Ten tips to help you take natural family photos

Family photography guides
Mother and daughter cuddling naturally

If you want to start taking natural family photos, here are ten quick tips to get you started.

Developing your photography skills is a bit like learning to draw or play a musical instrument. We can all draw a picture or play a few keys on the piano, but if you want to elevate your skill to the next level, you’ll need to learn the principles, have a passion and practice A LOT!

If you have a young family, you have some wonderful subject matter to practice with as you build your skills – so here’s a few ideas to inspire you!

1. Always have your camera with you

It may seem a bit obvious, but as the saying goes “the best camera is the one you have with you”.

Having said that, there’s no point having a fancy camera if it’s too big and chunky to carry around or you feel embarrassed getting it out!

Technology has moved on massively in recent years and you’ll find loads of great cameras at affordable prices. So unless you want to look like a photo journalist, check some of the latest compact digital cameras with a quick Google search.

If you’re interested in having more control as your skills grow, look for a camera that gives you the option to manually set the aperture, shutter speed and ISO…more on that below.

2. Get to know your camera settings

In photography we’re often looking for those elusive moments and expressions that last a second. If it takes you 5 minutes to plough through your settings and change lenses you’ve probably missed the moment.

Professional photographers will often shoot in manual, taking complete control of the exposure. They’ve learnt how to do it quickly with years of experience, but modern cameras can do the heavy lifting for you.

So when capturing the moment is important, stick to auto, aperture or shutter priority and let the camera work out the exposure for you.

As you get more proficient you can take control of your camera, but don’t be embarrassed about using the auto functions to start with. Better to get a good photo, than no photo!

Family photography - portrait of young girl enjoying a slide in Bristol park wearing superhero outfit

3. Learn about light

Photography is the art of capturing light and using it to create emotion and atmosphere in your photos.

If you’re serious about photography it’s worth digging into the subject further. There’s a heap of books you could dive into. A good starting point is Henry Caroll’s “Read This If You Want To Take Great Photographs, with clear explanations of all the basics to get you started.

You’ll learn about hard light, soft light, what happens when you start to introduce artificial light and how to use shadows and highlights to create drama and atmosphere. It’s a massive subject, but once you’ve learned a few basics it’s best to get out there and practice.

Another great way to learn is to look at other people’s photos and work out what kind of lighting was used. When you head out to take your own shots, try and replicate what you’ve seen elsewhere.

4. Mix up your compositions

The classic composition techniques like the rule of thirds, leading lines, symmetry and negative space all help to create energy, interest and impact in your photos.

When we start taking photos we’ll often put our subject in the centre of the photo. There’s nothing wrong with this and we’ve recorded the scene. But by positioning the subject slightly off centre we’ve shifted the balance in the photo and we’re starting to take control and guide the viewer. At the same time we might have created some negative space or introduced background elements that contribute to the story we’re trying to tell.

The classic composition techniques are a great place to start, but they’re just techniques not rules. Once you know them, use them when they work and ignore them when they don’t.

5. Capture the smiles and the tears

In the glossy magazines we see manicured homes and clutter free lives with happy smiling children. But for most of us family life is very different. Family life comes with sleepless nights, sticky faces, clutter, laughter and tears. In fact it’s a roller coaster with pretty much every emotion coming out at some point.

As a parent you’re with your children more than anyone else. You get to see the highs and lows, the happy days and the sad days. You’re playing the games, cooking dinner, helping with homework and reading a bedtime story.

So photograph the beauty in the everyday and cherish the ups and downs!

If you’d like me to help you create stunning family photos filled with emotion, character and connection, I’d love to hear from you.

6. Photograph your children when they’re absorbed in an activity

Children will often smile with a huge Cheshire cat grin for the camera – they’ll turn it on and off in a second. They’ve become camera aware, but unfortunately it doesn’t create great photos.

So heading back to our camera for a second, this is where photographing quietly and opportunistically can create the best photos. Choose a small camera and turn off the focus lights and beeps.

When children are engaged in an activity, whether it’s playing with a friend, hugging a grandparent, baking a cake or reading a book, they’ll be absorbed and this is often where the magic happens.

Look for the natural expressions that capture them perfectly. As their parents, you’ll know it when you see it!

Special occasion family photography - grandmother and granddaughter smiling and cuddling at family celebration

7. Get down to their level

If you’re 3 feet tall the world looks very different from down there. For a start there’s a bunch of grown-ups looking down at you and everything’s designed for an adult world.

So when you’re photographing children get down to their level, interact with them in their world and photograph from their perspective.

8. Play around with different styles

Keep learning and experimenting with different styles and techniques. If you have the time, go back and look at your photos and work out what you like about your favourites. Push yourself to develop your style, the quality of your photography and keep practising.

Black and white family photography with young girl spinning on roundabout with blurred motion

9. Make sure you’re in the photos too

If you’re the chief family photographer (like me), you’ll find you’re hardly ever in the photos!  Did you go on that holiday. Were you at the birthday party? You were there, but you were taking the photos!

So don’t forget to mix it up a bit, get everyone else taking a few photos so you’re occasionally in them too.

Clients often say this is one of the reasons they choose a professional family photographer, so they can get those natural photos of everyone all together.

Family photo session Bath Wiltshire Cotswolds

10. And finally print your favourites

I’m on a mission to encourage my clients to print their photos. In fact I’ve written a blog on the subject 5 reasons why you should print your family photos.

Once you have your digital photos saved on your phone or computer, there’s a good chance that’s where they’ll stay. Never to be seen again.  So if you do one thing with your photos, choose your favourites and get them printed and framed, so you can enjoy them every day.

If you’d like me to help you create stunning family photos filled with emotion, character and connection, I’d love to hear from you.