Make Them Look Their Best: How to Photograph Families and People

Updated: May 24, 2017 Mpix Support Guest Post

By Suzette Allen Photographic Artist, Adobe Influencer, Lumix Luminary, Certified Professional Photographer: 

Everyone wants to look their best in pictures, or maybe just a shade better than real life, right?  Well, as a photographer, you can truly put people in their best light, best pose, best everything— if you know a few tricks! What a priceless gift we give people—memories of who they are and who they love, artistically and beautifully captured to remember for a lifetime. I’ve been a photographer for over 25 years and there is not a more rewarding job than photographing families. In this article you will learn some key techniques that will help you capture people at their best.

Put them in good light

Literally, we all want to be seen in a good light. But what is considered good light for people? It’s definitely not the same as good light for scenery or buildings. What you want to find is a directional and soft light source. Avoid direct sun and go for shade. Reflected light off a building, wall or a covered area with open sky, is probably the very best at providing soft, but directional light. Flat light is okay but it is just that—flat. The best times of day for beautiful, soft light is to shoot in the early morning and late evening. During these times of day, it is easy to find nice shade with open sky and soft back light. However, even in the middle of the day, you can find shade. If you bring the subjects to the edge  of the shade, where they can see open sky, you can get gorgeous flattering light, especially when you have them turn so the light is coming from the side and not straight on.

Beautifully backlit by evening sun, with open sky.

Tips for shooting in sun and strong light

Facing into the sun is terrible when photographing your subject. It creates bad shadows and harsh lines. Shooting in the sun can also produce spotty light that is nearly impossible to fix.

If you must shoot in sun, put the sun to your subjects’ backs and use open sky for illuminating faces. This is very forgiving and attractive light. Shooting on the beach reflects lots of light into the faces when their backs are to the sun.

In strong light, with dark shadows, a reflector is great for illuminating the dark side. But even in broad sun, a reflector works magic to bring light into the eyes and open up the shadows.

Fun pose idea, but spotty light is unflattering. Wrong time of day for this spot.

Make everyone look good in camera

When it comes to groups, you want everyone to look like they belong, look natural (not posed) and look connected. I find that if I focus on posing each person (or couple) to look great as if they were in a picture by themselves, then they look great in the group as well. I also focus on relationships and connection, showing couples together, siblings connected, and even if they are not actually touching, they will overlap slightly to show connection. I also pose families in clusters so they are in close proximity so that each family unit creates an attractive composition.

Strong and individual, yet still connected by proximity. Captured with wide angle lens.

A few other guidelines which I share and demonstrate with my subjects, is to have them turn  their bodies to the side, weight on the back foot, front leg slightly bent, and hips tipped away  from the camera (leaning forward from the waist). With this weight shift, every person looks taller, slimmer and more attractive. Leaning forward slightly also slims the neck and torso, which everyone appreciates.

Another helpful tip is to choose clothing that fits well and are solid colors (no prints or stripes). Mixing colors and textures is much more interesting than everyone matching, but is a matter of personal taste.

Be artistic with composition

I try to arrange people so their heads are not all on the same level. An occasional line-up is okay and certainly effective with people of different heights, but arranging heads in triangles is far more artistic. Even configuring the entire group into a triangular shape is a good way to go.

Beautifully color coordinated and also in key with location setting.

Close/Close, Far/Far

It may be common sense, but try not to bunch people close together if you have the space to  make a more pictorial shot. Here’s my rule: “Close/Close, Far/Far”. That means if you are close, pose them close, and if you are far, pose them farther apart. Of course, you will want to do a variety, so be sure to do both.

Use Photoshop CC and Lightroom CC to make every image better

We make every effort to capture the scene just right but occasionally you get a blink or bad expression, or even a background distraction. Photoshop and Lightroom make it easy to make corrections to produce a beautiful image. Adding sharpness or clarity (or literally any adjustment) can be applied to an entire set of images in seconds.

Expression is the most important element

If you apply all the suggestions mentioned thus far, you will create a great image. However, there is one extremely important tip that will ensure you create a magnificent image. More important than any technique or style, is expression. Expression is the true life of a portrait. The truth is, if you capture a genuine expression or a heartfelt moment, the photo will be priceless, regardless of poor composition, inferior color balance, unflattering lighting or background distractions. Of course, we try to get it all perfect, but expression is the #1 goal.

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One Response to “Make Them Look Their Best: How to Photograph Families and People”

  1. ryan May 31, 2017 at 9:24 pm #

    You must tell them to select a wardrobe that would make them feel comfortable and advise them that wear a clothes that would fit their personality. Have Fun on what you are doing. When your having fun on your photos you will get positive energy and also relax.

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