3 No-Stress Ways to Photograph Family Portraits with Kids

Do you ever feel like you’re fighting to get little ones to cooperate when you’re photographing family portraits with kids? Rather than swimming upstream, try going with the flow instead. Just like bowling with a kid, you can’t control the path of their ball but you can put up guard rails to prevent their ball from falling into the gutter.

The same applies when you’re photographing family portraits with kids. Set up boundaries and structure, then let them freely bounce around within those limits. That way they get to be themselves while you’re still able to get the shot.

[Read: 5 Tips to Posing Families Together for Natural-Looking Portrait Sessions]

I created a system for directing and posing family portraits with kids called Pick Up Points, which allows you to go into your shoots with a general structure without confining you to an exact shot list that might conflict with the kid’s interest or energy. You have the freedom to adapt these prompts to your specific shoot and have fun with it!

[Read: Caroline Tran’s Posing Pick Up Points for Family Portrait Photography—Free Webinar]

photographing family portraits with kids outside using natural light
The older brother loved his toy camera and wanted to “take pictures” of his little sister! I instructed parents to lift the children and just let him do his thing, and we ended up with this sweet moment.

This skeleton of a structure gives you enough guidance to flow smoothly while allowing enough flexibility for each client to bring their own personalities and flair. The results are consistent portraits across all your sessions, filled with genuine emotions and authentic moments.

Got family portraits with kids coming up? Here are three tips to help you on your next shoot:

1. Give kids a platform.

Photographing kids is so much like photographing pets… There’s a limited attention span and a lot of movement!

family portrait with kids lined up on the same plane by caroline tran
The older brother was itching to move around, and his younger sister wanted to follow in his footsteps… Creating a family portrait with two moving kids can be difficult! I instructed the kids to lead their parents across the log. Having the family line up here allowed me a few minutes to capture them all on the same plane. As you can see, the older brother is still moving around a bit but in a more limited space. I love how the slight motion makes the photo more dynamic.

Finding a platform for kids to sit and stand on buys you some time to get your shot before they jump off. This could be a chair, a rock or even a tree log. Be prepared to act fast!

[Read: 5 Tips for Photographing Children]

2. Go with the flow.

family portrait with kids in a pile by caroline tran
Smiles all around! I had a vision of all four kids laying down together, and after some fidgeting around, we came up with this cute, cozy look.

When we come in with preconceived notions of what we want, we end up fighting against the kids when their actions don’t fit into our mold.

Rather than going against the current and forcing kids to do something they don’t want to do, lean into their interests.

[Read: 5 Tips to Shooting Unposed Lifestyle Newborn Photography]

photographing family portrait with wandering kid by caroline tran
Baby on the move! This little girl was so adventurous and would not stop exploring. Rather than trying to hold her down, I had the parents stand where the background looked good—with them perfectly framed by the tree branches—and then allowed their baby to wander, leading to this beautiful moment.

Now, I’m not telling you to come into your session unprepared with no idea of what you want to achieve. Instead, have a loose structure of where you want to go… Have an open mind, play with the kids and see where it goes.

3. Frame your shot, then trick the kids into walking into the frame!

maternity portrait with small child by caroline tran
I wanted to catch a moment between soon-to-be Big Brother and the belly, so I posed Mama first, making sure she was perfectly lit and framed. I then had Mama play hide and seek with her son to get him to run under the veil with her. How gorgeous and sweet is this moment?

I know, I know, this sounds counterintuitive to going with the flow. Hear me out, though:

We sometimes have a vision for family portraits with kids and would love to see it executed. I encourage you to frame that shot first, then find ways to get the kids to run into your shot! This is where prompts and games with the kids will come in handy.

Caroline Tran, named Rangefinder Creator of the Year at WPPI 2021, is a Los Angeles-based, internationally published photographer and WPPI educator who has been helping other photographers work smarter, not harder. She offers online Small Group Business Coaching and mentoring. Want to learn more about photographing children efficiently? Check out her posing system, Pick Up Points!

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