Photographing families is always a different experience because every family is different. Moms and Dads are usually willing enough to participate that they can follow simple directions given them, whereas kids sometimes need a little convincing.

Sometimes kids are shy, sometimes they are throwing model poses and blue steels every thirty seconds. You never really know what you’re going to get. However, not to fear! Simply by directing the family to play a simple game or complete a clear task encourages everyone to interact in a genuine and playful way that will result in beautiful, unique photos of every family you photograph.

Today I’m sharing my favorite, fool-proof ways to get everyone in the family to engage and even enjoy their photo session.

“Kiss or Lick?”

An odd name, and an odd game… you simply ask a child or children to kiss their parent on the cheek/head/etc. After you take a couple stiff shots of everyone with funny pursed lips, quickly tell the kids “OK now lick (mom/dad/etc.)!” Shy children will laugh at the challenge and bold children will go right in for the lick. Either way, you’ll get some genuine laughs of everyone with their faces on the same field. 

“Can you see...?"

When taking individual shots of children (which I always like to provide for my clients at each session) a good phrase to use to get kids to look into your camera are “Can you see the (elf/leprechaun/troll/cat/etc.) in my camera?” – make the imaginary item something relevant to the season, pop culture, or the interests of the child.

"Tell me your favorite..."

If you’re wanting a nice candid shot of the child alone (i.e. you have no parents/siblings to interact with and get them to engage) simply ask the child to tell you their favorite thing about mom/dad/sister/brother/etc. or to tell you about their favorite toy/movie/game/etc. or to imitate their favorite animal. They’ll usually light up and excitedly tell you all about it or they may coyly smile. Either way you probably got them to smile, even if for just a split second. For really shy children you can also have them talk to a family member standing behind or to the side of you. 

Make "X" laugh

If you want a shot of the whole family interacting and smiling/laughing together, get them into a pose that makes them close together/all on the same plane, then tell them to make a certain family member laugh without touching them. Making it into a “challenge” to see who can make who laugh the hardest is fun and engages everyone. 

"Tell a joke"

Another version of this challenge can be to pick a certain family member to tell a joke or to say a funny word. This causes the rest of the family to look intently at one member which can be sweet, but the true magic happens once a golden joke has been shared and everyone can’t help but react.

Surprise Hug

Have the child/children give a surprise hug to their mom/dad. They will be so excited and usually mom/dad will jump right in to the game and encourage even more laughter and fun. 

Point to...

For more intimate family shots with new babies, I always like to have the child/children take turns pointing to different parts of the baby’s face/body. “Can you point to your brother’s nose?” or “See if you can count your sister’s toes.” This gives the children something to focus on and gets them looking at and interacting with the baby. 

Face Hug

A personal favorite, I love telling families to give “group hugs,” “bear hugs,” or “face/cheek hugs.” Families get on the same field, and they often create very beautiful, organic compositions that you just can’t get when you pose them yourself. If kids need a little encouraging, I often have parents stand together, and then tell the kids to race to them and give them a big bear hug. 

Give them a challenge

Kids like games, and they like being challenged. Find small ways in each pose that allows each family member to have a task that they can focus on. This helps them stay focused and do what you need them to, and it helps them forget that you’re there photographing them. They also often relax a bit when they have something else to focus on. Task should be very simple and easy to follow, and should be based on the situation. Some ideas would be to have them walk in a straight line, count the number of freckles on their mom’s face, or tell their dad about a funny memory they have together. 


Lastly, just remember to let them PLAY! Think of your first job as facilitating play, and your second job to capture that play. Have dads throw kids into the air, encourage tickling, organize a game of Ring-Around-the-Rosie, instigate a dance party, and let them explore together! By the end of the session the kids will think you’re just a fun gym teacher with a camera, and everyone will be relaxed and laughing.