Posing For Families

Today's post comes from the book Family Photography: The Digital Photographers Guide to Building a Business on Relationships by Christie Mumm. It is available from Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

Most of my clients are looking for a good mix of casually posed and candid shots from their sessions. I begin by looking for the best light in any given location, then suggest posing that will allow the family to interact and reveal their personalities. Traditional posing rules for groups favor a balanced arrangement. I find that a few general rules serve me well.

The Triangle Rule. Posing families to create triangle patterns that are somewhat equidistant in spacing will feel balanced and keep the viewer’s eyes moving from subject to subject. It is human nature to be drawn to triangles, a shape that is repeated in nature over and over again. When you are looking at a family pose, be wary of groupings that place one subject out of balance or somehow “out” of the group. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule.

Families of three are very easy to pose as they will naturally fall into a triangle pattern.

With families that have an even number of members, be careful not to create a perfect square. With a family of four, a lopsided rectangle or parallelogram created from multiple triangles produces an intriguing yet balanced pose.

In certain cases, an offset subject can draw attention to that person in an interesting and narrative way. Typically speaking, however, you will want to be able to draw many different triangles with the placement of the faces in your composition.

The Linear Rule. Placing families in linear poses is a great way to draw the eye through the portrait in a fluid way. Try to use leading lines with these poses if at all possible; this will create a sense of flow in the image. Linear poses make fantastic panoramic or wide prints and can be placed on walls where vertical space is limited.

The “Groups” Rule. Posing families in smaller groups can make for fun, unique portraits. Whether you place the children separately from the parents or divide the boys and the girls, the “groups” rule can create poses that are fun and full of life. Encourage the smaller groups to follow either the triangle or linear rule; this will make each of the smaller groups feel more cohesive and balanced. One thing to consider with this rule is focus. When the groups are placed on different planes, you will have to make a decision about focal points and whether or not you want all of the subjects in focus.

Allowing this family to settle into their own personalities within the pose has made for a truly authentic portrayal of their family dynamic. I love how the littlest one is showing her stubbornness, the middle child is sneaking a peek at what everyone else is doing, and the eldest is picking on the little one. This image makes me smile every time I look at it and it ended up being their favorite from the session.

In this family portrait, the mother and father are positioned as the center of the group and their boys move out from them. The leading lines from the parents in the center to the outside children make the viewer’s eyes move back and forth through the image as they scan each face one at a time.

Here the “U” shape of the grouping has the eye moving from the father, to the daughter, to the son, and up to the mother—and back again.

This family portrait uses the “groups” rule, separating the boys from the girls to juxtapose their personalities. I love how the family clown in the middle is vying for Dad’s attention. Mom looks on, obviously amused at his antics.

The two groups are on different planes, rendering the parents and baby out of focus while the two big girls play it up for the camera in front.

The Lifestyle Portrait. The last posing rule I will talk about is the “unposed” rule. I try to capture a good mix of loosely posed images and candid shots in each session. When shooting in this fashion, you will be an observer and simply allow the family to interact and move around the shooting location. Walking, climbing, and otherwise being active is the name of the game here. Encourage your clients to play, explore, and try to forget that you are there at all. I will usually put on my long zoom lens for this portion of the session and shoot stealthily from a distance.

Allowing families to have some fun, unstructured play time during their session is a great way to capture images that convey the true nature of your clients’ relationships.

The philosophy of lifestyle portraiture is to capture the subjects in their natural environment. Interactions between family members are some of the most honest and authentic moments you will have the pleasure of capturing in your images. In fact, some of the most evocative and moving images you create will be those that are captured in moments when your direction is not present at all. I strive to be an observer of human nature and relationships. If you open your eyes to the world around you and allow the beauty of creation to wash over you in the present, your work will become a true representation of your subjects. Living life in the moment and appreciating your clients for who they are, and what they mean to each other, is paramount in this business.

Don’t be afraid to frame your subjects very tightly and even crop off portions of heads or faces. These shots create a sense of intimacy and can make for some beautiful, moving portraits.