July 18, 2024

5 Tips for Improving Your Outdoor Family Portraits


Outdoor family photography is one of the most laid-back genres I’ve encountered in my experiences. It is an incredible way for a family to create lasting moments using mother nature as the backdrop. Creative candid shots show the little-noticed details between family members, and posed photos offer a snapshot of the present for future reminiscing.

Family photos are popular all over the world, and people are willing to pay for a professional photographer to capture them. This guide outlines all of the fundamentals you’ll need to be successful at outdoor family photo sessions.

What Exactly is Outdoor Family Photography?

In its most basic form, outdoor family photography is simply taking pictures of family members in an outdoor setting. Some sessions can include entire clans or just small groups of family. A popular family photography event involves just a single household, including a husband, wife, kids, and pets.

Kids are generally a focal point in family photography. Keeping the photo itinerary simple can make it easier for the session to stay focused. However, this can become tricky if they are unruly or beginning to get tired. Let the parents handle the kids and offer support where you can.

The main difference between indoor family photos and outdoor ones is that you’re at the mercy of nature. Without the safety of a studio, you’ll need to plan your photo shoot for when the weather is good. As long as you’re prepared and offer a rainy weather contingency, there shouldn’t be any issues.

A mother is holding her newborn baby.

Newborn Photography

A rise in popularity has seen a need for newborn photographers. As the name implies, this sub-genre involves taking family pictures with a newly born child. It’s a unique style since there are some time constraints involved, as a newborn doesn’t stay new for long.

Safety is important for your clients since a newborn can be fragile. You don’t want the session to be too intense, or it may ruin the magic of the moment. Luckily, the parents are always more than willing to help you with posing and keeping the newborns’ attention.

Keep the location simple and somewhere quiet. You don’t want bugs or wild animals close by in case they decide to get curious. Often, using a city park or a backyard is a good choice for locations.

Maternity Photography

Another creative sub-genre is outdoor maternity photography. These types of photo shoots are meant to showcase the journey to motherhood from the baby’s conception. The main advantage is the gorgeous natural light that you’ll have access to as you try to celebrate the unity between mother and child.

A good strategy would be to use abundant lighting to soften the curves and bring out the natural glow that an expecting mother has. Props work well with this type of photography, as flowing dresses and flower crowns strongly represent fertility and love.

An expectant mother in a white dress poses out in the middle of some farm pasture.

What Photography Equipment Do You Need to Get Started?

Taking family photographs doesn’t take a lot of equipment to get started. Make sure it’s good equipment. Most photographers starting will be choosing between a DSLR, a mirrorless system, and using their smartphone, perhaps even using more than one in a session.

Lenses: A 35 mm lens is the perfect choice for families who want to do a lot of group shots. Using a zoom lens, something like 24-70mm, can help incorporate some of the background scenes into your images. A 50mm prime lens offers high-quality glass with a wide aperture, perfect for family portraits.

Off-camera Flash: Using an off-camera flash in your photo sessions gives you the creative ability to control the lighting. Photographing people in the bright sun can cause unwanted shadows to appear in the photograph. Off-camera flashes allow for precise placement and illumination that can help you fill in the dark spots.

Reflectors: Another great tool for controlling light is a reflector. If you’re on a tight budget, this would be a good alternative option to an off-camera flash. It has reflective material that can bounce the existing light so that it can play the part of a fill flash and illuminate dark areas in the photographs.

Tripod: A tripod is an essential piece of equipment for any outdoor photographer. They provide stability for shaky shutter speeds and can help you get creative with your shots at night. Use a tripod in conjunction with a wireless remote shutter release to give you the freedom of movement to help position the kiddos for the shot.

A mother, father, and daughter in a photo by the water.

Client Considerations for Outdoor Portrait Photos

If you plan on turning family pictures into a business, then you’ll have to manage the expectations and work closely with your clients. Sometimes the families will come with their own set of ideas for locations, activities, and posing, and that’s perfectly fine. However, for those that leave it up to the photographer, then it’s a good idea to have some outdoor portrait example ideas ready for them.

Using Props for Portraits

Sometimes props can help set the scene and enhance the subjects within the photo. Props can be any items that are incorporated into the session. Themed family photos can make use of props to provide a clear understanding of what’s going on in the scene. Halloween, for example, is a great time to incorporate spooky items or costumes into family portraits to create memorable moments.

Talk to your clients about those possibilities and then see what additional cost it would be to get it done. You can slowly build up a library of things to offer them down the line. There are times when your clients will bring their props with personal meaning to them.

A mother, father, and young daughter build a snowman together in the snow.

Choosing the Right Season for Family Portraits

In North America, all four seasons are generally unique from one another. Realistically, it’s possible to shoot during every season as long as the family is comfortable being outdoors during it. The best time of the year for family portraits is when the fall colors are out, and the natural light has a golden hue to it.

Outdoor Photo Locations 

The beauty of taking family portraits is that because it’s outdoors, it can be anywhere. Does the family have a favorite park with lots of flowers? Is there a local area that has an amazing sunset? Pick a landscape that is memorable and provides inspiration for the photograph you’re trying to take.

Don’t Forget about Posing 

While candid photos will most likely take a lot of your focus, you may forget all about posing. For group shots, a great strategy is to keep the kids in the middle when they’re younger (up to 18) and keep the parents in the middle if they’re older (18 and up). The kids usually end up being as tall or taller than the parents, so having the tall people at the edges helps funnel the eyes to the middle.

What appears to be a grandmother, daughter, and granddaughter are posing for a family shot.

Tips for Outdoor Family Photos

Once you’ve done a session or two, you’ll start to get into the swing of things. To help you along a little quicker, here are some tips that will save time and produce better family photography.

1. Scout the Location Beforehand

It’s often best to go into a photo session knowing what the environment is like. You can plan compositions ahead of time, making the session more relaxed, if you’re able to visit the location multiple times, at different times of the day, to see how the light falls on the area.

2. Keep the Photography Session Light and Breezy

A tense and rigid photography session is one of the worst mood killers. This can sometimes happen if the family begins to fight with each other a little bit. Knowing some knowledge about the area that you’re in can help keep things interesting for the family. Try going for walks to keep the senses stimulated and for chances to get more candid shots.

A group reunited family portrait with a father, mother, 2 daughters, a grandmother and grandfather are posing in a lush garden.

3. Get Creative with Your Angles

Shooting straight can be a classic composition, but figuring out different photo angles will set you apart. Try getting shots from the side or do a silhouette-style shot from behind during golden hour for a little creative touch. Getting low and shooting upwards can be effective if photographing through a grass field. Try framing your subjects using a natural archway formed under a branch.

4. Use the Golden Hour Light as Often as Possible

The best light for photography is always natural light. Golden hour is one of the magical times of day when the light is soft and radiant, perfect for portraits. It’s a great opportunity to create silhouette images that emotion provoking as the sun is low in the sky.

A father and mother are each holding a childs arm as they lift him in the air. The sun is behind them and they are on a grassy field.

5. Always Shoot Family Photos in RAW

Shooting in RAW captures all of the existing data for the image that you’re photographing. Shooting in JPEG adds a large amount of compression to keep the file size small. However, it limits the information you have available for editing. Additionally, every time you open a JPEG and save it as a new file, even more compression is added to it. Eventually, this will result in a loss of detail in the image.

Keep it Simple if You Want to be a Successful Family Photographer

Complicating family portraits can easily ruin the flow of the session. Being prepared for the weather with the right equipment and some ideas that work for the location will give you everything you need to be successful and get better at outdoor family photos.

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