How to shoot family with Clint Bargen

Great article from ShootProof's blog by Anne Simone

Search the internet for “family portraits,” and you’ll find sun-kissed photographs of smiling couples with beautiful children reclining on beaches, strolling through parks, or enjoying unmeltable ice cream cones while the family 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.


Even with excellent preparation, chaos is an unavoidable fact of photographing families. But these simple posing tips can help you create beautiful family portraits with less stress – and results your clients are sure to love!

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:

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 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. You don’t necessarily need fields of flowers or massive architectural wonders to make beautiful portraits. Those elements can be fun, but when push comes to shove, choose the location that guarantees the best outcome.

Emphasize Groupings, Not Poses

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


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

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

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


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

Keep It Simple

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


The best family poses often don’t look like poses at all! They are recreations of real-life interactions. Try these approaches:

  • Invite your 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!”)
  • 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.
  • Now invite your 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 snuggle and interact in a natural way.

In fewer than five minutes, you’ve just created three distinct family photographs from one initial pose!


Pro Tip: Choose poses that integrate 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 poses with Dad seated so you can easily keep the family’s faces on the same plane!

Be the Tripod

Maybe one of the above scenarios doesn’t work for your clients. Maybe walking or sitting are a challenge for one family member, or the kids are extra-challenging and you need to focus in on only a single setup with no additional direction. We have great new! You can create a multitude of “looks” from a single pose!


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!

Shift Your Perspective

Take a slow, 360-degree walk around your clients, looking for fresh angles. You might be surprised to find an entirely new portrait 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.


Tilt Your Camera

Most photographers show a preference for either vertical or horizontal frames. If you’re in a rut, though, you might try switching up your routine with a new composition! Remember the rule of thirds, and play around with your own angle – move from shooting in a standing position to shooting while kneeling low on the ground.

Consider An Assistant

If you’re still struggling to wrangle kiddos, conjure smiles, and get great images, consider bringing an assistant along for family photographs. She needn’t be a skilled photographer – or any sort of photographer! What you really need is a helper with great energy, a love of 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 babies laugh, straighten clothes once the family is in position, chase after wandering little ones, hold family pets who need a break from picture-time, and of course handle reflectors and diffusers as needed.


… become part of the ShootProof family today!