Great Family Photography Techniques for the Best Holiday Portrait Ever! / by Zack Smith Photography

The Rhein family photographed at Audubon Park in New Orleans. 2018 Zack Smith Photography

The Rhein family photographed at Audubon Park in New Orleans. 2018 Zack Smith Photography

Want to know how you can take relaxed natural light family holiday portraits this season?

So I know the situation you are in. It’s the holidays, it’s stressful, you are busy, but you have this rare moment when your entire family is not only in the same state…they are all at the same house! I’ll try to make this easy for you wether you are in the bayou, the park, or even your New Orleans uptown backyard - YOU can make a great family portrait with any camera. But let’s at least make it interesting!

Once you practice thinking beyond the cliché, ideas flow. And you can capture great fall family pictures with any camera. Could be even your smartphone or iPhone. Here are some tips for taking awesome family photos this season.   

Millie poses with her flowers in New Orleans. ©2018 Zack Smith Photography

Millie poses with her flowers in New Orleans. ©2018 Zack Smith Photography

How to use natural light for family photos

The weather changes during fall, so does the sunlight. To make the most of natural light in your fall family photos, consider heading outside with your family during the golden hour, which is the hour after sunrise or the hour before sunset. The soft, warm tones of golden light make any subject look more fascinating.  

But even if you’re shooting in the middle of the day, the low winter sun is always nice, just find a shady area to place your subjects. As I always say - you will get the BEST RESULTS by making sure your subject is in the same light as your background. This helps avoid any harsh shadows on them due to the direct sun. You can also shoot on a cloudy day, but don’t forget to set the camera’s white balance right; otherwise it might show a slightly bluish color tone ( you can always readjust in post later, especially if you shoot RAW)

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During the autumn season, the sun shines at a low angle and creates long, deep shadows in the afternoon. One good idea would be to include those shadows in your frame in order to capture the essence of the season. 

So if we are thinking out of the box, a good idea would be using the bright sunlight as a strong backlight. Place your subjects with the sun behind them and use a reflector to bounce back fill lights onto their face. For the lack of a proper reflector, you can use a large white paper or Polystyrene plate. Or if you don’t have that just go for it and make sure you have the shutter on continuous and high speed!

Best tips for photographing outdoors

If you’re shooting on a sunny day, setting the exposure right could be a challenge. This is where you can use the Sunny 16 rule, which suggests setting the aperture at f/16 and then setting the shutter speed reciprocal to your ISO value.

Check out my very 1st blog post for how to do the Sunny 16 Rule! CLICK HERE

For instance, set your aperture at f/16. Now if ISO is 200, your shutter speed should be 1/200 seconds.  If ISO is 100, shutter speed will be 1/100 seconds.

When taking solo shots or close-ups, you should consider using a long lens (100mm or above) to help add a nice bokeh effect to your photos. (like the photo of Millie above) If you’re taking a long shot of your family, however, use a slightly shorter focal length lens (70mm or below). Also, consider including some elements of the nature (such as, leaves or branches of a tree) in the foreground to add depth to your fall family pictures.

Best tips for capturing fall colors in family pictures

First things first, choose the right location for your fall family photos. It could be your local park, a pumpkin patch, a farm house or a countryside trail, but make sure the place has abundance of reds, yellows and oranges for colorful fall photography.

Maggie poses with Chloe. Notice the soft out of focus backgrounds. ©Zack Smith Photography.

Maggie poses with Chloe. Notice the soft out of focus backgrounds. ©Zack Smith Photography.

Using a longer focal-length lens is always a good way to isolate the stunning fall colors in your photograph. You can also use the sunlight to your advantage. For instance, take a close shot of a backlit leaf to make the colors look more vivid. Even when you’re taking a wide landscape shot, consider using the sun as your backlight to help capture the beautiful fall foliage colors. 

Another good idea would be adjusting the camera’s color saturation setting to a slightly higher level, so that you get more intense colors.  Alternatively, it is possible to increase color saturation or adjust colors during your photo editing phase.

The colors of autumn vary depending on when you’re shooting. Ideally, you should shoot at different times of a day to capture the many different colors of the season.

Choosing what colors your family members should wear is also important. Ideally, try wearing complementary colors. For instance, a blue dress looks stunning against the orange and red fall foliage.

Finally, experiment with the camera angle. Get low or shoot from a high angle to make the fall colors come alive in your frame. Also combining this technique with “same light on subject and background” can give you great even results like this portrait of the Krieg family at New Orleans Museum of Art

The Krieg family at New Orleans Museum of Art. ©Zack Smith Photography

The Krieg family at New Orleans Museum of Art. ©Zack Smith Photography


As always…have fun and shoot for the wall! Keep in touch with you family photo session photography and comment on this post!