How To: Take the Perfect Family Portrait (Part 1)

Following our look at taking the perfect holiday photo published earlier in the summer, travel writer Frances Atkins is back with another guest feature, this time focusing (ha!) on capturing your loved ones in the perfect family portrait. Today we publish Part 1 and you can look forward to Part 2 arriving later in the week. Over to Frances…

One of the key aspects of good photography is capturing special moments and saving them long into the future.  An argument I hear time and time again is that nothing is quite as important as a family portrait, which if done correctly, will pass down from generation to generation, telling a present-day story to future relatives. Sounds quite powerful, doesn’t it?

Now, I’m not a huge fan of static portraits where everyone always seems to be in the same staged stance; which is why I was impressed with the recent release of Prince George’s first family portrait, taken by his grandfather and amateur photographer Michael Middleton. The Duke and Duchess smiled naturally and looked at ease, dropping the formality of past Royal portraits. This is the main reason I’m focussing on holiday family portraits, as everyone is generally more relaxed and natural while away, not forgetting there’s usually a beautiful location to use as a backdrop!

So, when you’re out exploring the world, take the opportunity to snap the perfect family portrait full of holiday smiles, togetherness and personality. Here are my steps to help you get that one photo to share, frame and treasure.


Step 1: Choose your camera

Picking which equipment you need to take away is one of the earliest decisions you’ll make, as you have to pack in advance.

Smartphones vs. Digital point-and-shoot

Smartphones are great for snapping on the go, especially if you have one of the latest models, but for a family photo with impact and quality, they’re a bad choice. Why risk blurred shots after finally getting young children to stay still? If you can, try to pack a digital point-and-shoot: they deal better with changing light conditions and will undoubtedly offer better pixel quality (even the best smartphones on the market are only around 13 megapixels). The iPhone 5, for example, has no red eye reduction or optical zoom, so the limitations are quite apparent and, if you opt for a digital zoom, you’re going to be left with a grainy portrait that you won’t be able to increase in size to print and display.

Compact System Camera vs. Digital SLR

For great results you’d be happy to show off, either a compact system camera (known as a CSC) or a Digital SLR is the best choice. Compact system cameras like the Samsung NX300(UK) are lighter and more portable than their SLR counterparts (essentially because they are mirrorless), which is ideal when you’re travelling. They perform better in low-light compared to point-and-shoot cameras, so you’re opening up your options as well as getting a faster response time.

However, whilst these are a good step-up, some CSCs don’t come with flash, so be sure to check the model, and they also don’t have optical viewfinders to aid your composition. This isn’t vital, especially if you’re setting up on a tripod and using a timer, but if you want that added control and insight into your image then it’s best to opt for a digital SLR. They are heavier, granted, but you can’t beat the technical freedom. Besides, if you’re going to create precious memories, you may as well get them to the highest standard you can afford.

Step 2: Choose what to wear

Most of the time it doesn’t matter what you wear on holiday, as long as it suits the weather (hot, I hope!), however in family portraits it’s best to have a sense of unity. Guide everyone to wear the same style, not necessarily the same colour, but visually there shouldn’t be ‘an odd one out’.

If you want the human element of the portrait to be appealing, check the following:

  • Everyone is in the same manner of dress e.g. smart casual or formal.
  • No one is wearing fluorescent clothing that will detract from faces and expressions.
  • There aren’t any obvious brand logos on display which, again, will draw attention away from the personality of subjects.
  • Everyone feels comfortable in what they are wearing.

Style aside, the last point is all-important as comfortable family members are more likely to be themselves in a portrait, which is one of the key goals. If it helps, remind everyone to relax and that it’s just a bit of fun (even if you’re taking it rather seriously)!

Five member family portrait looking happy

Step 3: Depth of field

So, everyone’s ready for the big moment: how are you going to shoot it? One of the most important aspects to experiment with is depth of field. Family portraits are about having clear subjects that stand-out and are complimented by the background.

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