135mm or 200mm focal length lens can work beautifully since you aren’t constricted by space. If you don’t yet know which lenses work best for you, consider zoom lenses. A 24-70mm paired with a 70-200mm will give you all the coverage you could ever need!

Choose the Proper Light

Light is one of the most crucial aspects of any kind of shoot. If you are taking family portraits outdoors, you’ll want to scout out an area with ample, even lighting. For an indoor family portrait session in a dim or dark space, you’ll almost definitely want an assistant to help you set up flashes and manage any overhead lights.

Plan and Prepare

Before the session day, gather as much information as you can about the family’s photography preferences. Remember, you’ll be better able to provide what the client wants if you communicate about their personal style, how the family relates to one another, and what their hobbies are. Coordinate with the family to select the most appropriate location and props, and advise them on their wardrobe. They’ll be thrilled to collaborate with you to plan the perfect session!

What are your tricks for family portrait poses that flow smoothly?

Comment below!

Written by ANNE SIMONE & the ShootProof team | Photographs by CLINT BARGEN

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