Posts Tagged ‘Family portraits’
A few years ago I made a slideshow using photos from every assignment I shot during the year. The idea stuck and has become a great way for me to reflect on what I did right and what I did wrong during the year. 2012 was both challenging and incredibly rewarding. All of those experiences brought one theme to the forefront – Family is Everything. And by family I’m not limiting myself to the family I was born into or married into. It’s the people that I have chosen to surround myself with. This year we have had the warm blanket of family wrapped around us when we needed it and we were able to be that same blanket of warmth and strength for others when they needed it. This year was life-changing for so many of our friends and loved ones.
Over the past couple years I’ve skipped using photos of my family in the slideshow, after all they weren’t paid assignments and so many were just snapshots. This year I’ve included them because my wife and kids are my world and are definitely the most photographed subject in my life. I also opted to include more than one image from the assignments. Limiting myself to one single image per shoot didn’t represent the scope and the fruits of my labor.
As with every slide show I always struggle with music. Each year I want to use a song that I fell in love with during the year. This year there were a couple of contenders.
Mumford & Sons – I will wait
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – Thrift Shop I dare you to not bounce your head while listening to this song. I was bouncing my head for a couple weeks before I even listened to the words.
Ryan Adams – From The Ashes In January NPR streamed a pre-lease of this entire album. I listened to it over and over until the day it was released. Go buy it directly from his label/website.
Walk the Moon – Anna Sun This is probably my favorite song on the album but I opted for Tightrope becaue it matched the tempo I wanted for the slideshow.
For those of you that supported me and helped me create this year I owe you a world of thanks. Without you I’d be stuck behind some desk.
A few weeks ago we had our family portraits taken. The same questions that pop into my client’s mind popped into mine. What to wear; where to shoot; will the kids behave….I’ve answered those questions countless times.
We picked out some color options and went shopping for outfits. This is now my go-to advice for my clients; go buy new clothes. You’ve already committed money and time to the process why let a wardrobe hiccup sully the time and money you’ve invested. Kids clothes are relatively inexpensive and easy to pair up. Walk through Carters, Old Navy, The Gap or the Ralph Lauren section of Macy’s and you’ll be able to grab clothes that you know will look good together.
Notice the color palette? Yeah; I’m the only one in brown. I didn’t listen to my own advice. Robin and I couldn’t find something we liked at Old Navy and didn’t make an effort to continue to the shopping. As the date approached I was convinced that I had a fairly new navy polo shirt in the closet therefore I didn’t need to go shopping again. Robin pulled a trump card when she pulled her navy top. We weren’t committed to matching, especially since the kids weren’t in solid tops so I became the odd man out. Lesson learned.
During family portrait sessions a lot can go wrong. Kid’s aren’t into it, Dad has better things to do; the kids aren’t behaving; someone missed a nap. Then there’s the accidents. In our case Charlie walked off one of these concrete risers as if it were a normal step. He face planted into thick, fresh-cut grass. As any professional photographer would do, Brian was concerned and sensitive to the situation. I, on the other hand reached for my iPhone to snap a few pics. (Sorry Charlie) Even though it was a bit scary; Charlie was fine and it’s a moment that I will always associate with this family portrait session. Things happen; don’t let it ruin your session.
Like years past I had a friend shoot our portraits. This year it was Brian Kingston. Brian is not just a photographer he’s an amazing artist, check out his photography and artwork at Bkingston.com. We have one of his pieces hanging in our living room.
As I start planning my family portrait shoots for the holiday season I started digging for images to use for marketing materials. Phyllis suggested I use my year-end slideshow and then I figured I’d start fresh since a lot of those images aren’t family portrait based. The following are images shot from 2009-2011. The great thing about shooting family and children’s portraits over the years is that I get to see kids grow up. Towards the end I’ve grouped images of kid’s I’ve shot over the past couple years. Enjoy.
I’m now booking appointments through October. Mini shoots are $150 and individual sessions start at $250. If you want to kill two birds with one stone you get the mini shoot and 100 cards from Phyllis for about $300.
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.
A few years ago most commercial photographers wouldn’t stoop to shooting weddings and family portraits. It was beneath them. Some of the photographers that did, went to great lengths to hide their wedding and family work from their commercial clients. Although I separate my commercial and family work on different websites I’ve never been shy about either. I love working as a photographer. Period. I love shooting both and I’m proud of the work I do in both areas.
The downfall is that on a couple of occasions the lines have blurred and I’ve ended up having uncomfortable conversations about my pricing and why I charge what I charge. Do I charge more to shoot a head shot of Mrs. Jones compared to shooting her during a family portrait session? Yes. Why? Specificity. A recent (potential) family portrait client was scheduled for a portrait session. She mentioned and hoped to get a few shots to use on her business website. In my most professional and gentle manner, I described my purpose and goal with family portraits. I explained how those goals and the associated pricing isn’t in-line with shooting corporate head shots.
When I shoot for a commercial client my job is very specific. I’m hired to help my clients with sales and marketing. Are they trying to sell a home, their jewelry, their interior design services, or just sell themselves? Typically the results from a commercial shoot is a handful of preconceived images. They pay for my help to execute their vision or in some cases to help conceive of and shoot their vision. I charge commercial clients based on the scope of the job, the resulting retouching and a licensing fee for using the images. If the job is relatively easy and straight forward they pay a lower rate. If the job requires me to drag a bunch of lights and grip equipment to the beach at 5AM, then the resulting rate will reflect the challenges involved with the shoot. After it’s all said and done commercial clients only pay to license and retouch the photos they want to use.
The image below is a section of proofs I shot for a Best Buy commercial. The image was to be used as a full-page ad on the back of a newspaper. On this particular day I shot 458 images including lighting tests and shots of just the laptop. I shot Mark holding the laptop, not holding it, with a jacket, without a jacket, sitting, standing, etc…. This was our second photo shoot to get this one image. Of the 1000 or so images I shot over the course of the two shoots they chose one. (In the end they changed the concept and didn’t use any.)
Wedding and family photography is a different story. My wedding and family clients expect a variety of great images to view and chose from; something that my commercial clients don’t usually request. I edit every single image my wedding and family portrait clients see. I want them to see their proofs and know that they will look at least that good if they order a print. The image below was shot a couple weekends ago in Santa Barbara for Matt and Sara’s engagement session. I shoot in a format known as RAW. Basically it’s a digital negative needs to be processed on the computer. Because I am doing the processing rather than allowing the camera to decide on how the image should look, I have control over how the final image looks. The image on top is what the image would have looked like had I not edited the file. The colors are drab, it’s not sharp, the contrast is low and it reflects that we were in a parking garage. The image below is after editing. This editing process is included in all my wedding and family work but not in my commercial jobs. Ironically I photographed both Matt and Sara’s business head shots and they are familiar with both pricing models.
For the most part my wedding and portrait clients don’t get to direct during my shoots. Yes, when a mom or a bride has a specific idea for her photo, of course I oblige and shoot it. It’s her time, she’s paying me and only if she likes the resulting images will she order a print. But they don’t get to view each image as I shoot it and then discuss what’s working and what’s not. It’s a different level of service and therefore the rates for wedding and family clients are substantially lower.
This pricing seems logical to me but it wasn’t to her. The potential family portrait client I mentioned decided she didn’t want me to shoot her family portraits. It would have been easy for me to just shoot a handful of “head shots” of mom during the family portrait session rather than loosing the job. One of the images might have worked for her head shot purposes, but what if it didn’t? What if I didn’t spend enough time and effort making the head shot and she thought they all sucked. Now she thinks I’m not a good commercial photographer. Maybe she tells her friends and colleagues, maybe she hires someone else. Why put myself in that position? If you want a specific image, let’s spend time thinking about and planning it. If you want variety and great images to use on your holiday card and hang on your wall then let’s plan on that.
One of the great things about shooting family portraits is developing relationships. This year I’m shooting with a lot of families I have photographed on numerous occasions. In a lot of cases I only see the families once a year but documenting the family’s growth is an amazing experience.
A few weeks ago I shot Tracey and Carley. This marks the fifth year I’ve photographed them. The night before our shoot I bumped into Carley at the El Segundo High School football game. My heart dropped to think she was already in high school, but it turns out she’s still in 8th. Carley was nine years old the first time I photographed her in 2007.
Tracey and Carley’s photos are always special to me. I love photographing their relationship and always come away with endearing images that speak volumes.
This is also the fifth time we scheduled our shoot at a park and the fourth time at Polliwog park in Manhattan beach. This year I asked Tracey why not shoot at the beach? The answer was simple…Tucker. Tucker is Carley’s dog and has been with us for the past four shoots. Since dogs aren’t allowed on the beach we’re at Polliwog (again) and I’m trying my hardest to make sure that this year’s photos are unique.
The following is a collection of images I made over the past five years.
Here’s to tradition.