Family Photo Tips: How To Rock Your Next Outdoor Family Photo Shoot!

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Family Photo Tips: How To Rock Your Next Outdoor Family Photo Shoot!

Are you looking for family photo tips for your next indoor or outdoor family photo shoot?  Look no further!  Today let’s talk about some of the techniques you can use when taking family portraits.  Whether you are a pro or a hobbyist helping a friend out with photos for her personalized Christmas card (it’s still a thing), these tips will work for you!  There is an easy way to create unique and striking images that will dazzle.

Family Photo Tip #1


The key to a successful family photo shoot is as simple as this:  Make sure the family has a great time!  Many parents are feeling stressed by the time they have gotten everyone all spiffed up for their photo session.  Think about all of the work it takes to prepare yourself, your spouse, and one, two, three, or more kids!

First, there is choosing well-coordinated outfits.  Next comes the hairstyles, making sure everyone’s face is clean and that shirts are tucked into pants.  Now imagine that someone in the family isn’t thrilled to have photos taken in the first place (I’m looking at you, dad!).  Arranging for family pictures is a lot of stress and work just getting to the site all put together on the day of the photoshoot.

The best thing you can do for yourself and the family you’re about to photograph is to put them at ease, knowing that they can relax once they get to you.  I like to tell my clients in advance that their work is done once they arrive at the shoot, and the rest is up to me.  Their job is to relax and follow a few basic instructions.

I also like to let mom and dad know that they don’t have to ask the kids to smile.  Asking them to smile is one of the best ways to get a cheesy, plastic expression and that’s not the mark of great photos.

Give Them What They Want

The pictures moms and dads love best after a family photo session are the ones that show a happy family.  The best way to get a family to look happy is to have them actually FEEL happy while you’re taking photos.  It’s not brain surgery.

It’s much more straightforward, and thank goodness for that!  Sometimes we get so caught up in posing everyone perfectly that we forget to capture the simple moments when parents and children are naturally interacting.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s okay to put family members into a posed position, but let them have fun while getting situated and capture the fun!  A fun technique that puts people at ease and allows them to have a good time is to prompt them instead of posing them. You might be surprised to find that a shot like this is a favorite over the perfectly posed shot with forced smiles.

Photo by pixelheadphoto from Getty Images Pro

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Family Photo Tip #2

Let the Kids Direct

Let’s talk about some great ways to get that family having a hoot of a time!  A great way to ensure that the kids have fun is to feel involved in family photo session decisions.  I ask the kids to think about what kind of pose they’d like and then run with it.  If they have a tough time coming up with something, feel free to throw out a few fun suggestions.

Ask them if they like to hug mom and dad.  If they say yes, have parents sit on the floor or a bench and have kiddos hug them from behind.  Prompting like this is a fantastic way to get natural poses.

Pink background with "Hip Grandma Merch" available on front

Another shot I love is called “the family pile,” (shown below) and preteens love it!  Remind them to be a bit gentle when they climb on top of their parents.  The bottom line is this:  When the kids are involved in how they want to be photographed, they tend to enjoy the experience much more and reward you with natural smiles and laughter.

Photo by Veronicajune Photography

Family Photo Tip #3

Embrace Action Shots

One of the easiest family photoshoot ideas, especially for an outdoor family photo shoot, is to build in plenty of opportunities for action shots.  Little people seldom like to be corralled for too long, so take advantage of that energy and let them run!  A picture of the kids running is an excellent snapshot in time. Parents will look back and remember how active the kids were at this age.  Have mom and dad stand back and have the little one run to you.

Here’s a bonus tip for outdoor family photography!  When you take a photo of kids running with parents in the background, be sure to open up your aperture (smaller #) so the parents are slightly blurred.  Making the parents appear a wee bit fuzzy by understanding depth of field keeps the focus right on those happy faces! 

Family Photo Tip showing a toddler running toward the camera
Photo by Veronicajune Photography

They Work For Everyone

Another family photoshoot idea that works if your youngest subjects are bashful or at the age of stranger danger is this:  Shoot from behind the parents and have the kids race toward mom and dad.  This could be an especially fun image if you have mom and dad hunch down close to the ground and open their arms to the oncoming hug.  Capturing this outdoor photo from a low angle can give you a really unique perspective.

If you’re working with parents and a toddler or preschool-aged child, another great shot that will give you natural smiles is to have dad toss that busy toddler up in the air a wee bit while mom watches on.  Be ready for smiles all around!  In this instance, you will want to have your camera a smidge lower than mom and dad, looking up at the child’s happy face. 

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Family Photo Tip showing a mom and dad lifting baby up
Photo by Veronicajune Photography

Everyone loves a fall leaf pile shot.  Even dads (or should I say especially dads), get into the fun of throwing leaves in an autumn photo shoot. Be ready by setting your camera to a fast shutter speed and on burst mode for this shot.  Take a bunch quickly to catch the action mid-throw.  Leaf-throwing is one kind of action that’s guaranteed to give your subjects natural smiles!

Family playing in the leaves
Photo by Veronicajune Photography

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Family Photo Tip #4

Capture Details!

Some of my clients’ favorite photos are the ones they don’t expect.  Make a point to capture some tiny details when you’re photographing the family.  What mama doesn’t want to look back and remember Little fingers grabbing mom’s hand, or tiny feet compared to big feet or the long lashes on that sweet little one’s eyes.  Parents love these shots, and they are an added bonus when you deliver the final photos.  When you are zooming in super close for details, use a clip-on Diopter to help you get super close to those lashes or even fingerprints. It’s much less expensive than a macro lens and will allow you to capture the tiniest details in your photos.  It snaps on and off your lens in a jiffy and will tuck right into your pocket, too!

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Family Feet image
Photo by Koca777 from Getty Images Pro
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Photo by Pixabay

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Family Photo Tip #5

Highlight Interactions

Another excellent family photo tip is to be sure and keep an eye out for natural interactions between family members while you’re shooting.  Genuine moments are the best!  Be watchful for teen siblings making faces at one another or mom straightening someone’s tie or sneaking a peek at her handsome husband.

If your client is a little stiff, you can set them up as I did in the photo below.  Have mom and dad share a little kiss and let the kids show how completely disgusted they are.  The “gross kiss” is one of my all-time favorite family photos.  These boys were happily horrified that mom and dad were sneaking a smooch behind their backs, and it shows how much fun this family had.

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Parents kissing with kids making ew faces
Photo by Veronicajune Photography

Don’t be afraid to let your subjects have a moment of quiet during their family photoshoot.  Some folks are wired for a more subtle kind of fun, especially if their kiddos are still little.  One of my favorite types of shots shows a genuine moment of connection between mama and baby.  Note how the little greenery on the left side gives this image the feel that the viewer is peeking in on a natural moment.  So sweet!

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Photo by Daria Shevtsova

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Family Photo Tip #6

Capture Genuine Expressions

Finally, even though the overall subject of your photo shoot is joy and happiness, it is sometimes fun to capture a little bit of the family’s daily reality, too.  My friend, DeeAnn Feick of DeeAnn Feick Photography took outdoor family photos for me last fall.  She snapped this shot of me talking to my son (then 12 years old) as we prepared for the next image.  It looks a little like an outtake because of my son’s facial expression.  However, those with teenagers may recognize that look of annoyance common to many kids as they turn into teenagers.  I love this photo because it shows who he is and how he really felt about what I said.  So, as the photographer, don’t be afraid to take some shots with very natural expressions and deliver a few with your gallery.  I bet mom will thank you.

Outdoor family photo shoot showing mom and son

I’ve taken photos of families and children for over 20 years. In that time, I cannot count how often I’ve heard parents compare two side-by-side images of their child that look so similar and specifically choose one or the other due to a particular facial expression.  It is not unusual at all to hear, “Wow! That’s a Johnny face for sure!” Parents know their children’s faces and daily expressions better than anyone.  Since you’ve been invited into their world for a moment in time, be sure not to discount some of these shots with very “real” expressions!

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Putting it All Together

When someone asks you to take their family photos, your job is to capture them looking and behaving in as natural a way as possible.  Most parents would far rather see genuine smiles than stiff poses with fake smiles.  As a family photographer, make it your mission to get those natural smiles without asking them to “say cheese.”

The very best way to do that is to let loose and get that family to play during their session!  Whether they play quietly or boisterously, a family having a great time makes great memories.  If you capture them in action, interacting, and having genuine fun, each time they look at their photos of the day, they will remember what a great day it was.  And likely, they will call you again next time they need family photos!

All in all, it is your job to deliver great photos.  Great photos result from knowing how to use your equipment and then helping your subjects feel comfortable and relaxed.  With these tips and techniques, you’re off to a great start!  Now get out there and have some fun!  If you have an idea (or ideas) for how to make a family feel at ease while in an indoor or outdoor session, be sure and leave a comment below.  I love it when photographers share ideas and work together!

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Pin image for an outdoor family photo shoot showing a family with a blue background

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