How to Take More Professional Looking Family Photos with "Even Lighting"

I was up to my knees in ivy and the Moreano family was balancing together on top of a hill as I shouted up at them: "3 inches to the left...take one step back..no...2 steps forward...no woops, one step back...RIGHT THERE DON'T MOVE!!!" This is what it's like when I'm photographing a family on a sunny day - especially in the forest with all the trees casting dappled shadows. 

As a Seattle family portrait photographer, I'm am constantly on the hunt for "even light". This is the secret to creating beautiful professional-looking family photos. With my camera up to my face, I'm constantly watching the bright light shined down on my client's faces and bodies. I'm on the lookout for the harsh shadows and always aware of the patterns in the shadows (coming from leaves, fences, clouds etc...). Most of the time, we're avoiding shadows all together but sometimes, we either have no option (because we're working with limited backgrounds) OR the background that we LOVE is crappy lighting. 

You'll notice in these portraits of the Moreano family (taken at Robinswood Park in Bellevue, WA) that many of the photos have patches of bright light and shadows on their faces and bodies (especially in the ivy). We were taking pictures in the forest just before sunset - the light is beautiful but tricky to work with. That's why it's a perfect example for hunting for 'even light'. Notice how some of the pictures have bright spots of light on their clothing (and a little bit on the faces). This was hard work for me to get it to this point. If I had just taken pictures right away (without making lighting adjustments) there would be "lighting chaos"!

When even light is 'impossible' prioritize getting the light even on the face (even if you have to have bright spots on the clothing). One absolute no-no is to have one person's face in the light and other person's face in the shade. That's the #1 priority - even light on all the faces. This is so important because portrait photography is primarily about faces and family portrait photography is about those faces being together as a happy little unite. Something as simple as having one face in light and one face in shade subconsciously separates the two faces so they don't feel like a cohesive family unite. It distracts from the emotion behind the image with is to be ONE united happy family. 


Photography Tip #9: Photographing Families with Negative Space

Negative space is a term that we use for basically everything other than your subject in the photo. So if you’re photographing a family the family is the subject of your photo. Everything else around them in ‘negative space’.

The way that you use negative space is very significant because it impacts the way the viewer is able to focus on your subject. If you set up negative space in a very intentional way it means that the human eye can be drawn straight to the family, as if there’s a spotlight on them.

In the tutorial video, you can see examples of how I used lots of negative space when photographing the Peterson Family at the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle.
I used lots of blank walls and concrete ground to create this intentional negative space. All that blank space says “Hey Mr. Viewer - This is a photo about the family and I want your eyes to go straight to their faces and everything else doesn’t matter.”

When creating powerful photographs, you must think about the viewer. Your goal must be to help you viewer easily digest the picture. Their eyes will take in so much information and your job is to reduce that info so it’s easier for them to know exactly what to focus on. Negative space is very calming. Not much happening, it's very solid and smooth. It’s easy to spot the family and there is one simple thing to look at. Just the family.

Check out our last blog post: Seattle Newborn Photography Session at Home