The 3 Best Poses When You DON’T Want Awkward Family Photos

These 3 easy poses guarantee GREAT family photos – even if the toddlers are terrible, the smiles are stiff, or the parents are a little camera-shy. (Featuring KAREN WAITS)


I’m going to let you in on a little secret: this article isn’t really about posing. Because – and here’s the other half of that secret –

– posing is for models, mannequins, and dolls. It’s not for living, breathing, loving and laughing families.

Instead, you’re going to learn three un-posing approaches to creating great family photos.

Fearless Family Photos All Have These 4 Ingredients: UN-Posing Your Family Photos

Here’s how Tennessee photographer Karen Waits uses humor, movement, and clever planning to make every one of her family photos a success.


I used to try to put my families in all these poses. I’d have diagrams with me, and inspirational pictures I’d try to recreate. But I really wanted people to look at my pictures and immediately feel the family vibe. And I realized, to get that, you can’t put families in all these fake, forced poses.”

– Karen Waits


Fearless Family Photos All Have These 4 Ingredients: Stand and Snuggle

#1: See How They Relate – Naturally

Instead of beginning a session by carefully placing each family member, Karen starts with two simple words: “Come together.”

With the family standing, Karen invites them to move in close to one another – everybody touching. She sees how the family connects and interacts in a few seconds of shuffling. One kid wants to be held, another prefers this parent or that parent. Are the parents snuggly with each other? Is anyone tense?

“I look at their heads and where everyone’s bodies are. If the group makes a sort of M shape, and no one looks uncomfortable or stiff, I’ll start photographing.” 

– Karen Waits

Fearless Family Photos All Have These 4 Ingredients: Natural Standing Poses


PRO TIP: Embarrass Yourself for the Cause

Karen isn’t afraid to get silly if it gets results. Depending on the age of her kid-clients, she’ll sing songs, pull out a monkey puppet, or tell the kids to look for boogers in mom’s or dad’s noses. (Hey – whatever gets them looking at their parents and laughing!)


One Genius Prop

When her antics aren’t enough, Karen isn’t out of ideas! One of her props is a simple wooden box that serves multiple purposes.

“Kids can stand on the box and jump off while holding their parents’ hands – or jump by themselves if they’re big enough. I get really great grins while I’m counting to three so they can jump off that box!” 

– Karen Waits

Karen’s crate is perfect for seated photos, too; and toddlers often use it to stabilize themselves for a standing photo.

Fearless Family Photos All Have These 4 Ingredients


Karen’s Gear for Family Photos

  • Canon Mark III
  • Sigma Art f/1.4 35mm Lens (“Because I can get close enough to tickle the little ones!”)
  • Canon f/1.2 85mm Lens (“The focus is so nice and creamy! I have to stand further back, though, so I only use it for older kids who can follow direction.)
  • Canon f/2 135mm Lens (“I mostly use the 135 for maternity-based family photos, when Mom is the central focus. It really makes the mom pop off the background!”)
  • A small utility cart/wagon, which holds: Karen’s photography gear, the wooden box, two vintage quilts, and the toys she brings for entertainment.

Everything fits neatly in the back of Karen’s minivan!


#2: Rinse & Repeat – Seated Edition

Pose Two is just like Pose One in that it’s not actually a “pose.” The only difference? Now your family gets to sit!

“For whatever reason, most Dads don’t like sitting on the ground. So I have them sit down first and get comfortable. Then I have the rest of the family gather in.”

– Karen Waits

Fearless Family Photos All Have These 4 Ingredients: M Shape Sitting Pose

Karen makes sure she gets two specific types of family photos at this point:

  1. A relaxed photo with everyone in the family looking at each other.
  2. A classic portrait with everyone looking into the camera.

“That’s the photo Grandma wants,” Karen says. And we all know: what Grandma wants, Grandma gets.

Fearless Family Photos All Have These 4 Ingredients: Families with Teenagers


Timing Tips & Tricks

Karen’s family sessions rarely last longer than 30 minutes. In fact, she says she takes all the critical family photos in the first 20 minutes! She does this by taking a lot of photos in a very small amount of time.

“Some photographers wait for everyone to be looking before they press the shutter – but then it’s too late. I start shooting right away, pressing the shutter button over and over and over and over, because I only need a fraction of a second to catch that awesome picture.”

– Karen Waits

Fearless Family Photos All Have These 4 Ingredients

At a typical half-hour session, Karen take approximately 400 photographs, which she then culls down to 40 perfect images.


#3: Walk

Stand, sit… you know what’s next! Karen gets the family back on their feet for some walking shots.

At this point in a session, younger kids start getting squirmy, and walking lets them burn some energy. Karen encourages playful energy throughout the session, and instructs her clients to, “look at me! Now at each other! Look at the kids! Now look at the parents!” Eventually everyone is giggling – the real smiles parents usually have to beg for.

Fearless Family Photos All Have These 4 Ingredients: Walking Portraits


PRO TIP: More Isn’t Always Better

Because Karen takes so many photographs during a family session, she’s able to carefully choose the best of the best to present to her clients.

“Most families purchase a package that includes 20 digital downloads, with the option to buy more. To create their gallery of 40-50 edited images, I have to be very picky. I want my clients to have variety, so every image has to be unique. It has to be something I’d want to hang in my studio.”

– Karen Waits


Fearless Family Photos All Have These 4 Ingredients

Prepare for Peace

“I want family photos to be fun, easy, and low stress, because the parents are already stressed out about what everyone’s wearing, and whether the kids will behave.”

– Karen Waits

To help ensure a great experience for her client, Karen gives each family a Prep Guide that walks them through exactly what to expect. She covers details like:

Fearless Family Photos All Have These 4 Ingredients

  • “Let me handle the kiddos.” Karen reminds the parents that they’re off-duty during their session. Wrangling the children will be her job!
  • “Positive vibes only.” Karen asks parents not to threaten punishment if kids won’t smile; it won’t work! Instead, it’s the parents’ job to set the example, smile, and stay relaxed.
  • “We have plenty of time.” If the kids are extra-anxious, Karen will set her camera aside and take a break to hunt for rocks or flowers with the youngsters. Her Guide reassures parents that a few minutes’ break won’t prevent them from having a full set of great family photos.

Fearless Family Photos All Have These 4 Ingredients: Couples Are Family, Too!


BONUS: Family Photos + ShootProof

Whether you present your finished photos online-only, or through an in-person Viewing and Ordering Session, the simplest way to delivery a family’s digital files is through ShootProof.

If their photography package includes a set quantity of digital downloads, there are several ways to use ShootProof for delivery.

Fearless Family Photos All Have These 4 Ingredients

  • You can customize a Free Digitals Permission that allows your client to download a specific quantity of files. Downloading is automatically disabled once your clients have reached their limit.
  • Enable your client to apply a custom Label to the photographs they want to receive. You can even set a limit on the number of images to which they can apply that Label! Labeled images can be easily emailed for downloading.
  • Create a one-time-use Promo Code for free digital downloads. Your clients can apply this code during checkout to receive their free photos. This approach gets your clients to use the ShootProof shopping cart, which may prompt additional buying, too!

Fearless Family Photos All Have These 4 Ingredients


Focus On What Matters Most

There’s truly nothing better than doing work you love with people you love. Karen Waits is no exception! As beautiful as her work is, what struck me most was how much she cares for her clients.

“I’ve had numerous women email me after their family photos to say, ‘Oh my gosh, my husband said that was actually FUN. He had a good time, and our kids are asking when we’re gonna see the photographer again!’ “

– Karen Waits


Written by ANNE SIMONE | Featured photographer KAREN WAITS


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