Don'ts of Family Portrait Poses

My name is Richard Wong and I’m a wedding and portrait photographer based in Auckland New Zealand and have been shooting professionally for about 15 years. My website is www.photobyrichard.com. and my youtube channel -Richard Wong.

One of the most challenging things as a portrait photographer is how to pose my clients during a photoshoot. So in this article I want to share with you some of the tips and tricks I’ve learnt over the years about posing my clients when doing family portrait photoshoots.

But instead of telling how to pose the family for you to follow and memorise, I feel it’s better to tell you what are the things you should not do and the reasons behind them.

This way you can avoid some of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in the past when doing a family photoshoot and you will be able to capture some better and more nautural and authentic photos for the family.

Don’t Rush

Family Portrait Poses

I remember the first time I was asked by a family to take some photos for them. I was really nervous and really stressed. I have been shooting for a while but most of the photos I shot were not focused on people. So I don’t really know how to handle the photoshoot, how to communicate with the family, how to pose them.

And the truth is, even after shooting portraits and weddings for so many years and having done hundreds of photoshoots, I’m still feeling nervous every time when I pick up my cameras. Maybe just not quite as much as it was 15 years ago.

But the thing is, when a family booked me to take photos for them or it maybe even just a friend ask me to help take some photos for them, the chances are, it’s the first time some of the family members are in front of the camera formally for some photos.

They are probably also very nervous and not sure what to do as well. So unless you are doing your first photoshoot, they probably are more anxious than you. So when I start a photoshoot, I would tell myself don’t rush and don’t immediately ask them to start posing and getting too serious right at the beginning.

Take the time to get familiar with the family, and let them get familiar with me. Spend a bit of time talking to them, talk to the kids and take some casual photos first.

It doesn’t really matter what photo I take and whether the photo looks nice or not. If you got some nice photos, you can show it to them as well. The idea is, make everyone feel relaxed, make everyone feel comfortable with me standing in front of them holding a large camera pointing towards them.

We need to warm up our body before we exercise, this is the same for taking photos, especially portraits. The more time I spend to warm up everyone (that includes myself), usually the better photos I would get later in the photoshoot.

Don’t Pose

Family Portrait Poses

Once I feel everyone feels more relaxed, this is the time I start to pose them. And when I said pose them, I actually don’t mean that. Remember I said it’s probably the first or second time the family is in front of the camera so they may feel a bit nervous.

It’s the same if you ask them to pose as they probably have never posed before. Well, the parents of the family may have posed for their wedding photos but it was probably quite a few years ago.

If I ask them to stand at a 45-degree angle, twist their body, and then turn heads towards the opposite side of where their body is facing and then hold their hand together in some weird unnatural angle because it looks good in the photo, I really can’t blame them if their pose is very stiff and they look more like robots than human.

Normal people can’t suddenly turn into a professional model within an hour or two. Giving complicated posing instructions to normal people just wouldn’t work, 10 times out of 10.

So instead of posing them, I would usually try to guide them. I would try to describe the image I have in my head and try to give some easy to follow guidelines and tips on what I would like them to do.

For example, I would tell them, I want to capture some candid moment when the family is talking to each other. So everybody please sit down on the bench over there. Let the kids sit on the side so they can see you. Everybody sits a bit closer than you normally would, and then you can talk about what are the plans for the next weekend.

This way, I am helping them to sit in the way I want them to be, but without actually posing them or give them any very precise instructions they need to memorise. They would feel more relaxed and look more natural and authentic in the photos.

Don’t give up

Family Portrait Poses

If you follow my suggestions and try to guide the family to sit/stand/walk in a way you’ve imagined in your head, it’s quite likely the result still isn’t exactly what you want to be. Maybe one of the family members over-acted and exaggerated their movements, or they just still feel a bit nervous and don’t look relaxed in the photo.

This is completely normal and happens to me all the time. When that happens, I would usually try to change their “pose” and try something a bit different.

For example, “Ok guys, that looks great! What about we let little Matthew stand in the center so Daddy and Mummy can look at him and Matthew can tell us what’s the favourite thing he did last week”.

Just keep trying different things, ask them to stand up, or sit down, close their eyes and relax, move to a different location..etc. and sooner or later, something would work eventually and once I found what works the best for this family, it will only get easier.

Sometimes it may take a while and I just can’t get the photo I want to capture, but under no circumstances I could show any sign of frustration or let the family notice I’m not happy with the photos.

Not only this is very unprofessional, it also would make the family feel nervous and not confident in front of the camera, which would only make the photo look worse.

Don’t ask them to smile

Family Portrait Poses

We want to capture some happy beautiful photos and memories in the family photoshoot so we want the family to smile when you take the photo.  But the worst thing I could do is by asking them to smile during the photoshoot. Ask a little kid to smile for you.  

I can guarantee the photo would look terrible. Most people, not just children don’t really know how to smile naturally if they were asked to do so. Instead, I usually try to make them smile, or laugh naturally instead.  I don’t mean I need to dress in a clown suit when I go to a photoshoot, but try saying something that would make people feel happy.

Maybe tell the children how beautiful their dress is, how I like the way they stand, ask them what is their favourite song and if you can sing with them together. When they smile because they are happy, that smile is a hundred times more beautiful and natural than the smile they can do by asking them to smile.

Don’t just stand there

Family Portrait Poses

Strictly speaking, this is not related to posing the family at all. But this is one thing I feel is very important. Unfortunately, this is also one thing I noticed a lot of professional photographers don’t pay attention to. This is the way I stand when taking photos.

If you are confused, let me explain a bit more now.

When we are taking portrait photos, the height of the camera would greatly affect how the photo would look. Usually, I found the best camera height is if it’s at the same height as my subject’s eye level. Or just slightly below.

The photos look most natural and you can also capture the scenery behind as the photo’s background.  If I shoot from a low angle and point the camera up, or shoot from a higher angle and point the camera down, the photo would look very different.

This is especially noticeable if I’m shooting with a wide-angle lens, there would be a lot of distortion and the body proportion would look unnatural (the head looks bigger, or super long body). While this could work if you are very careful with your composition and can be used creatively to help you create some unusual photos, but if you are just starting, I would suggest you keep the camera angle as level as possible.

Family Portrait Poses

This is usually quite easy if we are taking photos of adults as the height difference between ourselves and other adults is usually quite small.  However, it is a lot more tricky when we are taking photos of children as they are usually quite a bit shorter than us.

So if I am just standing and pointing the camera to a child that is also standing, I would be pointing the camera downwards.  The photo would look exactly like how adults look at children, which you can say it’s “natural”. But it’s probably not a very flattering way to take photos of the little kid.

Bend your knees or just sit down so you can take a photo from the eye level of the kid, the photo would look a lot more pleasing.

Try it yourself the next time you need to take photos of a kid. Take a photo by just pointing the camera down to the kid, then sit down on the floor and take another photo immediately and see which one looks better. You will be very surprised how big the differences are just by moving the camera height down a bit.

 

I hope these tips will help your next family photoshoot.

And if you have any good tips and tricks you found reall help your photoshoot, please drop a comment below share with me as well as I also would love to learn from you guys!

By Richard Wong          

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