Tips + Techniques

Caroline Tran’s Family Posing Pick Up Points

March 12, 2021

By Jacqueline Tobin

Despite all of her 2020 weddings being postponed, L.A.-based photographer Caroline Tran has been able to maintain (and even exceed) revenue by doubling down on her family portrait photography and optimizing her basic posing cues. The addition of 15-minute family and kid sessions as an option for clients, she tells us, generated over $30,000 in a weekend alone this past year (while we were all suffering through a pandemic, no less!). The secret to her success with these sessions, she says, is rooted in her “Pick Up Points” posing system for more genuine, natural family portrait photography in half the time.

Posing pick up points include "carry" where a kid carries parent.
Caroline Tran developed her Pick Up Points posing cues system to help eliminate the need to memorize a long list of poses! “My pick up points can help photographers stay connected with their clients and focus on having fun together,” she says. “Why not even have the kid ‘carry’ the parent, right? Whatever the kid is willing to do, go with it,” she advises. Here, Tran’s son helps illustrate her “Carry” pick up point with zeal. © Caroline Tran

[Read: Caroline Tran’s Tips to Building a Recognizable Photography Brand]

We recently asked Tran to break down her posing process for her family portrait photography in the Rangefinder + WPPI free webinar, “Posing for Family and Kids.” Below are some of the highlights Tran touched on that can help other photographers increase profits while keeping subjects fully engaged and coming back for more.

Watch Webinar Button

Before digging into specific posing elements utilized in her portrait sessions, Tran first outlines the evolution of her pick up points and what lead her to being able to create portraits that resonate with her clients.

[Read: 4 Family Posing Tips for Dynamic In-Home Portraits]

Elements of a Gorgeous Family Portrait: Lighting, Posing and Directing

When you want to get to the point in a family photo session where you are “on fire and your session is jiving ,” Tran says you first need to define and communicate your vision. If you don’t have a vision of what you want to do, how are you going to move forward in the shoot? Do you want it to be dreamy? Fun? Playful? Romantic? Your answers affect how you direct and pose your clients (and should be answered before you go into the shoot).

The same goes for lighting, says Tran. If you are don’t know your lighting, you wont be able to truly connect with your clients. If you want to pose and direct them effectively, you can’t be worried about lighting and vision.

“I initially struggled with bad lighting, repetitive poses, stiff and emotionless, grumpy kids, clients with a lack of personality, no ‘wow’ factor,” she describes. “I had to overcome all of that before getting to where I am with my portrait sessions now.”

Getting the basics down, she says, includes having a good understanding of your lighting as well as a clear goal in mind. “Only then you can really focus on connecting, posing and directing your clients. And then that’s how you meet your max potential.”

The next step is to ask yourself what you are posing and directing your clients for? “If you are posing them for wall art, for example, you might want to go for the hero image type of shot. For an album you might want more subtle details—like focusing in on your subject’s hands or other close-up shots. These details might not stand alone really well, but together they tell a beautiful story and fit well into an album.”

Carry is a bonus pick up point for family portrait posing.
Tran’s “Carry” is a bonus pick up point that helps infuse a family shoot with some fun. It works well with pre-schoolers and little babies, as well as for kids who are cranky. © Caroline Tran

The Evolution of Caroline Tran’s Posing Cues

As a child playing piano, Tran says she stumbled in music and didn’t know how to pick it up again. “I learned the song as one long song but when I stumbled midway in the music, I had to go back to the beginning. Fast forward to when I was a photographer, I noticed this was also happening to me: I had memorized a whole list of prompts in my head and written it down but only remembered maybe the first five items and the last two. Everything in between I would forget and get frustrated and go back to the beginning.”

Over time, she developed four main posing cues that she knew she could “pick up on” to help her manage her time and give her confidence to carry the shoot out to the end even stronger.

“By breaking up my shoots into 10- to 15-minute chunks and focusing on my main pick up points, as well as two bonus ones when there is time, I am no longer tasked with memorizing long lists of prompts and poses that can often get repetitive. Now I can focus on connecting with my clients, keeping the inspiration flowing, eliciting genuine expressions and much more.”

Four Essential Family Portrait Photography Poses, Plus Two Bonus Poses

The four main pick up points Tran says she has to get through in a full session (typically 1 hour, with each one done in 15-minute segments) are as follows:

  • Cake Toppers
  • Walk/Run
  • Cheek to Cheek
  • Prom
Cake Toppers  is a family portrait photography posing cue that makes Tran's family clients look like a cake topper.
“Cake Topper” is a starting point that eventually leads to the other pick up points, which is when more personality and movement starts to emerge. © Caroline Tran

Cake toppers is exactly what the pose sounds like it would be, and it’s a good starting point because it’s a little bit stiff, Tran notes. “This is where I have everyone just stand (or sit) still and a bit of a triangle starts to form. This is also where I don’t know what their personalities are yet, so why not just start being really stiff at first? And then I tell them to pretend that they are on top of a cake. Imagine just creating little figurines of them and putting them on top of a cake. That’d be so cute, right? That was my inspiration for cake toppers.”

It’s also a good way, she adds, to get people to slowly come out of their shell. After the next three and if there is time and energy left, her two bonus pick up points are “Carry” and “Laying Down.” Tran says that if she doesn’t get to the extra two, it’s fine because she knows that with her four essentials, she already has a full session where people get all the different poses they come to expect. “If it’s a mini session, I might do just one pick up point or I might do just 4 to 5 minutes of each pick up point—that takes you to a 15- 20-minute shoot, and that’s really all you need. Remember, these posing cues are not set in stone but rather are meant to inspire. You can fall back on them or jump forward with them when you feel stuck.”