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Tips & Tricks

6 Common Mistakes When Posing Families

By Diana Elizabeth on September 12th 2012

Mistakes are often made when we’re too busy concentrating on something else such as our lighting or camera settings.  As a portrait photographer, it is important not to overlook how your subjects are posed.  By taking the time to heavily concentrate on posing, you’ll see a big difference in your images – your clients will look more natural and relaxed which is exactly what results in a great image.

6 Common Mistakes Made when Posing Families
    1. Shooting by a tree.  The best spot in a location isn’t always by the base of a tree.  The biggest problem with shooting by a tree is that unless you are capturing the entire tree when you shoot – which will then make your subjects small, you might crop tight and all you see are family members and the base of a tree trunk.  Find a location without a tree stump, if you need shade, use the tree shade, minus the trunk.
    2. Putting male family members in an awkward pose.  Men don’t sit cross-legged.  In fact, no adult really has since grade school unless they are doing yoga.  A leg bent with a leg crossed under is fine – but avoid the soles of shoes.  Men should always be embracing the woman.
    3. Not putting the parents or grandparents in the middle.  If it’s a huge family portrait, your eye needs to be drawn to the main subject(s).  Is it the parents, or  grandparents?  Depending on the set up, you should make it obvious where the main subjects are – the parents can still be the side, but don’t shuffle them so they get lost in the mix, it’s typically the middle.  If it’s a daughter, mother, grandmother shoot, the oldest women are always in the middle, they are the most important subjects, never put them on the edge.
    4. Not coupling properly.  Stagger family members if you must, but keep them clumped so it is obvious who is single, who is a family, and who are siblings. Pay attention to avoid coupling siblings in a sense that make them look like they are a couple.  Make sure couples touch, and single siblings if there are two, flock both sides of the parents and if there are more than two, they angle away from each other to show independence.  I like having the taller members of the family on the outside if possible.
    5. Forgetting to capture them in a natural state. Even if you are more of a traditional portrait photographer, don’t forget the moments when a family looks at a child or laughs at a child’s reaction.  Sometimes you’ll get some great shots when they aren’t looking but enjoying the moment or interacting with one another, so don’t stop photographing them!
    6. Expecting young children to pose.  You can’t have the entire family stand if the little kids are too short, the parents either have to hold them, or sit and the kids are on the parent’s lap.  If you missed our article on how to get great expressions from children, read this article.
Bonus shot not to forget!

Don’t forget mom and dad! Often I like to take them away from the kids and shoot a romantic portrait of just them, treating the old love birds like a newly engaged couple.  They absolutely love this!

Some examples of getting it right

Parents in the middle, additional family members on the outside, you can tell who is single.

You don’t have to always have them look so formal.  You can let them sit casually, especially if the little one is fairly little.

They can be adoring a child or participating in something they do together.

If a little one doesn’t want to stay still, have them run around the parents.

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Diana Elizabeth is a Phoenix-based wedding and portrait photographer who specializes in personalized, creative, and uniquely styled sessions. Visit her website at

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Ed Rhodes

    good tips!

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  2. nichole ayala pando

    your really good !!!(:

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  3. photography tutorial roundup: how to pose families & groups

    […] 4. This post at SLR Lounge discusses the 6 most common mistakes photographers make when posing families and then tells how to fix them, along with some example photos of getting it right. […]

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  4. Irving

    It’s very straightforward to find out any topic on web as compared to books, as I found this paragraph at this site.

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  5. George Bryant

    The casual pictures are shot in a nice way. Although most of them appear nice.

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  6. Noemailneeded

    These photos are suffering from bad lighting. The large family photo has over used the technique discussed and the family looks disjointed rather than a family. the one man’s hand on his wife’s hip looks odd at best. No one would touch like that.  The first photo with the pretty river and old car and trailer and the couple has lost focus. what is the subject of the photo?  

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  7. Kevin

    Thanks for sharing!  I “like”!!

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  8. Troutman_photography

    It may not be PC but I have to agree with Diana on this one.  Indian style was what it was called when I went to school.  Plus I feel like a huge “D” bag saying “criss cross apple sauce”.   Perhaps we can all agree to call it “Gangnam Style” if that will make you feel better. 

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  9. PC Police

    “…indian style.” – really?!

    “Men should always be embracing the woman.” – ah, right. I get it now…

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