Tips + Techniques

9 Family Portrait Poses in 15 Minutes

September 24, 2021

By Mary Vance

© Mary Vance Photography

Fall is here and family mini sessions are all the rage right now. Clients tend to wait until the last minute to think about their holiday card needs, but by that point, it’s too late to schedule a full session. Offering a day (or weekend) of mini sessions becomes another opportunity to serve them on top of the impactful, connected full family sessions you already offer. Mini session deliverables must be significantly different from what you offer in a full session. They don’t have galleries of over 100 images, and they don’t have a wide range of poses and family groupings all in golden light. Yes, family portrait poses are still intentional, but a mini session is more focused on documenting growth from one year to the next.

[Read: What is Lifestyle Family Photography and How Do You Shoot It?]

Mini sessions should be quick and easy to batch-edit since you’ll be staying in one location and lighting setup. I have developed a 15-minute posing workflow that is repeatable and delivers the key images my families need. I schedule minis back to back in 20-minute intervals to give a bit of transition time between families.

While I’m using the terminology of “Mom”, “Dad” and “Kids” here, know that the same process can be applied to all different family structures. I’ve worked with single parents, same-sex parents, only one kid, foster kids, multigenerational families, etc. Families of all types can come to me for photos and yet the family portrait poses in this process still apply.

[Read: What Do the Beatles Have to Do with Family Portrait Photography?]

Here is the family portrait poses workflow system I use to keep me on track with every mini session:

prompts to smile at camera with family portrait poses

1. Everyone Smile

I line the family up so that they are all on the same focal plane (in a line), and then I add interest and connection by directing hands to hold, arms to bring in, etc. I always snap more than one of these because the larger the group, the greater the chance someone will blink. Out of the hundreds of holiday cards I receive each year, over 90 percent of them feature this pose. It’s what your clients want (“just one nice photo of us all looking at the camera”), and it’s simple to provide it for them.

[Read: 3 Ways Senior Portrait Photographers Can Connect with Clients Post-Pandemic]

2. Hold Hands and Walk

Since everyone is already on a single focal plane, I have them all hold hands and slowly walk towards me. First, I tell them to look at me and then I tell them to look at each other. Adding movement loosens the whole group up.

3. Stop and Back Up

Have the group stop walking and back up a bit. I come in closer and rearrange them so that they are closer together. Arms around each other, holding hands, bodies angled and stacked… the size of the family will make a big difference in how creative you can be. I have them all start by smiling, and then I tell all the kids to look at their favorite parent. This is hilarious and draws out some of the most genuine expressions. If I have time, I’ll then tell the parents to look at their favorite kid. Again, hilarity and priceless expressions. After that, I have them all snuggle in close for a big family bear-hug, and that’s it for the full group.

4. Mom with Her Kids

Next, I pull Dad out of the picture and grab one photo of Mom with all her babies. We just want this to be a big lovefest for Mama. Moms can be self-conscious, but they’re also always bursting with pride for their children. They want the world to see these perfect creatures that they have given so much to raise. A mini session is not the time to challenge Mom’s wishes. Drape the kids all over her, pull in close with your camera and grab a photo that’s all about Mom’s love for her kids.

5. Dad with His Kids

walking standing and moving for family portrait poses

Next, swap out Mom for Dad. Sometimes dads can be a bit reluctant to relax in photos. Have sons fist-bump, high-five or hip-check their dad to loosen him up, or ask them all to stand next to each other and see who’s taller. Daughters usually love to rush in and give big hugs or kisses on the cheeks.

6. Just the Kids

Finally, kick Dad out and have the children all bundled up in a group. I often toss out a funny prompt here like, “Look at whomever burps the loudest!” to get them all to giggle.

7. Headshot of Each Kid

If you have time, you can throw in a quick headshot for each child. Be sure to use the same orientation and background for these for consistency when parents want to print.

8. Mom and Dad Alone

At this point, the kiddos are probably checking out and tired, so I ask Mom and Dad to hang back for a second and grab a quick photo of just the two of them together.

9. Grandparents

family portraits with grandparents by mary vance

I market mini sessions as immediate family only, but occasionally a live-in grandparent will come to the family session too. When this happens, I add about 5 minutes to their scheduled time to get a few bonus shots with the grandparent. I always do a headshot of the grandparent alone, too, as it’s likely been a very long time since they’ve had a photo taken of just them.

It’s easy to get carried away taking photo after magical photo on a normal shoot and during mini sessions, the temptation only becomes greater. That said, mini sessions mean there’s a whole line of families waiting for their turn. In other words, you have to stay on track with your family portrait poses if you want to get everything done. That’s why it’s so important to have your shots planned in advance. These are the angles I’ve found to be most critical in a session, and I hope they serve you just as well as they’ve served me over the years.

Mary Vance is a lifestyle senior and family photographer and educator based in the suburbs of Seattle, Washington. She also consults with creative small businesses to help them integrate their systems, workflows and standard operating procedures.