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Wondering how to pose for your family photos on Maui? Here are a few easy posing tips, some posing DOs and DONTs, and some FAQs for specific posing trouble areas. 

The point of this guide is to give you more confidence and to put your at ease, so you can look more natural and flattering in front of a camera.

I have a lot of clients who tell me, almost apologetically, at the start of the session, “I don’t know how to pose for family photos” or “I’m really bad at posing. Can you help me?!” 

That’s okay. That’s my job! Of course, I’ll help.

[photo of me behind camera]

I get it. I feel the same way when I am IN FRONT of the camera! But there’s hope. Read on…

Tip No. 1: How to Pose for Family Photos – A Step-by-Step Guide

Here is a step by step posing algorithm that you can apply to any photo session: family photos, couples session, even headshots, or vacation pictures.

1. Stand at a slight angle to the camera. Around 45°. 

2. Shift your weight on your back leg. It will create a more dynamic shape.

3. Pull your shoulders back and down. 

4. Keep your arms relaxed by your side, slightly away from your torso. That way they’ll keep their shape.

5. Lean your head and neck slightly forward. It will elongate your neck and give you a flattering jawline. 

6. Turn your face to the light source or look at the camera.  

7. Relax your jaw. Don’t clench.

8. Smile slightly with your eyes, then add a soft smile with your lips to that. 

Voila! You’re done! Perfectly posed in less than ten steps!

Notice that the word ‘slightly’ comes up a lot. For instance, you don’t want to overdo it with the smiling of the eyes or you’ll end up looking deranged. It’s all in the dose!

You can try it out beforehand in front of a mirror to get a feeling for the right dose.

Tip No. 2 – Research Specific Poses for Your Family Photos

I recommend picking some photos of specific poses that you like. You can practice those beforehand or simply to tell your photographer which you want included in your session.

A good place to do this research is Pinterest. Here’s a Pinterest board of Natural Family Poses.

I also have dedicated blog posts for Top 10 Flattering and Easy Couples Poses, 10 Best Family Poses, and a Woman’s Guide On How to Pose for Portraits

You can use those to see what you like, in preparation for the session, or for when you’re taking vacation photos on your own without a photographer. 

In fact, I have a whole guide on How to Take Vacation Photos Without A Photographer

Tip No. 3 – Posing DONTs

Maybe now you know a bit about how to pose for your family photos, BUT there are some things that are best to avoid.

Here are a couple specific family poses that read as awkward, outdated, or just strange. Avoid if that’s not the look you’re going for. (I say this because awkward photos are a huge trend right now). 

DONT line your kids up by size. Something about that just feels very weird and artificial. It’s the first, the last, and the only thing you’ll notice.

[add photo]

DONT fall back to the spoon or prom pose for you photos. This also feels very stiff, outdated, and awkward. It looks like you haven’t taken photos since high school. 

[add photo]

DONT go for perfect symmetry in your posing. It will read as over-posed and outdated.

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DONT do any pose that is super orchestrated or that has every member doing the exact same pose, like all kneel on your left knee. You’re not a football team sitting for their team photo. 

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DONT pose every family member apart from either other, each with their own unique pose. I call this the ‘band cover’ pose. It rarely works. Most often it looks overproduced and unconnected – like the attention isn’t with each other. 

[add photo]

Tip No. 4: Posing with Props

Props are a great way to add interest and variety to photos. 

You’ll also find that you are much more relaxed posing for your family photos with something you can hold onto. Funny right?!

The keys is to pick a prop that fits effortlessly into the sense of place or the vibe of the session: if you’re hiking bring binoculars for bird-watching; if you’re building a sand castle bring some special seashells as decorations; if you’re making flower leis then the prop is the end result.

Waterfall on the Road to Hana bamboo forest hike
Kids posing with binoculars on Hana waterfall bamboo forest hike

If in doubt, bring a straw hat or a parasol. Hats are always great for posing. You can throw them, hold them, do peek-a-boo with them. Here’s a whole blog entry on Posing With A Hat and a whole Pinterest board on Best Photography Props.

Parasol’s work the same. Really fun to hold and pose with. 

Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve superbloom photo shoot
Close up of poppies at Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve superbloom
FAQs About Posing For Family Photos
FAQ 1: How to look natural vs. awkward, stiff, or posed?

Don’t try recreate complicated poses you’ve seen online. The result is often an awkward, stiff mess. It’s over-posed.

‘Stroll, stand, sit’ is usually a good, natural formula.

Maui maternity beach photos with pregnant woman in long white dress and flower head lei
Maui pregnancy beach photos with pregnant woman in long white dress and flower head lei
Maui babymoon photo session on the beach with pregnant woman in long white dress and flower head lei

Movement also helps a lot. Swaying or twirling slightly for ladies, and strolling for gentlemen are good ways if you’re feeling stiff and awkward to get your photos to look more dynamic and natural. 

Also, try to engage with something: your partner, things in the space, your own funny or sweet memories etc. That should get you out of your self-conscious headspace and looking more comfortable.  

FAQ 2: Where should I look when taking photos?

You can look at any focal point: the camera, your partner in the photo, or at the light source. 

The light source is usually a good place to look at because then your face is illuminated beautifully and it looks like you’re looking at something interesting, i.e. out the window, at a beautiful sunset, the sky, etc. 

Obviously, the camera is a good place to look. 


If you want an innocent look, then look slightly up into camera.

If you want a more grounded and powerful look, then look down into the camera with a soft smile. 

FAQ 3: How do I smile naturally for photos?

Try this hilarious exercise in private: smile big with your mouth, and try to look angry with your eyes at the same time. Impossible, right?! It will turn out like a grimace. Neither emotion just right. 

Now, try the reverse: try to make an angry mouth, and smile with your eyes. Again, impossible! 

The point of all this: your eyes and mouth are connected when you’re making facial expressions. Also, a super fun game to play with kids. 

[add funny photo of exercise – gif?]

To get a natural, genuine-looking smile going, start smiling with your eyes FIRST, then add your lips to it! Some people call this ‘smizing’ aka smiling with your eyes. The important point is to start with your eyes. 

Also, relaxing your jaw helps. It’s hard to smile naturally with a tight jaw, so relax your face first before you smile with your eyes. 

Lastly, it helps to have something to smile about! Think of an endearing, or funny memory. 

If you have a partner or kids with you in the photos, whisper something into each other’s ears. Anything! Guaranteed to make you giggle. Whispering is just too much fun!

[whispering in ear photo]

FAQ 4: Where should I put my hands in photos?

Lots of us develop something like sudden body dysmorphic disorder when taken photos: that is our arms and hands just feel like foreign objects that don’t belong to us. We don’t know where to put them. 

Here’s what you SHOULDN’T do with your arms and hands…

DONT interlace your fingers. They will look like sausages. 

DONT put your hands on your belly unless you’re pregnant and want to draw attention to your belly. 

Maui maternity photograph round pastel balloons Dior

DONT put your hands anywhere that you don’t want to draw attention. Arms and hands create lines that end in focal points. That can be used positively, like when you’re holding a flower or touching your partner. Or it can be used negatively, like when you’re putting your hands somewhere you don’t want focus on. 

DONT let your hand appear from behind someone’s shoulder in an awkward, sort of floating way. If you put your hand around someone from behind, it can look like the hand is disembodied from the point of view of the photo, because we don’t’ see your arm. 

[disembodied hand photo]

Here’s what your can DO with your arms and hands…

DO relax and let your arms just hang by your sides. This may feel awkward, but that is how we naturally stand and walk.

DO create connection points with others by reaching out and touching them. Just try to avoid the ghost hand problem. 

DO interact with props, clothing, or items in your surrounding. This will give you something to do, create some movement, and variety. 

DO cross your arms or put them on your hips. Use this sparingly because it can look too closed off or too much like a prom pose if you’re too stiff. 

FAQ 5: How do I look connected to the other people in photos?

Touch and physical closeness reads as connection and emotional closeness. So if want your family photos to reflect that you like each other, get close and create as many connection points as you can amongst your group. 

Kahekili Beach park sunset family photo shoot
Kahekili Beach park sunset family photo shoot family holding hands in waves

Everyone should have a connection point with at least one other family member. 

You can all hold hands, or create some variety in connection points: think shoulder to shoulder, hand on shoulder, leaning against someone, hands around back, hugs, etc. 

An activity, with shared focus also creates connection of mind, which comes across in the photos. 

Play is a great way to be connected. Just play with each other the way you naturally do, and we’ll get some great and fun candid photos of the true characters of your family. This is were you relax and start with those ‘real you’ smiles!

And that is what your family ultimately wants – photos that show you the way they see you!

Rainy day Maui family photos at beach in Wailea
Tip No. 6 – Come with the Right Expectations

Come in expecting it to be fun for the whole family. As I said before, the session is just as important as the resulting photos. 

Look for ways to build connection and to play with your kids. Let them do something. And don’t expect too much of your little ones. 

Certainly, don’t expect your toddler to pose for an hour. The photographer doesn’t expect that. 

Family posing for photo shoot on Baby Beach Maui North Shore
Girl with rose gold Birthday balloon number in water at beach on Maui, Baby Beach, North Shore

It’s the photographers job to organize and cajole the kids. You can help gently, but don’t feel embarrassed in front of your photographer about your child’s selective attention.

If you come into the session with a high level of stress about how your toddler will behave, you’ll be on the look out for those undesired behaviors instead of looking for ways to connect.

Here’s a blog post about Making Your Family Photo Session Stress-Free and Fun

If you want to know more about the flow, here’s a run through of a typical family photo session: Expectation guide: What’s the flow of a typical family photo session.

Bonus Tip: Pick an Experienced Photographer and Leave it to Him or Her

This is the one thing you can do that will take care of everything else.

A good photographer can make you look slim and polished, or overweight and frumpy.

She’ll arrange your family in a natural and pleasing composition, tell you where to stand, where to move your hands, and where to look.

She can create an atmosphere that will relax you and let your natural self come out, help you find a natural smile.

If you pick a photographer who pays attention, she’ll notice the slipped bra straps, hair blowing in unflattering ways, or mascara smudges. You’d be surprised at how many photographer miss these “little” things. 

[Behind the scenes video]

So, pick a photographer who knows what she’s doing and then hand all the responsibility for the session to her. 

Read more about How to Pick Your Family Photographer.

Here’s a behind the scene blog entry for fellow photographers on Photographer’s Guide: How Pose Families and Prompts to Relax and Help Client’s Smile – from grandpa to little toddlers.

[smiling group photo]

That’s A Wrap! 

I hope you feel a bit more relaxed going into your next family photo session with some posing know-how. Biggest take-away: put all your focus on connecting with your family.

If you’re interested in some specific areas around posing here are some popular, related blog posts. 

> How to Take Vacation Photos Without A Photographer

> Top 10 Flattering and Easy Couple’s Poses

> 10 Best Family Poses

> A Woman’s Guide on How to Pose for Portraits

> Making Your Family Photo Session Stress-Free and Fun

> What To Wear For Your Maui Family Photo Session

How to Pose for Family Photos

Copyright © 2020 Emma Wyatt Photography. All rights reserved. 

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