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How To Guides

How to: Take better family portraits!

A lesson learned is a lesson earned. It’s holiday season and because I feel that having photos of family is of upmost importance, I extended my services to friends. I haven’t dabbled too much in serious portraiture or family photography in  my years of experience; outside of the normal bounds of  get-togethers in which case my photography consists of snapshots with a better than average compositional quality.

2011 has been a pretty tough for me personally, but filled with great accomplishments professionally. I’m trying to break free, step outside my comfort zone and push myself. Frankly, I dislike “posing” people. I would describe my style as candid & minimalist. Although, this approach is great for journalistic shots of kids and their family playing – it’s also important to give them the shots they expect. The ones they will hang on the wall and admire, along with frames that will bring back the memory of the day of the shoot and the novel moments that happened.

Thankfully, I had already dipped my feet into the cold pond of unknown, event photography and produced great results that my clients just loved. Those gigs provided me with confidence knowing that I have the vision and knowledge to make these moments happen. But enough with the sap. I’ve complied yet another list to help you out in your shooting, whether it’s your own family or a client.

1. Go Outside! If you’re like me and you don’t have studio space, or have no interest in studio lighting then schedule your photoshoot ‘on location’! Make sure you’ve scouted your local area for great spots. Uncrowded places are best, so you don’t have to worry about other people in your pictures, or an uncomfortable or embarrassed  set of clients. Tips for choosing a good location you ask? Areas with open spaces, solid backgrounds, trees and rocks for climbing, sand for playing, and soft grass for resting are ideal. If you’re not shooting a family, more rural or rustic locations may be better options; for instance: train tracks, abandoned buildings (go inside at your own risk!), salvage yards, .etc.

2. Turn off the Flash. My camera is not equipped with a flash (yes, you read that correctly!). Aaand I  sold my external flash after realizing that I hardly ever used it. There is nothing worse that the dull and sometimes irritating harsh light of your camera’s built in flash smack dab in  the middle of someones face. If you are shooting at night time, find ambient lighting and use a tripod. If you are indoors, a flash may be necessary but I recommend *really* learning how to control the power output, and the wizardry ways of the diffuser, if you choose this route. For you sticklers, photography is the recording of light, but that doesn’t mean you need to inject your own!

3. Show emotion. Your job as a photographer is to tell a story in one photograph, or a series of them, if you are into that whole dip/triptych thing. Challenge yourself and try tell the story in one frame. Instruct your clients to show the emotion you desire for their session. Get to know them, if you don’t already and apply what you know about the couple to their photos. Are they funny and light-hearted? Madly in love? Playful? Serious?

5. Learn some jokes. I’m no comedian but I’m known for saying the silliest things at the most inappropriate times, thankfully they always end up with a chuckle! I usually make a joke out of myself to get people smiling. Saying something silly to light up your clients face is…priceless. No one wants to get back a set of photos with smug expressions. One person can ruin the entire mood.

6. Make them feel comfortable! One of the most appreciative comments I received recently after a shoot was how comfortable the family felt around me. They were thankful for that. For me, I was grateful, because it made all of those anxious feelings a moot point at the next shoot. Not to mention, I was beaming just thinking that my mission was accomplished. Find a way to connect to them, stay positive, and balance out professionalism and foolishness. It’s a learned quality but makes all the difference.

7. Vary your post production. As you will see below in my shots from the most recent family shoots for my holiday special, varying your post-production will greatly improve your message. When I’m making photographs I imagine a particular shot in black and white, or a color-shift. Don’t just pick and choose later one, although there’s nothing wrong with that -It’s bad form. You should have an idea already in your head, you are making a photo, not taking it.

8. Don’t be awkward.  Don’t pose your client’s in awkward positions, or poses that are unnatural. Before you take the photo look at everyone’s face, and watch for their body language. Some people stand in a defensive position naturally, watch for it and give direct suggestions for better posture. I have a mantra for portraiture that I live by: “if it bends, bend it  and if it tilts, tilt it!” Need some help with body language? Check out the handy dandy diagram below.

This post wouldn’t be complete without a gallery of some of my favorites from my season special family portrait sessions!


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About PixelGrin

Photography. Punk Rock. Art. Travel.


One thought on “How to: Take better family portraits!

  1. good tips…for sure will try it in the near future


    Posted by TriviaYourMind | 15 November, 2011, 8:14 am

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Hi Hello I'm Jennifer Jackson. ...and the world is my oyster...



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