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How to Take Good Photos with Tips Tricks for Family Portraits, Groups

Updated on November 15, 2016
janderson99 profile image

Dr. John applies his scientifis PhD, research skills & 30 years photography experience to develop reviews & guides for cameras, photography

Group and family photographs are always difficult. So much can go wrong and the longer it takes to get the set up 'just right' the more likely the photos will be ruined by lack of spontaneity and freshness.

Glee and excitement are the keys to good group photos rather than boring lifeless poses that lack sparkle.

Informal family portraits at celebrations and holiday gatherings are even more difficult because it is so hard to control things and get the set-up right.

People are so impatient and may be cheeky and unhelpful. So it pays to understand the problems and how they can be solved with various simple tips and tricks.

Grab the Spotlight - You will only be able to engage the group for a very short time and so it pays to do a lot of preparation beforehand.

  • Choose the location and make sure of the lighting and how you want to arrange the group
  • Get a friend to pose in the spot to check on the lighting focus, dimension and framing, before calling the group together.

Taking good photos is more about your technique and composition than the camera.
Taking good photos is more about your technique and composition than the camera. | Source

Work Quickly - Things hardly ever work on the spur of the moment, as this means multiple takes and everyone gets restless, start play up and their frustration shows. This means having the shot ready to go well in advance before you gather the subjects and start to pose. If you have trouble with your camera or the flash you will probably have lost it. So get everything ready well in advance.

Get Set but Don't Overdue the Composition - Don’t waste a lot of time optimising the placement of everyone and remember that the less composed the shot is the more natural will be the photograph. BUT you have to be able to see everybody's face so some rearrangement and re-positioning will be required.

Take Many Shots Quickly and Get the Standard Shots in the Bag before being more Adventurous - Start with the formal pose first (its what everyone will expect anyway), then encourage everyone to loosen up and do something unusual creative shots, which will often be the best usually are the best, but you need to work quickly before creativity turns to rebellion!

In a Flash - It is best to have one or two extra flash units with a long cord to provide in-fill light sources away from the lens. This helps eliminate red eye, that awful flat light appearance, the nasty shadow under the chin and shadows under caps and hats.

Get the Basic Composition Right - Beware of leaving too much empty space over the heads of the subjects. Ensure that the frame is filled and move people around so that the group fills the frame.

Squish your groups together - Make sure everyone is pushed tightly together. When families are a close-knit group, getting them 'up close and personal' radiates a warmth and appealing image. As a starter, try having people stand at slight angles with shoulders overlapping. Try to get people in layers using chairs (that are hidden from view).

Try to coordinate the clothing for a Formal Family Portrait - Try to get all members of a family to use a similar color scheme. Avoid extreme colors, clothing with prints and logos.
Stick with neutral full colours that are relatively free of embellishments, patterns and details.

  • Patterns, checks and prints can be distracting.
  • Trend-based fashion can quick make the photos appear out of date.
  • Darker colors are generally more flattering and slimming.
  • Light, flesh-toned colors tend to wash out the subject's faces even those with even tanned complexions.
  • Loud and very bright colors like bright orange, or electric blue can completely overpower the face. Bright colors also interfere with the lighting and exposure.

Check the Preview Screen for Blinking and People Glancing Away - While you can take multiple shots to try to eliminate the blinks this tactic will not always work. Learn to take a quick scan and just say the name of someone who is not paying attention to get them re-focused.

Try to get some Genuine Smiles with Good Jokes, Stories or Recollections Get everyone to do something they don’t normally do. Get some jokes or stories ready well beforehand.

Blur the background and Use the Right Settings - Always choose the biggest aperture setting possible, while making sure that you keep a sharp focus and allowing for small movements. You have to be aware that various people may be standing in different focal planes. The solution is a compromise - choose a setting a few steps smaller than the lenses widest aperture. Use the zoom button and preview screen to make sure everyone is in focus at the same time. Other settings - Image Size (RAW, fine), ISO (go as low as possible), Exposure Compensation, etc. Of course settings or out-door and in-door settings will vary as will the setting required for natural and artificial lighting, bright sun and overcast days.

Don’t let People Tilt their Heads Forward or into each other - Many people think they are doing you a favour if they tilt their heads towards the centre and lower their heads. But it ruins the composition and looks odd.

Choosing the Right Setting - If you’re planning an inside portrait choose the setting and background carefully. The same applies for outside shots - choose the setting very carefully and make sure it works.

Don't Try to Force People to Keep still for To Long - Allow the kids to run around while you get everything set up. Get the lighting and exposure settings and focus right by using someone else in the photo.

© janderson99-HubPages

© 2011 Dr. John Anderson


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  • Sophie Mortimer profile image

    Sophie Mortimer 5 years ago

    Thank you for pointing out that you need to work quickly with family or senior portraits. There is always a point of diminishing returns when everyone has lost patience but the photographer wants to get just one more good one. There will be no more good ones. There will only be glares.