family portrait photography
skills to have for family portrait photographers


UPDATED: March 1, 2024

Family portrait of 5 peopleI picked the right spot with attractive lighting and a pleasing background.
I set the camera to the right settings, then used a "W" pose for this family portrait.

Creative family portrait photography is an art form and takes years for many photographers to master. Although I've been creating family portraits professionally for over 40 years, I still strive to improve my craft each and every photography session I do.

Are you looking to improve your own family portrait photography skills or maybe explore what skills you need to earn money taking portraits as a pro?

This posit will serve as a guide to both the photography know-how and business proficiency, as well as give you additional helpful resources. 

Skills For Taking Good Family Portraits

As with most photography, camera settings, lighting and composition are importance, but it goes much deeper than that. It's also about emotion and relationships and how you arrange the posing. You need to learn how to get your subjects to relax as well. We'll cover more on that in a minute.

First, let's look at a list of desired skills in three different categories for successful family portraits.


  1. Camera Settings
  2. Lens Selection
  3. Lighting Techniques
  4. Posing/Composing
  5. Editing

Business SKILLS

  1. Marketing/Promotion
  2. Client Relationships
  3. Financial/Accounting

personal SKILLS

  1. Patience/Understanding
  2. Communication
  3. Time Management

Now let's look in more detail at each one of these categories of skills for family portrait photographers.

Photography Skills for portraits

1. Camera Settings

APERTURE.  Use a lens opening (f/stop) that is small enough to have everyone in sharp focus, but also large enough to render the background pleasantly out of focus. For more see the posts on Aperture and on Depth of Field.

SHUTTER SPEED. Use a shutter speed that's fast enough to prevent blur from subject movement or camera shake. See more on the best Shutter Speed for natural lighting portraits.

ISO. Use an ISO setting high enough to get a good exposure under the lighting conditions you have, but not too high to diminish the image quality too much.

2. Lens Selection

WIDE ANGLE. Use a wide angle lens for photographing large family groups and group photos when you're indoors with limited space. Super wide angle lenses give you a stronger perspective of your subject.

NORMAL. Normal focal length settings for portraits are good for shooting small group photos and full length individual portraits

TELEPHOTO. Longer telephoto lens settings are good for shooting head shots and close-up portraits. Telephoto lenses give you a more pleasing, flat perspective of your subject

3. Lighting Skills

Gaining the skills to see and sometimes modify the lighting with flash or reflectors involves a steep learning curve. For me, it's a lifelong activity. You need to get experienced in natural lighting, artificial lighting (floodlights and strobes) and sometimes learn how to balance both of these together in the same portrait. This website has dozens of helpful posts on Photographic Lighting and Portrait Lighting.

4. Posing Family Portraits

Posing more than two people for a portrait can be an artform, but there are plenty of posing guidelines that are helpful to follow initially, especially for beginning family photographers. See my Posing Guide for different group size arrangements of families.

5. Editing Skills

If you do all of the other things perfectly, you'll have very little need for editing your family portraits. Unfortunately, if you're anything like me, you'll need to do some photo editing to improve some of your photos in one or more aspects.

Whether it's just simple adjustment to exposure, cropping in tighter to isolate your subject, or doing a complex "head swap" today's editing software is remarkably sophisticated. You can overcome mistakes as well as dramatically enhance the family portraits you shoot. Here are a few basic Editing Tips.

Business Skills For Family Portrait Photographers

I had few business skills when I opened my business, The Traveling Photographer, as a family portrait photographer in 1984. Somehow we survived, but I would have fared much better if I had developed some business skills first.

1. Marketing

FREE OFFER. By far, the most effective promotional technique I used was to get my business off of the ground was to make a free offer to potential clients. Back in the day, I found the new baby lists in the local newspapers, looked them up in the printed phone book, and hired a telemarketer to cold call the new parents, and offer them a free in-home portrait session, along with a complimentary 5x7 print.

REFERRALS. If you fully satisfy a customer's expectation, they'll gladly refer a few potential prospects to you. Word-of-mouth advertising from clients that you have taken great care of are the best advertisement you can possibly benefit from.

WEBSITE. It's easy to build your own website, or have one built for you. It's much more challenging to get your website to show up in the search results. Make sure your website is full of references to your specific geographic location.

2. Client Relationships

A list of satisfied clients is your biggest asset as a family portrait photographer. Regular communications, without overdoing it to the point of annoying clients, is the best way to keep your clients aware of you and the services you offer.

They've already invested in your photography at some point and you want to keep them happy and make sure they stay YOUR clients.

3. Financial Skills

Running a small family portrait business doesn't have to be complicated, but you do need to keep your finances organized and up to date. Basic software can help you control costs and evaluate the best income and profit areas of your business no matter what size it is. I kept my overhead super low by running my business out of my home and photographing ALL of my clients on location.

Corporate, wedding, team, and event photography may involve signing contracts and special liability insurance.

Needed Personal Skills

Your business will not thrive if you are abrasive with your prospective clients or your existing clients. You may be able to shoot gorgeous family portraits, but if you are rude with your clients it will hurt you in the end.

1.Patience And Understanding

As a family portrait photographer you'll run into challenging subjects at times. Having both patience and understanding with unique people and unique situations will aid you in getting great family portraits.

2. Communication

If you have outstanding people skills you'll succeed as a portrait photographer, even if your portraits are average. No doubt, your portraits will "sell themselves" to some extent if you create stunning family portraits, but the overall success of your business is heavily dependent on your ability to communicate your message to the marketplace as well as listening to what your clients want and the current market you're in.

3. Time Mangement

There are many aspects of a family portrait business. Although social media can be very effective at gaining attention and bringing in new and returning clients, it's easy to fall down the rabbit hole and waste time on your computer.

Family Portrait Promotion On PinterestFamily Portrait Promotion On Pinterest

The Pareto Principle For Photographers: Spend 80% of your time on the 20% of your photography business that give you the most results.

Emotional Family Portraits

Whether it be a large wall portrait, a desk-top size or even an image on their computer, if the family being photographed gets a big emotional benefit whenever they view their portrait you can definitely call it a successful photography session.

Boy and Great Grandmom PortraitTender Portrait Boy and Great Grandmom

Portrait poses that have more than one person included have the added element of showing a relationship between two or more human beings that is not possible when only an individual person is photographed. It is the job of the photographer to capture at least some of that relationship emotion.

So what makes a great family portrait photographer? Is it his or her knowledge of complicated lighting set-ups? Do you need to use some of those standard rules of composition like balance, leading lines, geometric shapes or the well-known Rule of Thirds in Photography?

I don't think so. Those standard rules of composition are helpful with many types of photography, such as landscapes, nature and still-life photography. There are definitely many guidelines to use for posing the individual as well as posing techniques that are good for family portraits as well.

What about the ability to get the family members to relax to reveal their natural expressions? I've discovered  that the in-home environment is a better location to create relaxed family portrait photography than an unfamiliar portrait studio.

It is always interesting to look at historical family portrait poses and see what the normal facial expressions were. 

Historical family portraitStiff posing

Notice the stoic faces in the portrait above. What do you notice about the pose in terms of the placement of hands of the family members? Family poses in that era did not usually show the emotional connection between family members.

Compare the family pose above with the more modern pose below.

Family pose of 5 peopleModern posing

Not only are the facial expressions different, but the hands and lean of the bodies convey a different meaning to the portrait as well. In the historical family portrait see how everyone is facing forward, stiff and straight.

One photo tip for better posing in family portrait photography is to add a little lean to some of your subjects.

It can also often be a challenge to find a suitable background without the distracting objects that can clutter the photograph and detract from the pose. When photographing large families inside the home, I often look for the longest room in the house and shoot from one corner to another.

Professional family portrait photographers gain experience in recognizing and finding suitable backgrounds if not supplying their own when shooting on location.

Taking large group photo of people can be a very difficult task with a unique set of challenges. Here is an article on some ideas on large group photography and the 6 most common photography mistakes made when taking Large Family Portraits.

Lighting. Composition. Posing. Expression. Background choice. Perhaps it is combination of many of these elements, maybe some more important than others, depending on the overall purpose of creating the portraits.

related Post For family portrait photography

Baby Photography Tips. Keeping it simple is the idea behind these thoughts on baby poses and the lighting used for baby portraits.

How to Choose a Photographer. If you found this page because you were looking for a portrait photographer, this is an article that you need to read first. If you are investing your hard-earned cash for professional portraits, you want to know what to look for to get the best photographer.

Portrait Photography Tips. Posing tips for individuals are useful to use when doing family group photography.

Family and group poses are the combined result of posing each single person in an attractive way and arranging them together. This article covers tips on body, arm and leg positioning. Here are two articles on outdoor family portraits. The first uses small groups as samples and the second has larger family poses.

Outdoor Portrait Photography. Unlike indoor family portrait photography, with outdoor family portraits the challenge is finding a good location with a pleasant background and good natural lighting.

Outdoor Family Photography. Large group portraits and different existing lighting conditions. Shoot more photos. Watch less TV.

Article published by Bruce Lovelace


Bruce is the publisher of this website. He is the author of the book "Improve Your Photography Instantly."  Read more on Bruce on his Bio Page. He's been known as The Traveling Photographer ever since 1994. Read more about this website.

View some of Bruce's photos on Instagram.   Visit the Facebook Page. Watch him on YouTube.  Bruce runs photo workshops for kids and adults, and provides one-on-one photography coaching.

Digital Photography Education Location on Google My Business

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