What Goes into a Great Family Photography Shoot

I've been on both sides of a family photography shoot, and have learned little tips and tricks for making it your best shoot ever!

Have you ever had a family photography shoot? I’ve been on both sides of the camera for great family photography shoots, although in my career, I’ve mostly been the photographer. Family photographers may do other types of photography, like weddings, headshots, events, real estate, etc., but family photography is often the bread and butter. This is because while there are challenges associated with all types of photography, there is nothing more raw and real than family time. Whether you do candid or posed, or a mix of the two, your aim is to capture a fleeting and beautiful moment in time. Family time. Let’s talk about what goes into a GREAT family photography shoot below.

What Goes into a Great Family Photography Shoot:

1 – Equipment, of course:

I’m not just talking about cameras and lenses, but I’m also talking about lighting! These items are essential to your shooting space, whether you’re building a studio, or doing a photoshoot on location somewhere outdoors or in a church, rental hall, etc. No matter where or how you shoot, we recommend a full frame camera body, over a crop sensor, as well as lenses that have range. You may need wide lenses and long lenses for real estate shoots or weddings/travel, but for family shoots, consider lenses that range from 24mm to 85mm. This way you won’t distort your subjects, and will instead have them look as they do in real life. A great beginner lens for all, is a 50mm prime lens. It’s perfect for low light and creates beautiful bokeh.

In a studio, for lighting, you will need lights and light modifiers. Consider a simple, versatile setup with at least three strobes, light stands or c-stands, wireless synchronization, speedlights, and modifiers, such as umbrellas, which help to diffuse the light, control the mood, and add creativity as well. As you get more advanced, you can experiment with softboxes, octaboxes, gels, grids, reflectors, and more. Remember that you need a light stand for every light, and the stands need to be sturdier, the heavier your lights are.

2 – Other tools and props:

For both studio shoots and outdoor shoots, consider reflectors and tripods. Reflectors are great tools to give you immediate control in varied light conditions. They can fill in shadows, add light from windows, and create rim lights. As you know from above, light stands are important. You should also have tripods in your studio to get extra sharp images and to work with low lighting. Both reflectors and tripods can help you work with your lighting setup and your camera, to gain control of light and elements. For props, keep chairs, stools, small couches, and more on hand for photos, as well as fabrics, accessories and other fun things.

We GREATLY recommend backdrops, as they can remove distracting or boring backgrounds, and can be changed up with colors and seasons. It’s always fun to peruse Foxbackdrop and see the varieties. You can have a wonderful array of backdrops to entice clients for every occasion, from holidays to back to school to mini photo sessions, and more. This is an affordable way to keep your studio photography fresh and interesting. The backdrops help you to set the mood of your images, and to set your photography apart from other photographers.

Image from Foxbackdrop

3 – Shoot in manual mode:

It’s ok, and even great, to learn to shoot in a semi-automatic mode, like the P (Program) mode. Shooting in manual mode ensures that you have control over all of the elements. As long as you’re not dealing with the sun going in and out of clouds by the minute, once you set your settings, you shouldn’t have to change them much, if at all. Try setting the ISO and aperture first, and then if the light is changing, just have it so that you’re only moving the shutter speed. If your camera is set to Aperture or Shutter Priority Mode, rather than Manual, the camera could use a slightly different exposure for every single frame. You need control! This can affect post-processing greatly, as you want to get photos as good as possible IN the camera. Eventually it becomes like second nature, and you’ll be able to slightly adjust the exposure as the scenery, angle, and light changes, without it taking more than a second.

4 – Posing matters:

You may have heard to stagger the heads in a family portrait – this basically means to not have everyone just stand in a straight line together. Have people gather and get close, and place people where no one’s head will be missing. People tend to be rigid and stiff if they don’t know how to pose. You may need to get subjects to sit, or shift their weight. It also helps to stick out one hip and be at a slight angle, rather than directly facing a camera. You can also have a subject put a hand in a pocket. You can also try a finger through a belt loop. If they are sitting, have them lean forward a little.

5 – Let kids be kids:

One thing that usually backfires is to tell kids to say, “Cheeeese.”Then you get what we call the “monster smile” which often looks fake. Part of a great family photo shoot is having fun/going with the flow. You can bring along props, like stuffies or bubbles, and maybe let them explore the place before making them pose. You can sing, tell jokes, tell stories, and make it fun and playful for them, especially the younger kids.

6 – Group Hug!

Family photos should be all about love and togetherness. So, what better way to show that than doing a group hug! Simply get the children to snuggle up with the adults so everyone’s close to each other.

If you love taking pictures of families and want to make the most of these photographs, use our guide to help you get more from your family photos!

Similar Posts


  1. Such great tips. I have only done family photos for my actual extended family, but I really love it. I’ve always loved the creativity of backdrops. They seemed to lose favor for a while, but they can be so much fun.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.