From The Studio to Your Home: 5 Key Family Portrait Tips

Contributing Writer: Jill Tirrell

As a professional photographer I am a firm believer in the importance of taking family portraits (with a professional) at least once a year.  However, I am also a huge believer in taking photos of your own family often!  Photography is complex and there is SO much that goes into it, but there are some simple things everyone can do that will make a big difference in the quality of your photos.  If you missed the boat on family pictures this year and want to try your hand at doing it yourself, here are some tips that will make a difference:

1) Have a friend behind the camera!  I’m one of those people who hates asking people to inconvenience themselves for me, but in this case it may be the one thing that will help the most.  Let’s face it, you’re not going to look your best if you’re sprinting back and forth from the camera to the family and doing self-timer.  In addition, kiddos won’t look at the camera if there’s no one there to get their attention.  Having a friend there to help out will undoubtedly yield better images and a less stressful experience for you.

2) Don’t push the kids too hard.  I see it time and time again, the second  a parent looses their temper with a little one (which is really easy to do because family pictures are stressful for parents) that child is DONE.  I will dance, sing, make silly noises, make funny faces, and even offer bribes.  I will give kids breaks, let them stomp out their frustration and even doing it with them and making a game out of it.  Poses where the family interact are also great for really difficult kiddos, but the bottom line is, whatever you do, don’t push the kids too hard or your chances of them cooperating become pretty much zero.

3) Scout out a good location.  It is much easier to get a nice looking image outdoors (mostly due to lighting, but scenery can play a role too).  Take the time to choose a beautiful place for your photos.  Here’s something many people don’t know: cloudy is better!  Most of my clients think they want a sunny day for their photos, but in photography, the sun is not your friend.  If the sun is out, choose a shady spot.  This is huge!  The sun makes harsh, unsightly shadows that are very unflattering and instantly make the photo look like a snapshot.

4) Plan some poses.  Look around the web and print out some photos that you love and want to use as inspiration.  Here are two simple rules that non-photographers rarely think about but are really important in getting a visually pleasing image.  1- No one’s head should be directly above/below anyone else’s.  If you’ve got two rows of people, the people in the front should be between two of the people in the back, not directly in front of one.  2- When you think  you are as close as you can possibly get, get closer, then closer again, then way closer again.  I am constantly telling my families to get really close.  You do not want any gaps.  Gaps look bad in photos!  For a close up, I actually make everyone’s heads touch.  Of course I wouldn’t do that for a pull back shot, but you get what I mean- cuddle in tight!

5) Edit your images.  Editing your images is very important!  Depending on the type of session, it isn’t uncommon for me to spend as much time editing as I do shooting.  If you are not familiar with Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, I recommend visiting  It’s a fabulous (free) website with powerful, user-friendly editing tools.  Once you choose the photo you want to print spend a long time studying it, comparing it to professional photos, and playing around with it to see how you can make it better (warm it up?  add some contrast?  etc.)

So there you have it, five steps that will get you a better family self portrait, without any knowledge of photography!
Now of course if you have access to a DSLR and want to take the time to learn more of the technical stuff you could drastically improve your photos even more.
You can read my series on learning to shoot in manual mode on my blog, Frame Worthy Shot.  You can also find a recent article about choosing outfits for your family portraits and lots of other great information, digital freebies, and more.  I hope you’ll stop by and visit.

Good luck and I hope this was helpful!

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25 Responses to “From The Studio to Your Home: 5 Key Family Portrait Tips”

  1. January 25, 2012 at 8:24 am #

    Thanks for sharing, great tips!! The children have to be the hardest thing, it IS so easy to loose your temper with them when they are poking other siblings! The joys of motherhood though : )

    • January 25, 2012 at 12:51 pm #

      Ashley, I know what you mean. Mine make awful faces and of course I don’t realize it until the picture is taken b/c we usually use a timer(not the best thing to use when you have little ones)

  2. Rebekah L.
    January 25, 2012 at 8:46 am #

    Thanks for the tips! I’m bookmarking this for reference.

  3. January 25, 2012 at 12:26 pm #

    Thanks for the tips … and these photos are great!

  4. January 25, 2012 at 12:54 pm #

    Yes, aren’t these fabulous tips! I love the bribing tip there have been many bribes in our home during family photo time. The cloudy day and the squeezing in and head line up are also things that I had not thought about it. Great job Jill!

  5. Joanie B.
    January 25, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    These are great tips! But, unfortunately Picnik is closing in April and will no longer be available. It’s too bad because it is a great photo editing website.:(

  6. January 25, 2012 at 4:37 pm #

    Thank you for all the thoughtful compliments! I am so glad to offer some useful knowledge!

  7. January 25, 2012 at 4:38 pm #

    Oh and I think Picnik will still be running, but will just be ran by google. I’m not completely sure about that, but that’s how I understood it.

  8. January 26, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

    Love this !!

  9. January 26, 2012 at 1:03 pm #

    Great tips. I think getting a friend is definitely something I forget to do.

    • January 30, 2012 at 7:40 pm #

      Shiloh, I know. Though a friend around our chaotoc pic taking time maybe embarrasing 🙂

  10. January 27, 2012 at 2:42 am #

    This is great. I’ve just started getting interested in Photography and this helps a lot.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Greetings from Germany

    • January 30, 2012 at 7:41 pm #

      Catrin, I am so glad you stopped by, I love seeing where people stop by from. Photography is so much fun. Enjoy!

  11. January 27, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

    So many great tips and tricks! I would LOVE it if you would be willing to share at our link party going on now. Thanks

  12. January 28, 2012 at 8:55 pm #

    Great tips! Except for Picnik leaving…waaaah! Thanks for sharing at Shine on Fridays!

  13. January 28, 2012 at 10:59 pm #

    Wow! I just learned A LOT! I recently got my Nikon (like over a year ago!) and have still not learned how to use it properly. Auto and I have become really good friends. It is totally on my to-do list for this year though! I’ve got two adorable little boys and I want those pictures!!! Thanks so much for sharing this great information at Taking A Timeout Thursdays! Hope to see you again next week 🙂

    • January 30, 2012 at 7:42 pm #

      LOL, on you and auto being friends. That’s where I usually shoot from, but my goal is to stop by and Jills and learn some tricks.

  14. Anonymous
    January 29, 2012 at 7:48 pm #

    This is fantastic! I never even considered the importance of limiting gaps between people in photos. Thanks for the tips!

  15. January 30, 2012 at 2:46 am #

    Thank you all for the sweet comments. I am so glad to share some knowledge and happy to hear it was useful for some of you!

    🙂 Jill

  16. January 30, 2012 at 7:14 pm #

    awesome picture ideas thanks for sharing come see me at

  17. January 31, 2012 at 2:42 pm #

    Love the photography! Stunningly beautiful! Thanks for linking up!

  18. February 1, 2012 at 9:35 pm #

    Great tips! I just bought a Nikon d70s (barely used) and we are still in the Honeymoon phase–however I think it’s time for us to move past that and for me to get some real knowledge. My husband got me “DSLR for Dummmies” for Christmas (on my list, don’t worry!), and I’m slowly making my way through it. There is a lot to learn! These are some great, simple suggestions. I’m visiting for the first time from A Bowl Full of Lemons… 🙂

    February 6, 2012 at 9:36 am #

    Great idea! Thank you for sharing it. I clicked on your link from Chef In Training. Renea.

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