Generations in profile: print a family portrait to treasure

Learn how to shoot and print a beautiful black and white portrait of your loved ones and create wall art that will be enjoyed for years to come.
A black and white image of three generations of one family, arranged in a row, from youngest to oldest, all in profile.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, many families were unable to see as much of each other as they wished, with visits to grandparents for example being widely curtailed. Sharing printed family photos became more valuable than ever. Spontaneous snaps of special moments can bring a lot of joy, but a more planned photoshoot will always be worth the additional effort.

Here, we'll share a technique for capturing striking generational portrait photography and preparing it for print, to make a unique and long-lasting piece of wall art or gift. By photographing each person individually and then compiling the portraits into a single image, you can create a stylish group photo which can be printed – brilliantly showcasing the similarities and differences between the faces in your family – and can even be extended in the future to add new generations, like an heirloom that grows with your family.

1. The kit you'll need

Hands holding a Canon EOS R6 camera.

With groundbreaking Eye-Detection AF and a superb 20MP sensor, the Canon EOS R6 is a great choice for a portrait shoot such as this one.

A close-up of a silver umbrella and a Speedlite.

A Speedlite and silver umbrella are ideal for lighting the faces of your subjects.

You need just a few simple items for this shoot: a Speedlite or other external light for the lighting, a light stand, and a silver umbrella or softbox. A wireless trigger for the flash may also come in handy. A camera like the Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM lens will give you great control of exposure and other settings and deliver good detail in both shadows and highlights.

When it comes to printing, a printer such as the Canon PIXMA TS7440a is ideal, with its economical FINE Cartridge inks and user-friendly wireless connectivity, which makes it easy to print directly from your computer or smartphone. For even longer-lasting prints, the six-ink system in the Canon PIXMA TS8340a, which includes Canon's outstanding ChromaLife 100 technology, is perfect for creating bold, sharp photos with rich blacks.

Dedicated Canon Photo Paper will ensure beautiful, durable prints.

2. Individual posing

A child sat in the dark with a flash and silver umbrella illuminating their face.

Experiment with the position of your light source. The further back you place it, the harder the light becomes and the deeper the shadows. As a rule of thumb, try to stop any light from falling on the ear facing towards the camera.

A man viewed in profile, with only his face illuminated. The back of his head and the rest of the frame are in shadow.

Capture each family member side-on, with their face in profile. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM lens and a Canon Speedlite 430EX II at 1/200 sec, f/11 and ISO100.

Photographing family members separately means you can not only choose the best shot of each person but also line people up just as you prefer for your final print. It also means you don't need everyone together in the same place at the same time.

Set up a dark blanket or board for the background. Ask each subject to sit side-on, with shoulders back and face tilted up slightly. When photographing younger children, get a family member to help by attracting their attention from the side or even holding them in position, making sure to stay out of shot.

A flash will help to ensure consistency in lighting. Attach the flash to a softbox or silver umbrella. This produces softer, more diffused lighting that is more flattering for portraits. Place the flash on a stand, to one side and slightly behind where the subject is sitting, so that it catches the edge of their face in profile.

If a flash isn't an option then you could also use a strong household lamp or a thin sliver of window light in a darkened room, with the subject positioned so that the light is slightly behind the face.

3. Camera and flash settings

The back of a Canon EOS R6 camera showing exposure settings, with a man sitting in front of a flash in the background.

When using an off-camera flash, it's often best to dial in your manual exposure first, then adjust the flash power to work with your chosen settings.

If you can, trigger your flash wirelessly using a compatible camera and flash or a wireless trigger and receiver. As for camera settings, a good starting point is to set the camera to manual (M) exposure mode with shutter speed 1/200 sec, aperture f/11 and ISO100, then adjust as required. If your camera offers the option, set it to save shots in RAW+JPEG formats – this will give you a manageable JPEG file you can share quickly plus a RAW file with maximum image information for editing flexibility.

Set the Speedlite to manual power mode at full 1/1 power. Take a test shot, then adjust the flash power as necessary until the exposure of the face is just right. You can also fine-tune the brightness by moving the light closer to the subject's face or further away.

4. Adjusting and combining images

A picture of a man's face in profile being edited in Canon's Digital Photo Professional with the colour adjustment tools.

Use the Adjustment Area Panel tools in Canon's Digital Photo Professional (DPP) software to selectively darken any light parts of the shot other than the face, then convert the image to monochrome.

Once you've got the shots you want, it's time to prepare them. If you're not confident editing images, you can turn your images into black and white, crop your shots as you want and arrange pictures on the paper when you print using the straightforward options in Canon's Easy-PhotoPrint Editor – see the next section.

If you're comfortable with editing images, though, you can take more control of these steps manually. Launch Canon's free Digital Photo Professional (DPP) software and open your chosen images. First you need to make sure that only the faces are visible and the rest of each image is fully black. If light is spilling elsewhere, go to the Adjustment Area Panel, paint over areas you wish to remove, then drag down the Brightness sliders to darken those areas.

To emphasise the high-contrast style of our shots, we chose to convert them to black and white. To do this, go to the Image Colours panel and click the Monochrome button. Use the sliders to fine-tune the conversions until you have a full set of punchy black and white portraits. If you prefer, you can skip this step and keep them in colour.

Next you can stitch your images together so that the light parts of one portrait show through the dark parts of another. In DPP, open the set of images and choose the first portrait. Then go to Tools and pick the Start Compositing tool.

Choose another portrait from the Foreground Image list, then set the Composite Method to Lighten. Use the arrows to nudge the second face to the side of the first. Hit Save, then load in the saved image and repeat the process with another face until they're all combined.

5. Prepare for printing

An image of two black and white portraits in profile being edited using the Compositing tool in Canon's Digital Photo Professional software.

Use the Compositing tool in DPP to blend the light parts of your portraits together.

An image of a row of black and white faces in profile being resized and printed in Canon DPP.

Once you're ready to print out your portrait, go to File > Print with detailed settings.

If you're using DPP, click the Show Highlights/Shadows warning icon at the foot of the window and use the tonal sliders to ensure that the backdrop is fully black and the faces don't have any blown-out highlights. Next, use the Image Detail panel to sharpen the photo. Finally, go to File > Print with detailed settings. As well as choosing your print settings, here you can resize your image to fit your preferred print size.

As an alternative to all this editing, you can use the Easy-PhotoPrint Editor on your smartphone, tablet or computer. On the New screen, select Photo Layouts, select a template to start with and use the free-layout editor to arrange your separate portraits side-by-side. Specify the paper size and then select the photos you want to include.

From the Editing tools, select the Crop tool to remove unwanted parts of each image, leaving just the face in each. Use the Edit Item options to adjust the position and size of each face, and add or change any as you want. If you choose to convert your shots to black and white, use the options under Creative Filters to do so or add an antique tone effect.

6. Print and display

A Canon PIXMA TS8340 printer producing a black and white family group portrait, with a Canon camera and photo paper on the desk beside it.

Create lab-quality family photo prints with the Canon PIXMA TS8340a printer coupled with Canon Photo Paper Plus Glossy II. Canon inks and papers are engineered to work together for perfect results.

A black and white family group portrait of faces in profile, framed and hanging on a wall.

Thanks to developments such as Canon's ChromaLife 100 ink technology, your cherished family photos will not only look fantastic on the wall, they'll also stand the test of time.

When printing black and white photos, choose the Black and White Print preset, select the correct paper type and set the quality to Best. This will help ensure that your prints deliver those detail-rich shadows and delicate highlights.

Your composite family portrait will make a striking wall display or a wonderful gift to send to distant family members. That's just the start, though. You could print out individual portraits or selected groups on a compact Canon SELPHY printer, or make your own personalised greetings cards for birthdays, anniversaries or other family occasions. The Easy-PhotoPrint Editor makes it simple to create even more personal items such as custom calendars, which all the family can use and enjoy all year round.

Written by James Paterson

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