Archive for August 2012
During a recent family portrait session a mom asked me what was harder – shooting weddings or family portraits? Hands down shooting family portraits is one of the hardest photography jobs. A wedding may be stressful and complex but at least there’s a plan. People are there to celebrate an incredible occasion and they are there to have fun. I can’t say the same for family portraits. Many family portrait shoots are controlled chaos. Sometimes people don’t want to participate or in the case of kids they can’t help being kids.
Like a lot of my clients I don’t like to have my photo taken. If I ask myself why, I realize that statement is only half true. I love it when someone captures a genuine moment and I happen to look good. What I don’t like is the feeling of having to perform while someone points a camera at me. I take that knowledge and use it during my sessions to make it, at a minimum, bearable and if I’ve done a good job the client leaves having had fun. So how should you prepare for your family portrait session?
1. What to wear. Wardrobe tends to be one of the biggest questions I get from clients. What should we wear? It’s hard for me to answer because of personal tastes but I can point out what works and what doesn’t.
- My goal is for everyone to look like a cohesive group. For me wardrobe doesn’t dictate that feeling. I’d prefer everyone be comfortable and wearing an outfit they feel great in rather than wearing something they don’t feel great in.
- Matching wardrobe. Some love it, some hate it. But if you want everyone to match, my suggestion is to shop weeks before the actual shoot. Your hope of pulling out matching colors from everyone’s closet the night before is a wishful thinking. One of the easiest places to prepare for this is Old Navy or The Gap. Start fresh with new clothes. Both stores offer sizes for kids and adults so you’ll know that you all look great and that all the colors will match.
- Pick a color palate. If you aren’t a fan of everyone being so matchy-matchy pick a couple colors to base wardrobe decisions on. If you pick a couple colors each person can still express their individuality.
- Stay away from busy patterns and logos. As much as Johnny loves his spiderman costume it’s better to start with a classic look. If he insists, let’s make sure we start with a classic look and then let him wear the costume at the end of the shoot.
- Plan weeks ahead. A good time to think about wardrobe is immediately after our initial consult. Waiting to the last minute is stressful and associating that stress with family portraits is one of the reasons people don’t like family portraits.
2. Kids will be kids
- I don’t know “how to smile” so there’s no way I can expect a five year old to know what that means. They grow up associating saying “cheese” with smiling for the camera. To them that’s a smile. It may not look genuine or natural but it’s what they know how to do. My job is to get a genuine smile from them without having to specifically ask. Sometimes that means letting go of hope to get a shot of the perfect smile. I want them to relax. Sometimes it even works in my favor to tell them not to smile.
- It’s hard for kids to stay still and “be good”. The last thing my daughter wants to do if we are at a park or the beach is sit still. My job is to be quick; I only have their attention span for a couple minutes at a time. I typically let the kids run the show. I’ve found that by asking the kids what they want or how they want to be photographed they feel like they are participating and not being bossed around.
- Let me be the heavy. There’s nothing relaxing or fun about your mom or dad barking at you to smile or sit still. As parents, if you can handle it, let me be the heavy. If your kids are like mine they tend to listen to strangers better than me. Typically I find that the kids want to impress me and do fun and cool things for the camera. I’ll use those feeling plus a little slight of hand to get great shots. Take a break and play good cop. If I get in a situation where I can’t handle them I’ll ask you to step in.
- If you want to help, stand behind me. I appreciate and love when a parent has a trick to pull a smile or reaction out of their kid. That works even better if they are looking at the camera. If you aren’t in the photo, stand directly behind the photographer.
- If you are in the photo, keep your eyes on the camera. Let the photographer try to elicit smiles and get everyone’s attention. If you are looking down at your kid trying to get him to look at the camera, you aren’t looking at me.
3. Time of day
- Location plays a big part on the best time to shoot. Locally I typically shoot at the beach or the park. If we are shooting at the beach my suggestion is early morning. During the summer that means around 8:00 AM. I have young kids and the idea of getting them dressed, fed and to the beach by 8:00 sounds impossible. As much as it’s a pain, you are paying for great photos and I wouldn’t suggest it if it wasn’t important. The reason I start so early is for good and manageable light. If it’s so bright that everyone is squinting the pictures won’t look great. An alternative at the beach is an hour before sunset. Locally that has it’s own drawbacks because it tends to be windy and chilly. If I’m shooting at a park there’s a bit more flexibility assuming there’s good shade. Typically the grass is too wet during the early mornings so I like to start around 9:30-10:00.
4. Keep moving and shoot quickly. I want to put my clients in a situation where I can get my shot, maybe spark a little fun and catch the reactions. Most of the shots my clients are drawn to are the reactions; a laugh, a smile a genuine moment.
- I always start with the “safe” family group shots. Most of my clients want a great portrait to hang on the wall and I want to make sure I get that shot before the rails fall off. Once I feel like the family shots are done I give the kids some freedom to act like kids and change things up. During a lot of shoots I ask kids to do something physical; sometimes it’s jumping, other times it’s piggy back rides or a human pyramid. My goal isn’t to get a great shot of the family stacked like high school cheerleaders it’s to catch the reactions when people let go and have fun or when things fall apart.
- Because I know what it’s like to be in that situation I shoot fast. I don’t want my clients to sit there so long that they wonder if they are doing it right. Set up a situation, shoot, move on, repeat. Eventually people start to let go. If I set up the right situation or make the right comment I get the reaction people want to see in their photos.
- I’m not a fan of really long sessions. I can do what I need to do in about an hour. Having the attention of young kids for more than an hour is too much to ask.
5. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out as planned.
- When it comes to young kids I’m at their mercy. Some kids aren’t into it and I may not get that great family shot you wanted. That’s the reality. It doesn’t always work out. If I’ve done my job I make up for it in other ways with fun and natural shots but sometimes the kids win.
- The more people in the photo the harder it is to make sure everyone looks great. It may be cost effective to invite aunts, uncles and their families to the shoot but often there’s a price to pay. Every time I add one more person to the photo the odds of getting a shot where everyone looks good gets smaller. It also makes getting the natural reactions that make the photos work hard to elicit.
Ian is a runner. You set him down and point a camera at him; he runs. This is the best of forty two frames trying to get a shot where everyone is looking at the camera, has their eyes open, is smiling and look good. Sometimes this is as good as it’s going to get.