Photography Cheat Sheet: Family Portrait Photography Tips

Family portrait photography can be challenging, but this cheat sheet will help you nail those beautiful portraits on your next shoot.

Family portrait photography is one of those genres we find ourselves shooting one way or another. Whether for work or personal projects, it can be tricky to get these portraits just the way you want them. However, with some planning and the help of this cheat sheet, you’ll be on your way to overcoming some of the most common obstacles to getting better family portraits.

A quick tutorial shared by Digital Camera World on TechRadar provides a handful of tips for family portrait shoots, both indoors and outdoors. Many of these tips apply to your regular portrait photography — minus playful, crying children, maybe — so you’re a step ahead if you’ve been getting some portrait practice. If you’re trying it out for the first time, the cheat sheet below will guide you through some shooting situations and camera settings that are typical for family portraits.

You may find yourself wanting to shoot indoors in natural light, for example, when you find a nicely lit spot next to a window. The cheat sheet above guides you through shooting two ways with a reflector to get a variety of results. Front-lit portraits can be done head-on to soften the features, or angled to model your subjects. If you want to do the portraits back-lit style, the reflector will come in handy to direct some of the light onto your subject.

If you’re shooting indoors without enough light, you’ll have to combine flash with the ambient light. You may also need to increase the ISO so you can get shutter speeds fast enough for shooting handheld. The key to this scenario is to expose for the ambient light first so it’s not too dark, then add some fill-in flash for a balanced look.

When shooting outdoors, you can do it with natural light alone or combine it with flash. As with shooting indoors in natural light, you can also do it front-lit or back-lit. Bouncing the light from the sky using a reflector or large sheet of white card will help soften the shadows. Overcast conditions will produce a soft, flattering light. On sunny days, however, you’ll do well to position your subject with the sun behind them to avoid harsh shadows. You may also want to try creating a more prominent focus on your subject by shooting with a larger aperture to produce a more shallow depth of field.

Lastly, when shooting outdoors with flash, follow the same tips for shooting indoors and expose for the ambient light first. Fill-in flash will also produce a more beautiful and natural-looking shot. Another creative style you can try is to use flash to get a moody result. Deliberately underexpose the background by increasing the shutter speed by two stops, then fire up the flash (increasing the power if necessary) to adequately light up the subject.

Cover photo by Felix Esser