10 Tips & Tricks for Taking Great Family Portraits


Taking family portraits is a wonderful yearly tradition to adopt. Seeing your family change over the years is a special memory to hold on to. Plus, family photos are great to include in your holiday greeting card, share on your Facebook page, or hang in your home.

Hiring a professional family portrait photographer to capture your family will guarantee you get great-looking photos both you and your loved ones will cherish forever. However, if hiring a photographer isn’t in your budget, a DIY approach can be a good (and fun) alternative.

As an Oahu family photographer, I understand what all goes into a perfectly captured family image and I’d love to share some of these tips with you! Keep reading for my best advice on how to take great family portraits.


Not Ready for A DIY Approach? 

Contact Me to Book Your Oahu Family Photos! 

View Family Portrait Portfolio


Nice Gear Doesn’t Always Equal Good Photos

It’s true, professional camera equipment will provide a better-quality photo – but only if you understand exactly how to use it. In fact, if you’re not familiar with how to operate an expensive camera, your photos can actually turn out worse than if you stuck with your friendly point-and-shoot.

My recommendation is to keep it simple. Stick to whatever type of camera you’re comfortable using. Unless you’re interested in learning some advanced photography techniques, there’s really no need to go out and buy an expensive camera setup or cumbersome lighting equipment.


Location Matters

Before jumping into your family photo session, take time to scout location options. Look for a place with good natural lighting and a variety of scenery. Even if you want photos on the beach, having the ocean in the background of every single image may become monotonous. 

Instead, think about a location where you can diversify the look of your photos. For example, here on Oahu, taking photos at places like Sherwood Forest or Kawela Bay gives you the option to play with both a beach and a wooded jungle look.

Here are a few other things to keep in mind when choosing a location:

  • Indoor photos often result in poorly-lit images. Going outside is usually a better option.
  • Does the location have enough space to get away from crowds? You don’t want random people in the background of your family photos!
  • If you have young children, where will they feel most comfortable and be themselves?

Take Advantage of Golden Hour

In photography, the golden hour refers to the period just after sunrise or right before sunset. The term “hour” is figurative though, as its length depends on where you are, the time of year, and weather conditions. Regardless, the golden hour is a great time to take your family photos. 

Here’s why:

  • The light during this time is warm and soft and won’t cause you to squint or look shiny.
  • You’ll avoid harsh shadows and have a more interesting, dynamic look.
  • This lighting is very flattering and just can’t be replicated...even with photo editing tools!

If you decide to take photos indoors–in your house, for instance–try to use the room with the biggest windows. Leading up to your shoot, keep track of what time of the day the room has the best light and aim to do your photos then.


Think About Clothing

Some families like wearing the same color in their photos, other’s don’t care as much. Either way is fine, but there are some important guidelines to keep in mind. These apply no matter what:

  • Make sure everyone is comfortable with their outfit
  • Avoid too many crazy patterns
  • You don’t need to match but you should color coordinate
  • Avoid all white or all black clothing as well as shirts with words or images

Use A Tripod (but not exclusively)

For your family portrait shoot, you’ll want a tripod so you can make sure to get in on the photo, too! A tripod allows you to get everyone staged and ready, set the timer, and run to get the shot. If you have young kids, you can also tape a stuffed animal or toy on the tripod to keep their attention on the camera

Even so, don’t limit yourself by using the tripod the entire time. While posed family photos are great, you’ll likely want a few candid or playful shots as well. Be ready to take the camera in your hands and follow your kiddos around to snap images as they play and interact with other family members. 


Bring Incentives

Photographing children can be difficult– especially if they’re not interested in the idea! So bring along some sort of incentive to keep your kids excited about the photos. This could be small pieces of candy, toys, or the anticipation of a fun activity once the shoot is over. 

Avoid placing too much pressure on the photo session and making your kids feel intimidated by the process. Instead, keep your energy level high and positive. Take your posed photos right away and then turn the rest of your shoot into a fun game. These moments are when you’ll get the best photos!


Introduce Props Conservatively

Photo props can be a fun addition! Things like banners, signs, seasonal decorations and blankets are interesting and add an extra element to your images. 

Even so, too many props distract from your family. Props should not be the main focus of your photos, so if you decide to incorporate some into your images, keep them simple and minimal.


Pause to Review

Don’t forget to slow down a bit and take time to look at the photos you’re capturing. There are a number of smart photography practices to follow and check for every time you take a photo:

  • Focus: Is everyone in the image in focus? Zoom in on your image to make sure! There will be nothing worse than getting home and realizing all your photos are blurry.
  • Horizon: Make sure you’re horizons are straight!
  • Head Room: Leave some space above everyone’s head. Additionally, make sure you’re not cutting off feet in your image! 
  • Rule of Thirds: Following the rule of thirds and composing your image along these intersecting lines can help with the overall look of your photo.
  • Mergers: Keep an eye out for background elements positioned in such a way that it looks like it’s coming out of someone’s body or head in the image. You want to avoid this!
  • Eyes: Check to make sure every person’s eyes are open!

Alter Your Perspective

Taking the same photo from a few different angles is a good tactic for getting the best shot. For example, get closer or further away. Avoid using the zoom feature on your camera, if you have one. This can cause your photo to pixelate and not look as great after the fact. Instead, move the camera closer or further away.

You can also try turning your subject around and shooting from a different direction, or grouping your family in a different order. These small changes can make a big difference in finding the perfect shot!


Use Photo Editing Tools Appropriately

There are so many photo editing tools you can utilize to help your photo really stand out. Just because you can though, doesn’t mean you should. Don’t go overboard! 

If you decide to edit your photo, choose a premade filter or only make small adjustments in these areas:

  • Brightness: Make your photo a little brighter or darker, only if necessary
  • Temperature: You can add a hint of warmth to your image, if necessary, by adjusting its temperature
  • Saturation: Be minimal here, too much saturation will make your image look unrealistic
  • Contrast: This can be helpful in making the image look sharper, darkening black colors and brightening white colors

Again, remember to do all editing in moderation for the best, most natural look! And avoid adjusting unnecessary editing settings, like blur or vignette. 



Turn to an Experienced Hawaii Family Portrait Photographer

Taking your own family photos can be a fun, new experience! Still, with everything else you have on your plate, a DIY approach might not be your first choice every year. 

If you want a stress-free photoshoot experience along with beautiful, quality photos of your family, contact me

Whether you live here in Hawaii or are interested in documenting your family vacation on the islands, I can help! I have years of experience capturing beautiful family photos in Hawaii and would be thrilled to meet and photograph you and your loved ones!