How To Use Props And Outfits To Enhance Family Portraits

Props and outfits are a great way to tell a story in a photograph. As a result, props and outfits can make or break a photo. If the props make sense in the image, then they work as a great storytelling tool.

If the props are random and don’t make sense to the story, then the image can look nonsensical. 

How To Use Props And Outfits To Enhance Family Portraits

When it comes to family photography, props and outfits can be a major advantage or a hindrance. Kids are usually the biggest culprits of using props as a comfort, but not everyone wants their child’s portrait to include a raggedy, chewed up toy.

Unless that is part of your kid’s childhood and it holds sentimental value, props aren’t always the best option. 

So, if you’re not sure how to use props and outfits to enhance family portraits, you’ve come to the right place. Here is our guide on how to use props (see also “How To Use Props To Enhance Your Product Photos?“) and outfits to tell a story and improve your family photography. 

Use Props That Tell A Story 

The key to using props in family photography is to make sure that the props make sense in the image. For example, if you’re capturing your family playing a game of tennis or soccer, make sure to include the tennis rackets or soccer ball.

These are props that make sense with the image, and therefore work to tell the story.

You can also use props that aren’t necessarily related to the atmosphere of the image, but still relate to the individual.

For example, taking a portrait of your child with toys lingering on the floor behind them suggests that they had previously been playing with the toys, and stopped for a photo. 

The same applies to capturing a father teaching his son how to ride a bike, passing him a helmet. Or, a mother teaching her kid how to bake as she passes over the wooden spoon. 

To put it simply, it’s got to make sense with the image. However, this rule doesn’t always have to be followed. If you are taking photographs just for the family photo album, you probably won’t care too much about nonsensical props that bring your kids comfort.

If you are wanting a more professional shot, however, you might want to take these props into consideration. 

Dress In A Similar Style 

Let’s take a look at the importance of outfits in family photography. While it’s important that the family feels comfortable with what they are wearing, it often helps that everyone wears clothes of a similar style.

This is to ensure that nobody is standing out for the wrong reasons. 

One of the best ways to dress in a similar style is to stay clear of bold colors. Kids can usually get away with wearing bold colors, because colorful clothes work to match their personality. Adults, however, tend to have bigger frames than children.

As a result, bright colors can seem exaggerated and distracting, and will take the focus away from the family. 

The same applies to bold patterns, large logos, and showing too much skin. It’s a family shoot, so try to wear similar colors and somewhat smart casual clothing. 

Of course, it’s important that the family members feel comfortable in what they are wearing. It’s less about their physical levels of comfort, but more about their self-confidence.

If they know that what they are wearing is flattering and will look good, they will appear more confident on camera and won’t be thinking about what they are wearing. 

At the end of the day, outfits are meant to enhance a family portrait. A family portrait isn’t a fashion show – it’s about highlighting the beautiful parts of the family and capturing them at their happiest. 

If your family is going to a studio for your family portraits, make sure to wear something that is physically comfortable to wear.

You will be sitting on the floor, lying down, and trying various positions. It’s also recommended to bring several wardrobe changes to get all the photographs you need. 

Think Of Little Details 

How To Use Props And Outfits To Enhance Family Portraits

While a family portrait isn’t necessarily a fashion show, families will benefit from looking at the little details in their outfits and appearances.

This can include making sure to shave, keeping the makeup natural and free from smears, and ensuring the kids don’t have cookie crumbs in the corners of their mouths. You don’t have to look perfect – just remember that a camera will pick up these little details. 

The same applies to jewelry such as watches or rings. If you don’t want shiny things to be the main focus in the image, it’s best to remove these.

This is especially true if you are using artificial light as the light source, which will pick up on shiny jewelry and can distract the camera. 

Also, if you are a glasses wearer, keep in mind that your glasses may be reflective. This can be a nightmare for family portraits, because the glasses will capture the glare from the light source and camera flash.

If you don’t have non-reflective glasses, it might be worth wearing contact lenses for the photograph. 

Of course, some small details cannot be taken away, such as bruises, scars, or spots. In most cases, these can be erased with light editing or makeup.

Otherwise, the photographer can find ways to use props or shadows to cover these imperfections if you so wish. 

Use Props To Your Advantage 

If you’re photographing young kids and babies, props will be your new best friend. You will rely on props to keep the kids distracted, especially if they are babies.

This includes rattling a toy behind the camera to get them to look in your direction, singing a song with them, pulling funny faces to get them to smile, or gifting them with a toy as a thank you for their hard work. 

Props work as a great bribery tool for kids. Most kids will be susceptible to bribery if it means they get to munch on candy or play on their parent’s iPad after having their photograph taken.

It’s a good way of rewarding them for their good behavior, so make sure to only do this at the end of a session. 

Props Make People Less Awkward

Not everyone is comfortable in front of the camera. For some family members, having their photograph taken is a nightmare. You might not know your best angles or what you will look like until you see the final image.

So, if you don’t know where to put your hands, you might want a prop to make you look and feel less awkward. 

This is where the use of props becomes somewhat tricky. Kids can usually get away with holding props, such as teddy bears or toys, in a family portrait. This is especially true if these items hold significant sentimental value. 

For adults, however, it becomes tricky to find a prop that makes sense in the family portrait. Usually, photographers will suggest against the use of props in a posed family portrait(see also: Creative Family Portrait Ideas For Every Season).

However, if you want a more relaxed photoshoot, you can use props that feel most natural to you and make sense in the overall image. 

For example, if your whole family is holding similar props – such as merchandise for your favorite American Football team – this makes sense in the overall image. If only one person is holding a prop, it might look slightly out of place.

So, if one kid is holding a prop, make sure that the other one is too, to prevent the image from looking too unnatural. 

Props Don’t Have To Be Held 

It’s also important to note that not all props have to be held to work in a family portrait. Family portraits will often benefit from minimalist props that are placed in the area, such as plants, a rug, or pillows.

Not only does this work to create an ambience and story, but this also provides some fun variety for the photographer to work with. 

This is especially true if the family portrait is being taken in a studio, which is usually plain white. The inclusion of pillows or blankets allows families to play with the props, such as cozy up with the blankets or pretend to have a pillow fight. 

If you are a photographer, or if you are bringing your family to a studio for a family portrait, make sure to bring props that would make the image look more natural.

If the family portrait will be taken in the family home, then use the surrounding decor to your advantage. 


So, there you have it! Family portraits are a great way to capture a family at a happy moment and document growth. The use of props and outfits can enhance these portraits, but only if you use them accordingly.

It’s important to remember that props need to tell a story, so if it doesn’t make sense in the overall image, you might not get the desired final photograph. 

Laura McNeill
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