Top pros offer their expert advice to help improve your portraiture skills. Here James Paterson gives his tips on shooting family portraits

Paterson portraits get down low

Credit: James Paterson

1. Get down low

Shooting from a low camera angle gets you on eye level with young kids and babies, which is important for creating a connection. It also means the background is usually pushed further away so it’s easier to throw it out of focus, which is handy when using a blanket for the background.


Paterson portraits posing families

Credit: James Paterson

2. Posing families

Kids will usually want to hog the limelight, while parents (and Dads, in particular) may not be totally into it. So try bringing the kids forward and have the parents in the background. Similarly, if their pet is along for the shoot then frame it up in front with everyone behind for a fun family portrait.


Paterson portraits go-to camera settings

Credit: James Paterson

3. Go-to camera settings

I like to shoot in Manual Mode with Auto ISO. This way I can keep the shutter speed fast enough to capture the action (usually 1/250sec or higher) and adjust the aperture to control depth of field. With single portraits I use a wide aperture around f/2.8 for shallow focus, while with groups I would rarely go below f/5.6.


Paterson portraits fun

Credit: James Paterson

4. Keep it fun

Children tend to get bored quickly so if you sense attention levels are dropping then try injecting some energy into the shoot: ask them to jump around, play catch with their siblings, shout silly words, tickle each other – anything that perks them up. Even if you don’t get any good shots during the action, you’re more likely to catch better expressions afterwards.


5. Planning is key

If you have a family portrait shoot coming up then jot down a few posing ideas beforehand. Things can often change when the shoot gets going, but if you can call upon a few tried-and-tested poses first then you can lead up to more ambitious ideas afterwards. Before you get the camera out, spend time chatting with the family to find out what they want to get out of the shoot as well.


James Paterson is an award-winning journalist and photographer. His work has appeared in countless magazines and books, and in 2014 he was appointed editor of Practical Photoshop magazine. His current go-to kit is the Nikon D850 and Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8E. Visit www.patersonphotos.com.