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What parent doesn’t love family photos? Whether those portraits celebrate the sweet fingers and toes of a new baby or document another year of growth in your children, every photography session is priceless in its own way.
Some of those photos will make their way onto holiday cards, sharing good tidings with everyone from acquaintances of years past to grandparents. Some will find their way onto walls in your home. Others into custom photo books that live on the coffee table and are cherished for years to come. Regardless of where this year’s family photos will land, it’s certain you want everyone to look their best.
You’ll no doubt scour wardrobes or shop, searching for the perfect coordinating ensemble for everyone in your family. You’ll determine the location with your photographer and likely even coordinate color schemes. Each of those is an important element that contributes to your photos’ overall aesthetic. However, there’s perhaps an even greater challenge many forget to plan for as they strategize: group portrait poses.
Here are a few ideas for group portrait poses that add personality to your photos, look professional, and will produce some wall-worthy material.
1. Lying down in a row
Most of the group portrait poses you’ll do involve standing or sitting, so by lying down, you automatically bring variety into the mix. Line everyone up on their tummies—then say cheese! Try taking the photos without further instruction first. You’ll likely see someone with a foot kicked up, someone with their chin in their hands, or perhaps even a person or two looking at someone else. You know what we call that? Charming personality. Once you get a few partially posed, give the uniform instruction to get a safety shot—think everyone perched on their elbows or turned to smile or talk to someone else.
2. Piggy-back rides
Last year we were nearing the end of our portrait session and the kids were tuckering out—but we weren’t sure that we had yet gotten that “it” shot. So we did what any parents of young children who needed them to go another mile would do: we picked them up and made them go farther. It sounds funny, but the result was our favorite photo from the whole shoot. One child piggy backing each parent, and the smiles were epic.
Not going to lie: candid photos are our all-time favorites. When you’re looking to bring personality into your photos, you can’t beat capturing actual, natural disposition. Particularly when you’re working with pets or young children, odds are not everything is going to go exactly as planned. Instead of fighting it, work with it. Make the short walk to your next location its own location, and ask your photographer to snap away without the kids having to pose. You can always work yourself into the shot—privy, of course, to what is happening—to covertly get the perfect family shot. In general, try to fill in the frame. For example, if your kids are walking down a path with a gap between them, try to fit yourself into the in-between space just a step or two behind them. If they’re walking down the middle, take the vertical space to the outsides to form more of a “V” or triangle shape.
4. Give them something to do
In a similar direction as our third pose, we call this the semi-candid photo that, again, works particularly well for pets and children. Simply give them something to do during your photos. If you’re at the beach, give them sticks to write in the sand or buckets and shovels to build a sand castle. If you’re in a park, bring a soccer ball, bubbles, or a kite. Pumpkin farm? Go on a hunt to find the lumpiest pumpkin. Get involved with them, and let the photographer work their magic. They can always give cues to you if you need to move into a different light or turn a different way without disrupting the kids. Personality galore.
5. Give everyone their own space
This idea works particularly well for larger families or groups. Instead of clustering everyone together, give everyone some space to work with—within a defined area. For example, if you’re posing in front of a barn, don’t set everyone up in a straight line, arm-to-arm in front of the doors. Perhaps someone takes a hay bale slightly to the front and side. Mom and dad go by the doors. The kids scatter a few feet apart from one another. Then, instead of telling everyone exactly how to stand, tell them to pose. Take a few of these—some are bound to get goofy, but you’ll likely get a couple that are definite keepers, where the smiles are golden and bits of everyone’s unique personalities shine through. Think a toe pop or perfectly placed hand on the hip. Subtle individually, but the group as a whole looks awesome.
6. Line it up
Sometimes simple group portrait poses just work the best—and it’s hard to simplify it more than lining everyone up in a straight line. If you’re working with large age or height gaps, play with that sizing. Take photos with the smallest on one side, lining up in order all the way to the tallest. Try one with the smallest or tallest in the middle, graduating out to the sides to work your way up or down. If everyone is mostly in the same range, simply line them up and tell them to pose. Consider a subtly placed hand on a shoulder from mom to dad or mother to son. Let a daughter put a hand on her hip or twirl the end of her hair. These little breaks from the traditional pose allow you to infuse small amounts of personality throughout the photo in a natural way.
7. Separate the kids
Have multiple kids? Work with that. Try a photo that clusters them in a traditional triangle or side by side. Keep the attention on them while you stand together with your spouse in either the background or foreground of the picture. Your kids will remain the focus and can play off of each other, as kids naturally do. You and your spouse will essentially have your own pose or photo, and by placing the two together, you get a great family photo with everyone’s personality showing through, as well as some visual interest from the composition standpoint.
Most of the time, it’s when you try “too hard” to get quirky group photos that they become contenders for the awkward blogs. However, if you infuse character into your group photos in natural, subtle ways, you’re bound to be thrilled with the results.
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