Family portraits are an almost timeless tradition. They are those giant framed pictures that hang in the dining room of grandparents and the smaller framed pictures that sit on a high shelf next to the television in your own home. As family members get older, they inevitably request these as gifts for birthdays or holidays. And while the request is reasonable, if you’ve ever sat through a family portrait, you know that the experience can range from frustrating to maddening and your family often make your family look foolish or frightening. The following five tips will help you avoid these pitfalls and produce a beautiful family photo.
Avoid the Holidays – While the holidays are the perfect time to gift family portraits, they are a terrible time to actually get these pictures taken. Photographers are particularly busy the month or two leading up to the holiday season until about a week after New Year’s Day. Even if you schedule far in advance, you will be forced to contend with a tight schedule and a higher likelihood of delays. The best time to get these photos taken is late spring, after Mother’s Day has passed but before the summer wedding season is in full swing. A relaxed schedule will make the process easier as will temperate weather that will permit a wider range of locations for your portrait and comfortable clothing options.
Pick a Theme – Classically family portraits are pictures of the family wearing their Sunday best. While this is traditional, it is hardly interesting and makes the photograph session seem more like a chore or work than a pleasant family experience. Also, unless every member of your family is a lawyer, formal wear does not do justice to representing the uniqueness of your family. Think hard about what your family enjoys doing together and try to pick a theme that matches that. If your family enjoys hiking, have the photo taken on a mountain with everyone in hiking gear. If your parents fell in love at a screening of Casablanca, dress up as characters from the movie, with possibly a piano and martini glasses as props. And, if everyone in your family is a lawyer, at the very least pose like you are arguing a case in court.
Call in the Cavalry – The traditional family portrait is a picture of the parents and kids, with possibly a dog or a single grandparent visible. This is great for preserving memories of your immediate family, but really misses the point of a family portrait. The purpose of these photos is to help remind people of everyone they love. So rather than taking a photo of the nuclear family, try to add in as much of your extended family as possible. Call in grandparents, cousins, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, and even the wacky third cousin that nobody is quite sure if he is really related. Most photographers charge by the picture, not by the person, so extra bodies won’t cost you any more. If you’d also like a picture of just the immediate family as well, you can almost certainly get that photo taken at the same time for only a slight additional charge.
Consider the Children – The quickest way for everyone to truly hate the experience of having a family portrait taken is for a child to get upset and throw a tantrum. If you simply expect that all children involved will maturely behave and go along with this process peacefully, you are setting yourself up for failure. Right from the start you should assume that any and all children involved don’t want to have their picture taken, don’t want to wear whatever you want them to dress in, and won’t have the patience to sit still for as much as an hour of photography. Solve these problems before they happen. Discuss clothing and theme with children in advance and let them have input into what they want to wear. Schedule the session so that it does not interfere with any activities of a child involved, like sports or birthdays parties. Warn the children in advance of how long it will take, bring portable entertainment for them, like hand held video games, and absolutely make sure they aren’t hungry or tired during the session.
Reward Everyone – The best way to make the photo session go well is to include it in a day of fun. Since you are spending time with family, a BBQ or a trip to the beach are simple examples of ways to reward everyone who participated in the portrait. This is especially important if you have children or extended family involved. The former is more likely to cooperate with the picture if they know a reward is coming and the latter are taking time out of their schedule to spend time with you, so you may as well have some family fun. Also, since a family portrait is expensive and a hassle to arrange, you are rewarding yourself as well. Your family portrait will come out better if everyone involved is looking forward to the experience, even if just for the good ribs that they’ll get later in the afternoon.