Fun Poses for Family Portraits

Several weeks ago, we talked about focal points and focusing. We introduced you to the idea of changing your focal points or using the “focus-recompose” approach to shooting.

So, for the past several weeks, you’ve been practicing the focus-recompose approach (because changing out those focal points on the fly turns out to be a nightmare) which means you focus on your child, recompose your shot, attempt to take a shot and then have to do it all over again, because your child keeps moving and your camera keeps re-focusing on wherever that focus point is now and you’re out of focus already. Whew. It’s exhausting!

Back Button Focusing

If you’re like us, you’re thinking, “there’s got to be a better way,” and there is! Today we’re going to introduce you to back-button focusing. 

Before we dive into back-button focusing, let’s review what we learned in focal points and focusing basics.

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Fall is one of our favorite seasons. Cooler temperatures, fall colors, pumpkins and family portraits just in time for the holidays. If you want to avoid becoming one of the latest victims of “awkward family portraits,” we’ve got some great ideas to help you create beautiful memories without looking stiff and formal. Today we offer a few family portrait poses as well as some tips for a great family portrait session. 

Candid Moments

Today’s family portrait sessions are much more casual than what you may remember as a child. In fact, candid poses are preferred to formal posed shots. With that in mind, don’t worry so much about having everyone looking at the camera. If it happens, great, but don’t force the smiles.

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Instead, have your family members looking at each other, rather than at the camera. Your photographer can then work their way around you and take shots from multiple perspectives. They may even ask you to all look at the camera. When they do, chances are that you’ll have forgotten you were being photographed and will smile naturally. 

Get Close

One of the quickest ways to improve your family portraits is to get close. Nope. Even closer!

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The same principle applies to group photos. When people are spaced too far apart, it gives the impression that they are disconnected. It also looks awkward– so avoid the awkwardness and get closer.

If getting close doesn’t come naturally, here’s a few set-ups to try.

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Families of Three:

Mom and Dad, you’ll sit on either side of your little one. Squeeze in close for a big kiss. Your child will probably squirm, but when you pull away, we guarantee that everyone will have a huge smile on their face. Your photographer’s goal will be to capture your baby looking straight at the camera even if you aren’t. It makes for a great candid moment and can easily be done in a sitting position.

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Families of Four or More: 

Similar to the “big kiss” pose, try a family hug or a “kid sandwich.” Depending on the age and size of your children, either pick up your children (mom and dad on either side) and squeeze together, or drop to your knees and go in for a tight hug. It can feel a little awkward at first, and your photographer will surely be laughing at you, but it’s one fun pose that will loosen up the entire family.

Photographer’s Note:

Don’t be afraid to move in even closer to capture all the emotion of the families that you’re photographing. So much emotion is conveyed through our facial expressions. By filling the frame (in camera or crop), you’ll draw attention to that emotion and the connection between the family. Just be sure to give the family a head’s up that you’re moving in.

Classic Pyramid

One of the most natural and classic portrait poses for families is the pyramid. The shape of a pyramid is wider at the bottom than at the top.

For larger groups, this can mean organizing yourselves into rows. Perhaps the first row has five people, the second row has four people, and the third row has three people (or something similar). It doesn’t have to be a perfectly stacked pyramid, but it’s a great place to start.

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Alternatively, consider using the shape of a pyramid or triangle if you have a family with young children such as the photo above. If your children are able to stand, they become your pyramid’s base. Then, mom and dad become a second row. If you have a child that needs to be held, they become your peak. From that point, don’t worry too much about exact posing, just let your family act naturally.

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If you’re worried about how to position your feet and legs, you can always refer back to our “How to Look Great in Photos” post. Or you can avoid legs entirely by sitting or laying down with legs stretched behind you.

Line Up

An easy way to mix up your family portrait session is to line up!

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It’s not only an easy family portrait pose, but standing up and lining up also prevents children from getting bored. So, take a break and stand up.

Once your family is standing, have everyone hold hands in a line. This not only gives the family a little bit of space, but it looks cute too. From there, you can walk, swing, skip, or whatever else you can think of. Just have fun!

Large Groups

Family portraits with large groups are a challenge. The bigger the group, the bigger the challenge! And while some of the poses above will still work (such as the pyramid), there’s a few other points you have to keep in mind.

For one, if you’ve ever tackled spring cleaning, then you know that the best way to tackle a big job is to break it down into smaller parts. The same applies to larger groups.

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For example, let’s say that you, your brothers and sisters, along with your children and your parents all want to be photographed. Group yourselves into individual families or small groupings of 2 or 4 at a time. You can then build the smaller families into a larger pose such as the portrait above.

Be sure to position adults first since children have such short attention spans. Have your photographer ready and everyone else posed BEFORE asking any children to jump into position. We promise it won’t take nearly as long and you’ll be much happier with the outcome.

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Photographer’s Tip:

  • When working with a large family or group, you aren’t going to be able to control individual poses or expressions. In fact, you should avoid a uniform look when it comes to large group photos. The key is to pay attention to the overall composition.
  • With that in mind, before you take the first photo, make sure that everyone’s face is visible. You can always fire off several shots and do a little head-swapping in post processing, but you’ll save yourself some time if you just pay attention. A quick way to tell if the pose looks natural is to look for at least part of the shoulders.
  • Also watch out for blinking. Take several photos to make sure you get at least one with everyone’s eyes open.

With these pose ideas, you’re now ready for your upcoming family portrait session. Just remember to have fun and your photos will be amazing!

For more portrait photography posts, check out Portrait Photography Basics.

Photo Credit: Ashley SiskJurek PhotographyKatelyn McKay PhotographySimply Snapshots, and Stephanie Simon Photography
You’ll recall that by looking into your viewfinder, you will see a number of dots on screen that we call auto focus points. Depending on the camera, some of those points will be stronger than others. For most DSLRs, the center auto focus point is the strongest. However, you can manually select any single focus point available to you and place that on whatever you want to be in focus on your subject (preferably your subject’s eyes).

If you are using the focus-recompose method, you’ll hold the shutter button down half-way, wait for the focus square to beep and flash red. Then, once your camera has locked focus, you can go ahead and just shoot the image, or re-compose the shot (while still holding the shutter release button half-way down which locks the focus point) and then press the shutter to get the shot you want.

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For some photographers, this approach works just fine, but it can be exhausting and frustrating if you miss the shot because your subject moved out of your focal point–which brings us to back-button focusing.

Why Should You Use Back-Button Focusing

With back-button focusing you are separating the two functions of focusing and capturing an image. You press a button on the back of your camera to focus, and press the shutter button when you’re ready to take the picture. Once this designation is established in your camera’s menu of settings, the shutter button will no longer try to achieve focus, because it no longer has the ability to do so.

You Won’t Miss THE Shot

Most of the time, you’re going to be photographing your children. When they’re young, you’re often lucky to capture anything since they’re moving so quickly. However, as they get older, their movements may become a little more predictable. For example, your child is working with finger paints. You really want to capture the joy on their face and ask them to look up. If you were just using the focus-recompose method, you might miss the moment. But with back-button focus, you can have your focus set and be free to shoot at that exact moment in which your child looks up with a smile. 

That said, you can still use back-button focusing with even your wiggliest subjects. Just set your camera’s focus to Al Servo AF to track their movement, keep your right thumb on the back button to keep your focus active and your index finger can be ready to shoot. 

Fewer Action Focus Errors

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If you enjoy taking action shots, back-button focusing allows you to stop focus whenever something might interfere with the moving subject you’re tracking. However, it doesn’t require you to stop shooting! Just pull your thumb off the back button (your camera will stop focusing) and you can keep shooting by pressing the shutter button. Once the distraction is out of your way, you can quickly start tracking your subject again by pressing the back button with your thumb again.

As a photographer, this gives you even more control over the images you’re capturing. Not that it’ll prevent people from saying things like “your camera takes really great picture,” but it’s a step in the right direction. The more you control your camera (versus allowing the camera to auto select), the stronger images you will produce!

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How to Activate Back-Button Focusing

Back-button auto focusing is enabled by setting the appropriate “Custom Function” within your DSLR’s settings menu (assuming that you’re using Program, Aperture-Priority, Shutter-Priority or Manual Exposure Mode). Unfortunately, we can’t provide you with a one size fits all tutorial for making this adjustment to your camera since every camera is a little different. But, now that you know what back-button focusing is capable of, try doing a search for how to set back-button focusing with your camera (example: Canon Rebel T5i) on Google or YouTube.

Once you set it up, all you have to do from there is practice practice practice. While using this approach does take a little getting used to, we promise the results are completely worth any frustration you’ll experience with the learning curve.

With all of that said, you’re welcome!

Now you can focus on your subject using the most powerful focus point you have, re-compose your shot and shoot as many images as you need without having to re-focus. YAY! As long as your subject stays on the same focal plane, you’ll never have to re-focus your shot using back-button focusing. Now you can spend more time capturing moments as they happen without your camera constantly trying to achieve (or miss) focus!

For more free photography lessons, check out our Getting to Know Your Camera series. 

Photo Credit: Ashley Sisk 



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Ashley Sisk
Ashley Sisk
Ashley lives in North Carolina with her husband, two kids and Kitty Paw. She’s a work-from-home mom with a natural light photography business and a passion for sharing everything she knows. Since leaving the corporate world, she now spends her time trying to get through elementary school with her daughter, chasing her firefighter loving little boy, writing and finding ways to enjoy life. You can find her on Facebook, Google + or on her website.