Tips + Techniques

4 Family Posing Tips for Dynamic In-Home Portraits

February 17, 2021

By Brooke Schultz

Brooke Schultz is an industry educator + family photographer who helps family photographers create their own unique style instead of mimicking trends. Here, she offers up four in-home family photo posing tips that incorporate different furniture, levels, layers, and angles for more dynamic portraits.

Are family photo sessions in your client’s home a good concept? While popular and successful as these sessions are for some photographers, others might spiral into a panic just thinking about dark rooms, distracting backgrounds and the mystery of what you’ll encounter when you walk through your client’s door.

[Read: 6 Ways to Make Outdoor Family Portraits Shine]

For instance, when you find yourself wandering around your client’s space looking for a place to shoot, you might be tempted to sit the family down in a line on the couch for a group shot. After all, it’s a natural place to gather and hang out during movie night, but that doesn’t mean it translates into natural or flattering family photos.

After all, when was the last time you caught your reflection in the TV as you were lounging and thought, “Wow, I look good”?

Sitting on the couch makes everyone, no matter how beautiful, look like a blob ready for a Netflix binge—not the ideal picture you would want of a connected, loving family sharing their life together (like this image below).

Mom and children on bed in non-static family portrait poses on bed.
All Photos © Brooke Schultz

A family sitting in a line on the couch also lacks compositional interest because it creates so many horizontal lines. The lines of the floor, couch, family and ceiling are all horizontal. It’s boring, but more importantly, it doesn’t let the subjects connect when they’re all sitting facing the camera. This pose as a go-to begs the question, why are we having this photo session at home in the first place? Is it to document every couch, room and lamp? Is it because it’s trendy or easy? Or is it to immortalize the hard but invisible work families do to weave a web of love every day inside the four walls of their home?

[Read: 5 Tips to Posing Families Together for Natural-Looking Portrait Sessions]

Now that you’re ready to retire this sad pose, let’s walk through what to do instead to create flattering, dynamic images of families in their homes.

1. If you’re going use the couch, perch!

mom and children in a "perch" on couch.

Sometimes a couch is the only place in a home that fits the entire family. But, as mention previously, a family sitting straight across in a line is not visually interesting. Instead of having subjects sit on the couch as they usually would, have mom and dad perch on the edge and have everyone else lean in or perch around them.

2. The energy and motion of kids is your friend—use it for dynamic poses.

Different angles and different furniture add to this in-home family portrait.

Even if most kids aren’t usually allowed to jump on the couch or climb all over their parents, the energy these antics create in a session can’t be faked. After you’ve set mom and dad up to perch, let kids hug them from behind while sitting on the top ledge of the couch, play in front, or even mess up everything with a tickle attack. The energy and motion of kids is your friend—don’t squash it with stiff poses or trying to boss every hand into place. Plus, if you begin with mom and dad sitting up straight, they’ll be more likely to lean forward or to the side (flattering!) when kids hug and tickle instead of leaning back (double chins, yikes!).

3. Break the rules: Have subjects sit on the edge of a sink, lie on a bed or kneel down on a pretty rug.

Working around furniture in a home can be challenging. Not only are you considering light, background, and trying to direct the family to feel natural when they often feel stiff, you also need to work around big pieces that can constrain your ideas. I’ve gotten pin-happy before many at-home sessions and then showed up and realized the images I planned won’t work with the house’s layout, space or the room full of junk that just so happens to get the best light in the house.

in-home family posing with hands and hugs and different levels.

Every home will come with its own unique challenges and its own gifts. So often we hyper-focus on the challenges without maximizing the gifts. This particular kitchen (below) was full of light and a deep sink—a huge gift I immediately gravitated to, especially after photographing in many a home with a dark-as-a-dungeon kitchen. By having mom sit on the edge of the sink—as she would never do in real life—the resulting image speaks not only to the endless possibilities of angles and images you can create in an at-home family photo session, but also to the fantasy of family life. You look at this photo and know it’s not reality, but it still speaks to a real emotion. Use furniture to create images that evoke the otherworldly love and beauty of being in a family—even if that feeling is fleeting and quickly gives way to exhaustion from sleepless nights!

Dynamic portrait posing: A deep sink with baby inside and mom perched on counter.

You can also have family members stand on chairs, lie down on a pretty rug, stand in windows, or kneel on beds to create a flattering pose. Use what’s in the home environment as an unexpected revitalizer to your compositions and your overarching creativity. Ask yourself, what would never happen in real life that I can create in my world of family photography? It’s a delicious question that will have you thinking differently about what furniture is for in a family session. Furniture can be used to make a super tall dad shorter, a small kid bigger, or a self-conscious mom a little more comfortable with a kid in her lap in a chair. In an at-home family session, you can play with proportion and scale in a way you never could in an open field.

family portrait posing with mom and child

4. Curl up, legs up, reach up: Use furniture to create layers.

Keep using furniture to your advantage to create levels and layers in a home shoot setting. Furniture helps people connect in real life—everyone sitting around a table magically transforms everyone to relatively the same height; a couch allows people to snuggle in close. When you’re faced with an awkward height gap or a stiff family member (dads, I’m looking at you!), use furniture to help support and connect. Have dad curl up on the couch with his daughter instead of sitting straight on with his legs on the floor. Mom can sit in a dining chair with her legs up like the queen she is while dad and big brother sit on the table and reach toward her. Family life is dimensional; your photos should be too.

furniture is used to create levels and layering for family portrait.

The work of family love is done at home in small, mundane moments. Photographers have the power to elevate those moments from mundane to magical, and with a few compositional tweaks, we can give families the priceless gifts of their hard-won love reflected back to them, in the spaces that mean the most.

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