Let’s face it: Taking family photos isn’t easy. One family member may have different ideas and expectations than the others. You’re working with a variety of heights, ages and varying levels of commitment and understanding. Did I mention there’s always that one kid that has his eyes shut in every pose?
I digress. Ironically, creating a beautiful family portrait is only possible once everyone forgets about the camera.
As a freelance photographer, I’ve stumbled and bumbled through shoots of my own. No, not every shot or even every shoot turns out perfectly. So, I’ve discovered five unique tips to help make my future shoots — and yours — go much more smoothly. These tips can help you capture the kind of family photos your clients are dreaming about (and expecting).
Devise a plan
On shooting day, things always go more smoothly if there’s a plan in place. Don’t show up on shooting day and expect to figure everything out in an instant. Before shooting, make sure you’ve taken time with your clients to figure out if they have any poses in mind. If you can’t meet in person, e-mails, texts or phone calls made well before the shoot can open up a world of details. Do your clients have a plan about where they want to take the photos? Are there certain poses they have their hearts set on? If so, can they show you examples?
Besides a family portrait, do they want breakout poses where sets of parents or siblings will pose together?
Or, as the photographer, are they relying on you to come up with all of the ideas? Be in ‘the know’ beforehand so you can take control and feel comfortable about the plan.
Be the director
Before starting to take the first photo, inform the family about which poses you’ll try first. This doesn’t mean you start barking orders and take over total control to the point that kids are scared and everyone looks terrified. However, your clients are probably not completely comfortable in front of the camera. Give them direction in regard to where to stand and where to face their bodies when needed. Inform them you’ll be taking a few initial test shots to lighten the mood.
Eventually, once you get through those first few minutes, many families will start to ‘warm up’ to you and come up with their own poses — or, at least their body language will relax.
More than likely, your family portrait subjects are not professional models. They may be self-conscious about their looks or down-right anxious about how to pose or smile. Going outside in the open air allows your subjects to relax.
Now that the family is enjoying their time outside, it’s time to strike a pose!
Instead of standing in front of a boring cloth background, they can lean on trees or sit their bottoms in swings. Your shyest clients may enjoy the shoot more if they can peek around a tree trunk. Instead of worrying about standing straight and where their hands should go or how straight they should stand, the tree obstructs part of their body, leaving them with less to worry about.
Use picnic tables or rock formations as bleachers, so you can easily pose your subjects in interesting yet non-boring ways.
You may have to be a clown
It may help but, no, you don’t need to go to clown school to become a portrait photographer. In the case of inattentive children or scared babies, you may have to throw self-pride out the window. If you’re using a tripod, it will be easier to do a little dance, jump up or down, make silly faces, or squeeze a toy in front of your young subjects’ faces. Alas, if you can’t get family members to smile whole-heartedly or even directly look at the camera, capturing emotions like curiosity or surprise may make the photo even more genuine.
Rome wasn’t built in a day
If at all possible; let the family know that if things don’t go well during the photo shoot, you’re willing to schedule another shoot on a different day. Obviously, this only works if you live close by your clients’ choice of shooting location(s), and it means more time, mileage and effort on your part. If you’re willing to do anything to get the perfect shot, your clients will love you for it. Children don’t always listen or participate willingly in group activities, so this may take some of the pressure off of the first day. In fact, some people need a little practice. (Hopefully, you won’t need that second day anyway.)
Again, your need and desire to capture successful, ‘perfect’ photos on every assignment may take more work and an extra time commitment. Despite that, you may find your stellar professional attitude is your best form of advertising. Word of mouth advertising from satisfied families may bring in an array of recommendations. In fact, you’ll probably get more new clients than you ever dreamed about!