Captured Moments – Family Photo Sessions

Beginning in late October I start to receive requests to shoot family photos. It is something I enjoy doing, but am still learning. The skill-set is quite different from what I know about shooting the landscape photographs that fill my Instagram feed. First of all, anything can happen in a family photo session; people blink, children act out, parents get tense, something gets overlooked in the background, light is wrong, etc. The list of things I can’t control is infinite. But, what I can do is prepare.

Family Photo Preparation

  • choose a time of day that will ensure optimal lighting; late afternoon, about one hour before sunset is the best time of day for natural light portraits.
  • make sure you have the right equipment; camera, portrait lens and wide angle lens, backup battery, lens wipes, tripod, reflective screens and flash (if you use them)
  • check out the location; arrive a few minutes early and scout out a few good settings and backgrounds so you won’t be fumbling and wasting time later
  • get to know the family; spend some time learning names and try to get a sense of the general family dynamic. Use this time to set the tone for the session.
  • share your plan for poses and locations and take requests; families always have a particular shot that they have seen and want to recreate
  • loose the tri-pod after the first series of shots or shoot with a second camera; hand held shots are scary, but you will have a lot more freedom of movement
  • stage spontaneity; don’t be afraid to choreograph a shot, people love being actors in their own play
  • be patient; quantity is great for vacation shots, but in this case you’d rather have quality
  • be playful; there is a time to be serious and a time to get goofy. Children may need encouragement and it can’t come from the parents when they are included in the photo
  • be flexible; keep shooting even when the action moves away from the group. The best shots are not always planned.
  • trust your instincts; your gut is usually right about when to end the session and when to press on

Today’s Captured Moment

I call this photo PURE JOY for two reasons – his expression and my feeling when the shutter captured this.

My session plan always includes a variety of shots, from taking several poses with the entire group, to capturing each individual separately. This little guy was hard to nail down, but toward the very end of the session, mom and dad got a little goofy and coaxed this expression out of him. I knew I had taken enough photos for the family to have choices and I could have stopped several minutes before this happened. But, my instincts said keep going, and the light was absolutely perfect.

21 thoughts on “Captured Moments – Family Photo Sessions

  1. The entire concept of Family Photos for other families sounds stressful. Like you say, Suzanne, preparation makes all the difference. Many great points I can incorporate when taking photos in general. Yes, Pure Joy! Your instincts paid off.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a joyous wonderful photo…. Being commissioned for family portraits sounds intense 🙂 and somewhat stressful. About a decade ago when I was painting full time as an artist I received a few commissions by parents, to do portraits of their children. I did it, but after that I decided I would never take commissions again that entailed portraiture. People always want photographs and paintings to make themselves look better than they really do, I think. And of course they are way more critical of themselves and hard to know ahead of time what exactly they dislike…. Ah well, it’s all a good learning experience isn’t it?


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Peta, you are so right about how people critically perceive themselves.The subjects are who they are and while I try to capture their best by giving directions; ‘turn your left shoulder, stand tall from your core, drop your chin, etc.’ in the end they are still who they are. Every session is an opportunity to learn and I could not have written that prep list two years ago.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love that shot of the little boy. My sister loves to take photos when we hiking (of me when I am unaware) , walking, climbing, resting etc. My favorite was one she caught of me resting against a tree looking across a great valley. I had no idea she was taking it.
    I love to look at such photos which capture a moment and are not managed or staged. The photo of the child is absolutely precious and is a keeper for a lifetime! It does capture youth, joy, life, childhood innocence. Bravo!

    Susan Grace


  4. Thank you Susan. This little boy’s parents worked really hard to get a giggle out of him. We were determined to get just one good shot with his eyes open. No one expected this. Sounds like your sister also looks through the lens for ‘real’ moments. My daughter took one of me while we were sitting on a roof top patio overlooking Prague a few years ago.It is profile shot of me being blissfully in the moment. It will always be a favorite.


  5. Beautiful shot, Suzanne. Congratulations! I find taking good photos of people very challenging. Either they pose (a forced look) or there is too many movements (a blur). One thing I learn when I take photos is to be patient, very patient 🙂


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