Stress-Free Posing: Family Edition


This article is totally different than the other ones in our Stress Free Posing series. And there’s one big huge caveat.

So first, why it’s different.

Well, from our experience, shooting kids is not the same as shooting adults. Grown ups will just do whatever you say. It’s easy.

With kids? Not so much. A different approach is required.

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And that brings us to the caveat.

Here’s what we’ve learned about posing with families…

The only way to make it stress free is with your own attitude to the shoot.

This is the deal.

Photographing kids almost never goes the way you expect.

The parents will tell you they have the smiliest baby in the world, and the little munchkin ends up being super cranky during the session.

Or you’re dealing with dramatically different age groups all at once, and there’s the one kid who just isn’t into it.

Or you have this awesome idea for a game, and you’re positive they’re going to love it. But they hate it. That’s what shooting kids can be like.

Straight up, you have to be flexible and ready to roll with it. Otherwise it’s going to be pretty stressful!

But wait. Don’t start running away just yet.

Taking photos of families is actually insanely awesome. Honest.

It just takes a few simple ideas, and a willingness to practice extreme patience, and stress free posing of families can be yours!!

Posing” Is Overrated

When it comes to photographing kids and families, I think there needs to be a different type of “posing” involved.

See, there’s the traditional idea of “posing”, which involves micromanaging the details of your subject’s stance.

So getting them to move their head slightly to the left, chin up, front foot forward, weight on the back foot, shoulders at an angle, that kind of stuff.

Don’t get me wrong, knowing all that business can help you create incredibly flattering images of people.

But go ahead and try to tell a one year old to do all that. Hint: they won’t.

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So the approach to posing families needs to take into account the different age levels you’ll be dealing with. Some subjects won’t be able to talk. Some won’t be able to stand.

And some will think that sitting with their hands on their lap is the most boring idea in the world.

Besides, what happens when you try to get kids into stiff poses? They look stiff. They feel uncomfortable and awkward. And they hate having their photos taken.

Kids Should Love Photo Sessions

Novel concept eh?

But really—shouldn’t we, as photographers, be aiming for this goal? Why do photo sessions have to be painful? Couldn’t they be fun for kids? Couldn’t kids actually look forward to them?

And wouldn’t that:

a) make it easier for the photographer

b) make it easier for the parents

c) result in much more fantastic, happy, meaningful images?

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Think back to family photos as a kid.

It usually involved dressing up in lame clothes, sitting really still in some weird pose with your hand on your sibling’s shoulder, and looking at a camera and trying to act happy.

Tell me what in that scenario is there to feel happy about? Nothing. So why should kids look happy if they don’t feel happy?


Now don’t fear. There are some tips to creating situations that are both fun, and result in flattering images, and we’re going to chat about those.

But take a second and think about what you’re actually trying to capture when you photograph a family.

Is it something that just looks good? Or is it a moment that actually feels good for the people in the photo? One of those is far more valuable than the other.

Heads Are the Key

The biggest idea I use when posing families is pretty simple.

I try to get their heads close to the same level. Family sessions for us are largely about capturing relationships and interaction and it’s pretty tough to capture that when everyone is far away from each other.

So basically you’re looking for a lot of sitting down stuff.

Even if the kids are dramatically different heights, sitting down brings everyone closer. It can be as simple as just sitting on the ground.

Look for nice colors, textures, and clean backgrounds. Steps and benches work great too. There are tons of options!

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Within sitting you can have kids on laps, between or beside mom and dad. Everyone can sit, or the parents can sit while the kids stand. Mega variety is possible!

There’s another way to get heads close, and that’s to have the parents holding the kids. This gets tough with older kids, multiple kids, and for long periods of time.

So sitting is definitely more versatile, but holding kids gives great variety, and the chance for wonderful interaction.

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Now, I definitely don’t do all our poses sitting down. We’ll chat more about other poses shortly. But these sitting down shots usually are the easiest to set up, and result in the best interaction and expressions from the whole family!

Age Matters

Ok, so confession. Rob and I didn’t know anything about kids before we became photographers. I couldn’t have told you the difference between a 6 month old baby and a 3 year old toddler. True story. So if you don’t have much experience with children don’t worry, you can learn. And you’re going to have to! If you already have kids you’re lucky because you have insider information!

The idea here is that the age of the kiddo really matters in the type of posing you’ll be able to do. Newborns are really easy. They can’t run away! You need some patience, as they require lots of breaks for snacks and diaper changes, but basically the parents can just hold them in different ways and your posing is easy. This lasts pretty much up until walking age, and is wonderful.

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Then they start walking. And running. Away from you. Things get crazy.

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Start With The Essentials

Kids have short attention spans. And even shorter tolerance for boring stuff.

While we love all the candid interaction shots, we do still try to snag at least one good image of everyone sitting together, looking at the camera. It’s WAY easier to get that at the beginning of the session, when the kids are usually a bit more cooperative.

They haven’t found out yet that they can spend time just playing and we’ll be cool with it.

Once we unleash them, it’s hard to corral them back in.

So get those “must-have” images out of the way as soon as possible. It will save you a ton of stress trying to get it at the end of the session when all the kids want to do is play.

For us, the must-haves are a nice family shot, shots of each kid with each parent, and all the kids together.

Once that stuff is out of the way, we’re free to focus on the fun and spontaneous moments that always pop up when you’re shooting families.

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Looking for ways to get folks smiling during that “posed” shot? Check out 4 Tips for Photographing People Laughing!

Variety Matters

Variety in your poses and images is great for creating albums and selling digital files. But with kids it’s even more critical because it prevents the shoot from getting too static and boring.

Here are a few poses we use with kids to keep them interacting with their family, in easy to photograph situations, but still having fun!

So when our subjects are sitting down we get them to snuggle in super super tight. The closer the better. And then we’ll usually throw some tickles in there. Always fun.

Once the kids get bored you can stand up, and have them all hold hands in a line. This looks really cute and gets everyone away from each other a bit.

Sometimes excessive closeness freaks kids out, and they need a bit more space.

In this pose, to make it fun and keep ‘em engaged, kids can jump, get a swing from mom and dad, do a family-wide wave, whatever you can think of!

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Getting kids up onto their parents shoulders is also awesome.

It keeps heads close, kids love it, and if you get the parents to stand close it can make for some awesome shots.

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With younger kids, a lot of the time you kind of have to trick them into doing something that works well for your photos. And usually that involves having them get their heads nice and close to their parents. One technique we’ve found useful is to have the parents sitting, and the kiddo to stand behind them, and give them a hug around the neck.

Sometimes you’ll have to qualify that it’s a *gentle* hug, and that they can’t choke their parents. But this totally works and results in some awesome photos!

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Along the same lines, squishing cheeks together works really well too!

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But you know what, after you’ve done all that you should have all your solid shots out of the way, and then you can honestly just let them play together. At that point you just have to watch and wait and the amazing shots will come.

See, that’s what’s so seriously awesome about shooting kids.

With some encouragement they will really open up and be themselves.

Let them play and have fun with their parents, and they’ll show you emotion, personality, and pure happiness in a way that most adults never do in front of the camera. Kids rock.

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So it really doesn’t have to be stressful shooting kids. Be patient, be flexible and make it fun.

You’ll end up with some awesome portraits, lots of real moments, happy parents and happy kids!

Your Turn

Do you have any tips for posing families?

Share them with us in the comments now!

Lauren Lim

Hey friend, I’m Lauren! I’m a photography ninja here at Photography Concentrate. I’m downright obsessed with photography, and love sharing it with super cool folks like yourself. When I’m not shooting, or writing, you can find me cooking (and eating!), traveling, and hanging out with wonderful people.

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37 Comments // Leave a comment

  1. Hi guys, I've been reading through all your articles (yeah all past 14+ pages worth) and I figured its 'time to talk'. I just recently had a kid's photo shoot this past weekend and something that I use is to have them whisper to one another a funny secret about mom and dad. It got them smiling and laughing fast. And It was fun shooting the expressions that came afterwards. Thanks for this article and all the others. You guys really are awesome people!

  2. These tricks work really well, I've discovered most of them the hard way.
    Different age groups require different types of 'incentives' or inspiration. There's a really cute age from about 2 1/2 to 5 ish where they'll do and say anything and not care. They're not self conscious yet, but extremely innocent.

    I always bring a soap bubble kit to the session. It's kind of like an emergency exit if nothing is going right. But once you bring it out, it's not going back in.

  3. I've taken a different approach, since I started staying at home with my boys earlier this year, I was posing them individually and creating composite images where I had a "perfect" photo of each of us individually. Some families loved this and I've built my recent business on offering these kinds of portraits. Sometimes I think they lack the sincerity of a candid shoot can present, but it's also a great way to bring out everyone's character traits exactly how they want them in a final image.

  4. Great article :)

  5. One trick I use is to get the kids to "smile small". It stops them up as the figure out what you are asking. Once they figure out how funny a small smile is, they usually start laughing.

    I find this helps to connect with the kids, getting them to know you are just about as goofy as they are. This gets you through the "gotta haves" and into the fun shots quickly.

  6. I loved your site when i first found you. I love you in my feed. and i love you today. I have my very first paid family shoot tomorrow. brilliant timing, and great article. thank you! :)

  7. I love this post. One, because I have been doing more family shoots, lately. But, two, because of what you said: Kids should love photo sessions. In fact, EVERYONE should love photo sessions. They should be fullof happy and good. It's unfortunate how many people have experienced not-so-good sessions because their photographer didn't put them at ease or encourage them to have fun, or let them be themselves. I love that in essense, this post of yours was really, "Stress-free posing = stop posing!"

  8. *@Buntha:* Wow, that's so cool that you read all our articles! So glad you left us a comment :) I really like your suggestions for the funny secret, that's fantastic! I'm totally going to try that, thanks so much for sharing!

    *@Evan:* I LOVE that age where they aren't self conscious yet. It's such a blast to photograph! Such a great idea for the soap bubbles as an emergency! But you're totally right, that kind of stuff is not going back in. Great suggestion, thank you!

    *@Justin:* Your photos are SO cool, and totally unique, I love them! It's a different, but completely awesome approach to family photography.

    *@CW:* Thanks! :)

    *@Raj:* Haha, that is awesome!! It makes me giggle just thinking about it. Small smile, love it! Thanks so much for sharing Raj!

    *@Fiona:* Gosh, thank you so much! I'm so glad you're enjoying the site and that this post was such great timing for you! Hope the shoot goes smashingly!

    *@Jasmine:* Oh I totally agree, everyone should love photo sessions! And honestly it's not a hard thing to do! Just have to loosen up ourselves, and realize that happy and goodness make for a wonderful experience for all—photographer and subjects alike. I'm glad you enjoyed that this was about "stop posing". I fretted initially thinking about this post, because I knew it was not going to be a "how to pose" guide. But hey, that's what I've learned about "posing" families! :)

  9. Awesome article, I totally agree with all the points above, and I have found that you need to keep things super high energy, especially with the toddler crowd. That has probably been the hardest thing for me, because it's exhausting and you have to be sincere. Kids can spot a faker a mile away.

    Also, Rob and Lauren, I was so excited to see that you're in Edmonton! We moved back to Ontario 5 years ago, but my family still lives there, so we visit often. I have observed that the Edmonton community seems to really started to value photography. My community (Dutch and cheap) seems to be paying more for photographers. I miss Edmonton, sometimes I think I should move back just to be a photographer (but then I remember what -40 feels like).

    A huge congratulations on all your success. This is an amazing and helpful website, and your portraits are fantabulous.

  10. Hey guys, love your blog, wish there was something like this when I first started out. A few things that work for me are asking kids how high they can jump – always works to get genuine smiles as kids love jumping! I also ask them to give me their biggest, goofiest smile or give me a monster face and they'll usually relax into giggles.

  11. *@Rachel:* Thanks so much! Great point about needing to keep things high energy and sincere! We often need a nap after shooting kids, haha!

    So cool that you were in Edmonton! The people here are so very very wonderful. Just got some snow and we're always in denial about what's coming in the winter, lol! Thank you so much for the super kind words :)

    *@Virginia:* Thank you!! That's an awesome suggestion, how high can you jump! Totally works! Monster face is awesome, I haven't tried that but totally will! :D

  12. Families are to me the hardest. Some photographers websites make it look SO easy. I know part of it depends on the family, but I'll take any ideas I can get! Thanks!

  13. Your site is my go to site for photography information. You guys always seem to have an article for any question I have. So I found this article very helpful, but I was wondering if you had any tips for family portraits where the children mainly are in high school. I may be shooting my first family session and there are the parents, 3 children in high school and a new born… any tips for that arena?

    • Sorry if this sounds stupid but how do you get your families to play? Do you give them prompts or just simply tell them to play? I️ never know how to go about these sort of things

  14. This is the approach that I took when we did our first engagement shoot. We set the couple up but let them do their own facial expressions, talk, whatever. And the best shots we got were those that we did not specifically ask them to do.

    Even with posed shots I think having them do their own thing will allow their personalities to show. We are going to do our first family portrait session this weekend and I have been nervous about what to do. So what did I do? Came to your website for tips :) And this post has been quite handy. We will definitely look into "posed" shots first and then let the kids run free (the kids are really young, toddler and a baby I think!) – if the rain doesn't happen I can't wait to try some things out!

  15. Great tips! My first ever family/maternity shoot I read on so many great tips and thought I was prepared…but what I realized was one of the children had Autism. It was a bit challenging but at times I felt like I didn’t know what or how to handle the poses because the child was all over and didn’t really look at me.

    In the end I was able to capture a few good photos out of the hundreds that I took. As I was editing I realized that many of the pictures came out almost perfect but the little guy would move creating a blur effect. But I soon realized and looked at it in a more artistic and deeper view, that reality is this is their life constantly moving , never still. I presented to my client in that way and I think she was moved by the hidden concept of it :)

    I would ask if you had to “deal” with a similar scenario, what do you recommend?

    Thank you for such a wonderful website and for all your insights that help us all!

    • Hi Maria! Thanks so much for sharing your experience. We can definitely relate to the situation you faced. While we haven’t photographed a child with autism, we have photographed families at our local Ronald McDonald House (a temporary residence for sick children and their families), and there were some challenges with those shoots. There are a few things we try to do for these sessions.

      First, we would keep things pretty simple. Usually one location, and the session was fairly short. We really worked around the kids, and made sure they were happy. We focused on getting any “must-have” shots done right away, since attention spans are usually pretty short. And finally, we really tried to capture interaction with our photos, rather than anything too posed. This let the kids do their own thing, and didn’t force them to do anything they didn’t want.

      All those things together made for some really great sessions, no matter what kind of mood the kids were in!

    • Hi Maria, I so understand, I photographed a family with an autistic child, I used that term vaguely as his diagnosis is quite complex. He was a very sweet boy who was almost bigger than his father and was 110% focused on eating the bark off sticks. I could not use any of my usual techniques and although he was quite young he was beyond the size that would enable him to look comfortable on his parents lap. He was not interested in me or having his photo taken so I decided to focus on sticks which is what he loved most and got him to move to the places I wanted by pointing out the great sticks in that area. The sticks were included in the photo if he wanted and they tell as much as a story about him as does the rest of the image. I made sure that I did all the big family photo’s first (often moving from tree to tree to follow the lure of sticks) then I moved away to let the family interact as normal and did my best to take sneaky candid shots. It was a huge challenge that I was initially quite worried about, but the family was so willing to work with whatever idea I had and it was so obvious how much their son was adored and was the central part of their life so it ended up being quite an enjoyable shoot and really helped with my confidence of handling challenging situations.

  16. My daughter was born last year and I promised myself a new camera. Finally bought one and cannot wait to photograph her!! This article and your site is very inspiring for beginner like me ( :
    Thank you!!!

    • Lauren Lim says

      Congrats, Mel! That’s so exciting! There is not much more amazing than getting to photograph your own baby. We’re so glad this was helpful! And make sure to take LOTS of photos, they change so fast! :)

  17. Great tips. Thank you!

  18. im a young childrens photographer and come from a family thats big..i can say 7 months old (aka a premmie that should be 5) is not easy once they relize the can sit..and trying to take pics of a 6 year old and a 7 month old together is horrible when one looked the other wouldnt but i make weird noises and got good pics!!but this is good

  19. Awesome article. I am shooting a family of 4 very soon (Dad, Mum, 10yr boy, 3yr girl) This family is very shy, I need ideas to help them come out of their shells

  20. I consider myself a hobbyist, because I do not attempt or intend to make a living as a photographer, but I am very serious about continuing to grow and develop as a photographer. Portraits are one of my most favorite things to shoot, and it was when my kids came along that I started to get serious about getting better at it, and along the way I have learned one foundational paradigm about pictures of children – what will matter the most 1 year, 5 years, or 20 years down the road is that the photo somehow captures a piece of the essence of that child. It’s the sparkle, the mischief, the solemnity, the empathy that shines through the photo that will make it a beloved keepsake, when the photo reminds the viewer of what the child was like at that age. One of my absolute favorite photos is of my son at 3 years old looking straight at the camera with the most mischievous grin, and pointing a water gun at me…

  21. Great tips. Thank you! i love your site

  22. Thanks for the article! I absolutely love your shots where the kids are on their parents’ shoulders. Kids really do like that pose, which means they smile a lot more. When it comes to kids, the best tip for a photographer is to take LOTS of pictures. You’re more likely to catch that perfect expression if you take twice as many pictures. |

  23. I’m new at photography and really like your website and tutorials because they are so helpful. I did have a question about shooting with kids and camera settings. I noticed that sometimes it is hard for me to get everyone’s face in focus especially when there are three or more subjects. I have my camera settings set on manual and with the center point focus. I was wondering if it would be better to change the center point focus to something else so that I can get all the subjects without them being blurred, or if there is something else I’m doing wrong that would correct this problem of having all most everyone in focus.

  24. Richard O says

    Thanks a great deal for the tips….came in handy!

  25. Hello,

    Amazing Post.

    There is the great trend of family portraits in the present era. It helps people of the family to view them in one frame.

    Thanks for sharing this article.

    Keep up the good work.

  26. I like that you provided some tips and interesting insights on how to have a good family photography session such as making sure that the kids are having fun. It may be a little challenging to ask kids to pose according to how we want and prefer but it’s actually better to let them act naturally. Having a photo session with the kids aren’t supposed to be a headache. One other way is to bribe them with a reward afterward. Hence, it’s going to be a win-win situation in the end. If I were to have a family photography session with the whole family, I would make sure to keep this in mind. Thanks.

  27. Nice family picture.

  28. Amanda Laurendeau says

    Do you have any suggestions for photographing families with teenage or adult children? I feel like older kids/adults just want to stand next to each other and always look at the camera. How do I get them to relax, interact with each other and look more natural?

    • Kaitlyn Luckow says

      Try getting to know them a bit beforehand. Find out what they like to do together as a family and try to set the scene as such. It will make them more comfortable and have them interact with each other in a more natural way and come off as less posey.

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