How to take great family photos

3rd April, 2022

I take a million family photos on my phone but occasionally it’s nice to have a professional behind the lens to take the shots. Recently I had the pleasure of working with family photographer Felicity Cook who shot Luke and the the girls and I along with my extended family (see below for the finished product). She managed to make it look so easy, plus anyone who can handle five kids simultaneously and still get great shots is someone who has my admiration. It’s hard enough getting a nice shot of one! I wanted to tap into Felicity’s expertise to give my family photo taking a little more polish and here, I’m sharing her tips.

What’s your process for composing a shot?

“There are multiple factors to composing a shot. It depends how many people are in it, what your background is like, and what the focus of the shot is meant to be.

If you’ve got a large group, the group is the focus, and you’ll generally centre them, but if it’s one or a couple of people, and you’re in a beautiful location, you may focus on capturing the subjects within their surroundings, so a bit of both.

I also look at body language- if a child is snuggled up to a parent, I may focus on the moment that is happening, rather than trying to capture everything else going on in the shot.”

How do you deal when you have kids who refuse to look at the camera?

“Ahh, working with kids. They are equal parts fun, equal parts patience training! It can be a little daunting for some kids to look at a camera pointing at them. There are gizmos and gadgets you can invest in to try and distract them (puppets or funny things that attach to your camera), or you can simply work with them at their level. I like to try and bring them out of their shell—whether that means letting them sporadically let off steam (running around or climbing or whatever they need) and then bringing them back in, or engaging them in conversation just me and them, to let them know they’re in a safe environment. If all else fails, position yourself so that they’re looking at something behind you!”

What are your tips for choosing a location that will shoot well?

“I prefer uncluttered, natural locations. Too much clutter confuses the shot, and can detract from the moment you’re trying to capture. Somewhere that is void of excessive crowds is always easier—especially when dealing with easily distractable children! Above all, choose a location that suits you and your family. If you live for the water, a densely urban location might not fit who you are all that well. Similarly, if your kids aren’t confident around water, perhaps the beach isn’t the best place to be, choose a park or bushy location.”

What are some considerations people should take when it comes to lighting? 

“Contrary to what you might think, really bright sunny days aren’t great for photography! Soft lighting is much more forgiving than harsh light, so I always shoot in the early mornings or late afternoons. Natural lighting is best—unless you have proper studio lighting set up at home, steer clear of artificial lighting wherever you can. Even shooting at home, choose a location that gets natural, even light coming into it.”

What’s the key to getting a shots that are vibrant and have great energy?

“Keep it natural, and keep it fun! Forcing people to pose in positions that aren’t natural or comfortable for them won’t result in a great photo. If the kids want to run and climb, work with it! Get them to start at a point further away, and run towards you, and capture them as they come to you. If they’re feeling clingy, take cuddly photos. Dance, play music, make it fun, and the result will show it.”

Most people are using their phones to take family pics these days… do you have any tips for making the most of phone photography?

“Phone cameras are so advanced these days, you can get excellent shots on them. Avoid zooming in too much on a phone camera though, as most of them will pixelate (meaning they lose sharpness) as you zoom further in. Keep your phone straight on, so you’re not angling too far up or too far down, because proportions get a bit wacky. And just be mindful that a phone camera is not the same as a professional camera! You can get great shots of your loved ones on your phone, but you might not be able to get large format landscape photography happening on your iPhone (although if someone has managed that, you can correct me on that one!).”

What are some big no-nos when it comes to taking family photos?

“Everyone has a different style when it comes to photography. I personally go for a light, bright, natural feel. Some photographers prefer a darker, moodier look—both equally amazing, but quite different from each other!

Depending on the style you’re going for, what does and doesn’t work will differ. For light, bright photography, wearing dark clothes won’t really help you get that soft, dreamy look. But for moody photography, it’s perfect. Bold patterns and logos on shirts are generally a no-go for most styles of family photography, because they detract from the shot, and can throw out the balance if one person has bright green frogs on their shirt, and everyone else is wearing plain colours!

Height differences can cause some odd no-nos in photos too. If you’re on a bit of a slope, having the tallest person on the high side and the shortest person on the low side will give you an almost Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole look, which doesn’t flow well.

And don’t cut off heads or feet, except when doing portrait close ups! A beautiful family portrait can be ruined by one person having their feet cut off at the bottom of the shot. It’s easier to crop a photo than to add to it!”

Kids will generally have a short attention span when it comes to taking photos… what are your tips for ensuring you a great shot quickly and without too much fuss?

“Be prepared. The moment passes super quick, and nine times out of 10, they won’t repeat it for you. Take more than one shot of a moment or if your phone/camera allows, take a burst in quick succession. It will give you a greater chance of getting a good shot. Kids are also super fast (as we all know!), so a fast shutter speed is a necessary.

But the biggest key is patience. If they’re getting fidgety, take a break, distract them with something else (if there’s a Mr Whippy van, go get an ice cream!).

And respect their wishes. If they don’t want to be in a photo, don’t force them. It’s not fair on them, it will stress you out, and you won’t get a memory worth keeping. Take a breath, try the distraction, and then regroup and see if they’re ready again a little later.”

What are your tips for editing? Are there any apps you’d recommend? 

“There are SO many apps out there for editing photos, I can’t even name them. It really depends what you like your photos to look like, but I prefer to keep shots as close to natural as possible. You can download the Lightroom app and use it for free on your phone, and you can purchase presets that help you edit your photos at the click of a button (or you can discover how to make edits yourself).

Instagram is also a great editing tool- I often use Instagram to edit my own personal photos. The biggest trick with editing is colour. Especially skin colour. Focus on ensuring that people’s skin colour looks as natural as possible- make the photo too cool, and they’ll look a little purple, make the photo too warm, and you’ll have orange Oompa Loompas!”

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