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Family Portraits: In Studio or Outdoors?

So it’s time to take fresh family photos! But where to even begin? A good starting point is deciding whether you should you take your next family portraits in studio or outdoors.

Obvious disclaimer here: as an outdoor photographer, I am clearly biased in favor of outdoor portraits. But hey, there may be a time and a place for an in studio session!

Here are things to consider for each type of session so you can make the best choice. If you decide that outdoor portraits are more your style, come see what other family sessions in the great outdoors look like.

Studio Portraits

Let’s start with the studios. Portrait studios are set up with a purpose: to take a picture perfect, well controlled photograph. To clarify- this doesn’t mean each studio session is the same. On the contrary, studio artists are incredibly creative! But, it does mean that the photographer makes intentional choices about nearly everything in the photo.

While every studio session is a little different, here are some key characteristics of family portraits taken in studio.

X marks the spot

To work quickly in the studio, it’s better if the subjects stay put. How much movement generally depends on how much time your session includes, the size of the studio, and the size of the backdrop. You might only have standing room only, maybe a few stools, or a couch. But even when you do have some space to explore, many studio sessions will focus more on getting minor movements and facial expressions right. With less room to move, kids in particular can struggle to stay put the entire time. Trying to minimize the wiggles is one reason in studio family sessions are notoriously stressful!

Posed to perfection

Just like lighting and backdrops, posing is another aspect of your images that studio photographers often like to control. Whether it’s moving a chin down or shoulders back, a studio photographer with posing knowledge will put body parts in the best possible place to look their best in a 2D photograph. While it may make you look slimmer, it can also mean holding unusual distortions or challenging positions for several minutes at a time.


If you’re into highly stylized or high contrast looks (think: commercials and magazines), you may want to seek out a studio. While outdoor photographers may bring one extra light or reflector, they usually don’t drag the big, powerful lights outside. The extra pop in these editorial style images often requires¬†flash photography or bright studio lighting. Power outlets are a must!


Just like with lighting, most outdoor photographers aren’t lugging props along. Props are commonly used for headshots and children’s portraits, and include items like chairs, baskets, buckets, crates, and suitcases. Some outdoor locations simply don’t allow props- usually for Leave No Trace reasons. If props are important to you, it will be easier to incorporate them at a studio session.

Dress to the nines

Climate controlled and comfortable, studios work seamlessly for more formal or polished family photos. This includes any high fashion or expensive clothing. Unless you are extra careful, items like tulle skirts and stilettos are much better suited to the great indoors. A studio photographer can also more easily adjust a curled collar, or flipped hem before snapping the shutter. If you want each hair and thread photographed to perfection, then studio portraits are for you!

Blank Backdrops

Another element your studio photographer can control is the backdrop. In traditional portraiture, the viewer’s attention should go straight to the subject’s face. So, many portrait photographers seek to minimize things that could be visually distracting. With blank, neutral backdrops in studio, keeping attention on the face is easy! On the other hand, there will naturally be some visual distractions (albeit pleasant ones!) when photographing outdoors. Some locations are better than others though!

Happy Smiling Faces

Standard studio portraits feature the face. Family portraits in studio are sure to show everyone’s full face, beautifully lit from top to bottom. If you’re lucky, those faces will be smiling! But, faces only tell part of a family’s story. And smiles only tell part of someone’s personality. To capture a bit more, you’ll need to say goodbye to posed photos, and say hello to prompts or candids. Not sure what the difference is? I’ve got you covered!


Outdoor Portraits

When it comes to deciding whether to take family portraits in studio or outdoors, remember- nature does things for photos that studios simply can’t! Read on to see if outdoor portraits would work best for your family.

Family portraits in studio or outdoor? Outdoor photos can be less staged and more fun. Photo of a little girl being tickled by her mother and father.

Adventure Away!

There’s a wide range of locations when it comes to outdoor portraits. You can meet a photographer at the local park. You can also park at a trailhead and hike 10 miles in for photos. The world is your oyster with outdoor photos (assuming you’ve got proper permits, of course). With as much adventure as you can handle, outdoor portraits also have the potential to feel more like a fun nature walk or scenic day trip, than a stiff portrait session.

Get Really Candid

With all that extra movement and room to explore, there will be much more natural interaction happening. Your pre-teen’s eyes might light up after spotting a rabbit in the bushes. Your toddler may take your hand for help with a big step. You can certainly still take posed photos outdoors. But why would you want to?¬†Actually enjoying the outdoors together makes for beautiful candid details that are hard to capture any other way.

Tell The Story

Remember how studio portraits are all about faces? Of course outdoor portraits show faces too. But they also have storytelling superpowers. From the candids little moments I mentioned above, to the bigger picture, telling your story is something that takes portraits to the next level.

What do I mean? Imagine a photo album that only has your family members standing, smiling, and looking straight at the camera. Now imagine a photo album that tells the whole story of that special day- from the first moments walking the trail together, to your reactions as you took in the beautiful sights, to the mood as you cuddled at sunset. The photos may not all be smiling, well lit faces. But getting outdoors tells a more compelling story- if you’re willing to tell it!

Sunlight Galore

The way the sunset casts its golden glow? The way it shifts to cool twilight tones as the stars start twinkling? There’s a reason photographers swoon over this special time of day. There’s no studio lighting in the world that can do what soft natural sunlight can do for beautiful skin! Not to mention, photos with picturesque sunsets simply can’t be beat.

Epic BackDrops

While a neutral blank backdrop brings our attention to the subject- it’s still just neutral…and blank. If you’re looking to fill that blank void with something sublime, let nature do the heavy lifting! A field of wildflowers, a golden meadow, a hazy mountain range- the farther out of town you go, the better! Yes, these backdrops are more involved, but good composition in an epic landscape actually makes viewing these images all the more interesting. Besides, if you love the outdoors already, wouldn’t you want a backdrop to match?

Turn Off

Between work, school, social commitments, and errands, we have to be “on” all the time. Studio portraits often feel like an amped up, high anxiety version of that kind of performance. This can feel especially awkward for camera shy people. At candid portrait sessions in the great outdoors, you can simply be yourself. Let loose. Relax. Hang out. You actually get better images when you do!

Casually Awesome

There’s a time and a place for the perfectly coifed look. But everyone knows that real life isn’t picture perfect. You can still wear nice clothes outdoors, or you can rock torn denim and show off your tattoo sleeve for a change. Being outdoors inherently means a little dirt, so casual clothes and attitudes are welcome. And who wouldn’t love to be more comfortable during family photos?


So should your next family portraits be in studio or outdoors? You decide!

Family portraits in studio or outdoor? Outdoor gets more authenticity. Candid photo of mom getting a kiss on the cheek from a little girl.

Remember, there is nothing wrong with either option. If you find yourself feeling split down the middle, schedule both session types and see for yourself!


Want to see how other families prepare for an outdoor photo session? Check out these tips!

Feeling inspired to explore the best of Arizona? Here are my Top 20 Hidden Gems!

Still haven’t booked a one-of-a-kind adventure session? Reach out to start planning one now!

Family portraits in studio or outdoor? My vote is for outdoor. Black and white photo of a little girl playing in the dirt with her father's hand gently brushing her hair back.