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Regardless of the type of photographer you are, family photos are among the most important pictures you’ll ever take. Here are some things to keep in mind.
Even if it’s a few emails, a phone call, or an in person meeting at a coffee shop, have a consultation with the family at some point before the shoot. Address things like what the family will wear (use a service like Pinterest to create a board for the family to look at for suggestions on how they might dress), what time of day would be the best for them, and what they’re looking to get out of the shoot (i.e., candids, headshots, or a holiday card).
Send out an email a day or two before their appointment with the time, date, and place of the session. Provide a checklist reminding them to make sure the kids are fed and they pack any essentials with them. Depending on the season, your checklist will change (e.g., knit hat reminders in winter and sunscreen and water in the summer). A family shoot will never go perfectly, but by making sure the family is prepared, you can maximize the likelihood that things will go as smoothly as possible.
Young or old, everyone loves little gifts. Stop by the Dollar Store before your next shoot and pick up some bubbles, a baseball, stickers or a tiny stuffed animal. If it’s autumn, stop by a farm market and a grab a small pumpkin. Summer? Grab a bunch of wildflowers. These tiny gestures will take some pressure off the parents, gain you points with the kids, and have the added benefit of making the pictures more fun and interesting. It’s a win – win.
This is when the magic happens. If you let the parents be who they are and more importantly, let kids be kids, the pictures will start to fall into your lap. Facial expressions on both the parents and children will be authentic and genuine. Smiles will come more easily, and your job is just to capture the moment.
Don’t be afraid to move the parents around and tell them where they need to be. Even if you’re just casually photographing your neighbor’s family, you’re the professional and people will listen. If a location isn’t working or the light is poor in a certain area, suggest an alternative in a positive way. Say something like, “Why don’t we try moving into that large open shade area by that tree, it will give us a break from this heavy sun”, rather than, “The light is horrible here, let’s move”.
Relying on the parents to direct their kids can make your job a lot easier too. A little boy will listen to his mom who tells him to hug his sister over a stranger that he just met.
Most people feel awkward having a camera pointed at them. Keep the conversation positive and periodically tell everyone how great the pictures are looking. You can even show them a few shots along the way. Your enthusiasm and excitement for what you’re seeing will put everyone at ease and make your job much easier.
The night before the shoot I’m usually scouring Google for “family photo tips” or pulling the “How to Pose Children” books off my shelf. Preparation is essential. But photographing a family is a mixture of luck and skill, and when you’re in the thick of it and things aren’t going as planned, you’re going to have to improvise. Kids won’t sit still? Pop on a telephoto lens, back off and let them run around a bit. You might be surprised at the photos you get when you’re forced to do what wasn’t planned.
As photographers we want every photo to be a masterpiece – perfect light, natural expressions, everyone looking at the camera. But sometimes the best photos that you wind up taking are the most ridiculous — a boy with his hand up his nose, a brother embracing his crying sister, or one sibling looking at the other with a crazy face. Don’t stop shooting just because the kids aren’t cooperating for a moment, or the parents are chasing them around. Sometimes these situations can lend to the funniest and most memorable shots.
We all wear different hats as photographers. One of these days, you’ll be asked to do family photos. Keep these tips in mind and you’ll be one step ahead.
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