Don’t let the desire to achieve an endearing family portrait work you into a state of angst. Nothing will guarantee a worse photo shoot! If you want relaxed, natural photos, all of you should feel relaxed. And, yes, this is possible, even when corralling active youngsters into a cramped studio. What can you do to help ensure your family portrait will be one you’ll be proud to hang?
David Burk, of dburk photography in Burlington, Mass., emphasizes the importance of advance work. “Plan ahead,” he says. “Make sure everyone is on board. Grumpy kids or husbands don’t photograph well.”
This expert tip is consistent with my own experiences bringing three young kids into photo studios. I knew if it felt like an obligation to them, dread would take over. So I talked it up. Not too much-no need to invite a fear of screwing up. But a little enthusiasm, along with showing them where I wanted to put the portrait, vested them in the process of getting that portrait done. A reminder or two as the appointment time was approaching also served to keep them from feeling like it was sprung on them, interrupting their play.
When my firstborn was a baby, I had a formal mother and son portrait created at Jeff Lubin’s studio. Before the shoot, we had a consult in which he provided tips. As the family grew and I had less formal portraits of my children done elsewhere, I remembered our talk about color coordination of family members’ clothing.
Before portrait day, I searched my kids’ closets looking for clothes that would complement each other. One of my daughters had a dress with pink flowers and green leaves on it that was a current favorite. I decided to work around that, selecting a green shirt for my son and a watermelon dress for the baby. That photo has always been one of my favorites.
Kids can be persnickety about what they wear, so it’s important that they not only look good next to each other but are comfortable in what they’re wearing. If possible, allow them to choose from a couple outfits that would work with the rest of the family’s garb. Comfort wards off fidgeting and frowning.
Choose Themes Flexibly
Be flexible in choosing portrait themes. If their Easter best makes them squirm, opt for a less formal theme. If sports uniforms facilitate smiles, why not go for it? Or maybe nice sweaters and jeans.
Negotiate as Needed
If you are going into a discount photography studio like the ones in chain stores, be aware of the fine print in their “deals” and be prepared to negotiate. I once booked an appointment in response to an ad showing a spring background I particularly wanted to use. When I got to the studio, however, they informed me they always use two backgrounds and one is a nonnegotiable plain blue. I quickly saw the sales potential in insisting on multiple backgrounds, but I also knew the blue wouldn’t look right with the clothing I’d selected. It took some convincing, but the studio budged on its “requirement.”
While I respect the photographers’ expertise in posing kids, there were times when I wanted something specific and had to speak up politely but forcefully to make it understood I came in with a vision, not an abstract desire for a portrait.