How to Take Professional Family Portraits, with a Free Video Mini-Course from Craftsy

By Lisa Orgler in Art Tutorials > Photography Tips

Writer Anthony J. D’Angelo said it beautifully: “Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow.”

That passion ignited in 2011 when four tech guys launched Craftsy, “a new high-quality approach to online learning.” Based on a suggestion from one of their moms, they decided to focus on crafting and today offer a selection of video classes in quilting, sewing, cake decorating, fine art, photography, cooking, and many more topics.

It you want to test the waters at Craftsy, they have a wonderful set of free mini-classes to choose from, all of which are viewable online. I recently took their free Professional Family Portraits photography class, which gives instructions on how to take professional photos at home and covers topics such as posing your subjects, working with children, understanding light, and even how to use photo editing software.


The class is made up of 5 sections that spanned about 90 minutes. Kirk Tuck (the instructor) was engaging and had lots of great tips for any level of photographer. Below are my notes and photos from each section—hopefully you’ll find something awesome to help your photos, too!

1. Creating an in-home photoshoot

Taking photos of people inside the house is often a challenge for me. I either get large, ominous head shadows on walls, or the photo looks too busy because of the surrounding house décor. Here are some of the great tips from the class that helped me improve my indoor shots:

• Give yourself a lot of space (even if you have to move furniture!)
• Take advantage of north-facing natural light from windows whenever if possible
• Find a simple background, or use a large seamless gray piece of paper or fabric

Make sure to place your subjects at least 6′ from the background in order to eliminate awkward shadows and keep the background out of focus.


This photo was taken on a staircase facing a north window. I placed a large piece of black felt over the stairs to use as the seamless backdrop, and it worked perfectly!

Another great suggestion (which probably surprised me the most) was to have a photoshoot in the garage. It’s not something I’d ever considered before, but it made so much sense after seeing Kirk outline the benefits in the video. When you open the garage door, it lets in lots of soft, indirect natural light.


It’s still a good idea to use a seamless gray background to hide any garage clutter. Once everything’s in place, set your camera’s white balance option to “open shade” or “cloudy” (depending on whether it’s sunny or overcast outside) and you’re all set!

2. Posing your subjects

Organizing people for a photoshoot is such an art form that I’ve never known exactly what to do. Luckily, the tips in this class made posing a lot easier to accomplish. If you’re taking photos outside, start by choosing a shady area to provide even lighting, and don’t push your subjects too close together—give them space so it feels a little more natural.

Here are a few more tips:

• Have subjects sit forward (rather than leaning back in a seat)
• Don’t have shoulders or legs straight into camera, angle them slightly
• It’s good to have height differentiation, so try having the taller person sit down
• Allow subjects to engage in an activity (like reading a book)

If you have an especially large group of people, try to build “pyramids” in your composition to give variation and draw the eye through the photo. The tallest people don’t need to be in middle, of course, but can be shifted off-center. For smaller groups, try to capture fun expressions by moving in close and leaving less space around the outside of your composition.

3. Working with children

Children can be the most fun and most challenging people to photograph. One of the most important tips I learned from this class was to always set the scene ahead of time, and be ready to shoot right away, before bringing young children into a room (since they have a short attention spans).

Here are a few more:

• Use flash and auto-focus for toddlers and fast-moving children
• Keep the child’s attention with a phone’s ringtone
• Place the child on a chair, or on the ground with toys; distraction creates good shots
• Kids’ photos look best when the photo is at their level (so get on the ground too!)

Lastly, only the photographer should direct the child to smile, with possible help from one parent—too many people helping can be distracting and chaotic.


This was from a series of photos taken of my daughter with our dog. I cleared out the furniture in the background, utilized natural light from the window, pulled her away from the wall, then got on the floor with them to stay at the same level.

4. Setting up professional lighting

The quality and type of light in a scene can really make or break a photograph. Here are some of the terms defined and demonstrated during this class:

If your light is only coming from one source, and you need more light on your subject, then bounce lighting can help. The idea is to bounce light from a white ceiling or off of a white foam core (placed on the floor or off to one side) so that the darker side of the subject receives some reflected light.

If the light is brushed across the front of your subject (for instance from an open garage door or large picture window) rather than from one side, it’s called broad lighting.

Short lighting, on the other hand, means just having the light source from one side, which creates a darker side on your subject. Be careful to not have too much contrast! Remember, you can always soften that dark side with bounce lighting, using white foam core or a photographer’s umbrella.

5. Using photo-editing software

Apparently nearly ALL photos need a little polishing with photo-editing software after the photoshoot. This section excited me the most, since Kirk showed step-by-step how to do some really neat tricks in both Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.

If you’ve never used photo-editing software before, here’s a quick overview of the two major programs photographers use and what you can do with them:

Lightroom is an editing program allows you to edit your photos by adjusting temperature, tint, exposure, contrast, cropping and many other options. It’s a standard for professional photographers. The other program is Photoshop, of course. You can do many different things with images, but we only focused on two features—removing blemishes and wrinkles! Simply amazing!


The above photo is untouched, while the one below has been edited in Lightroom to brighten it up. While subtle, all of the colors are brighter and more vibrant (and a little less “blue”) which makes for a much more professional photo.


Overall, I not only enjoyed this class, but also the Craftsy website—I loved seeing all the possible topics I could learn, many of them for free.

If you’d like to take this free photography class yourself, I highly recommend it. There’s a lot more information than I was able to include in this tutorial (plus, it’s all video, which is nice for us visual learners.) For other subjects, make sure to check out the rest of their mini-classes, too!

This article was sponsored by Craftsy. For additional articles and tutorials, please visit their fine art blog.


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