Well, it looks like the nicer weather is finally here and with spring comes many of those photo-worthy everyone-is-getting-dressed-up-so-let’s-take-a-picture events. Tis the season for First Communions, graduations, birthdays and anniversaries, all of which remind us to haul out the camera and pin the kids down long enough to take a photo before Georgie gets his white shirt dirty. For many families, this is also the time of year to schedule that annual family photo. Whether your tradition involves dressing up and dragging out the whole darn family including Aunt Mary and the family dog, or just a few snaps of the kids at the beach on a sunny day, I can feel you all groan just a little at the thought of trying to get everyone organized so that you have something to put on your holiday cards in December.
And for those of you that think that the situation is better for those of us that have chosen photography as a profession, rest assured that this mom struggles to get a great family photo as much (or more!) than the average family. I’ll leave the details to your imagination, but let’s just say that I threaten and bribe my kids as much as anyone else to get “just one more”….
Lest you fall into despair and cancel all further attempts at formal family photos forever, let me give you a few tips that will instil some hope the next time a special-dress-up-occasion looms on the horizon…
1. Consider the location
The final look of your family portrait will be largely impacted by where you choose to take that photo. Before setting out with the family in tow, consider a few simple questions…
Do you want something relaxed and casual
or more posed?
What location will be most successful based on the number of people in the portrait, the ages and number of children, and the personalities involved? If you have a large group, you need to choose an appropriate location to accommodate everyone.
If you are selecting an outdoor location, what will you do in case of inclement weather? Are you able to reschedule your session if it is pouring rain, or do you need to consider an indoor location? Making sure that you have a backup plan in mind can help reduce stress if Mother Nature isn’t cooperating.
2. Consider clothing
Along with location, the clothing that your family wears will also influence the style and formality of your portraits . Do you want a more casual look to your photos, or is your heart set on getting all gussied up and creating something more formal? Obviously this may be influenced by an occasion if you are doing photos on a special day like a wedding or graduation. Consider where you will hang the finished portrait in your home, as that may affect your clothing choices. I recommend to my clients that they try to keep colours in similar tones for a cohesive look that isn’t too “matchy-matchy”.
Many families still opt for classic choices like jeans or khakis with white/light tops, which is predictable but comfortable and can be pulled off without buying a new wardrobe for the whole family. Try to avoid competing patterns and logos, which can be distracting and take focus away from the faces of your subjects. Having said that, sometimes it is easier to give a little in the clothing department if it means that your teen will be happier and more cooperative. For example, perhaps allowing a t-shirt rather than a collared shirt won’t distract from the success of the photos as much as a miserable frown will….
3. Consider the light
I covered a bit of lighting advice in a past post Making Better Photos
but during midday hours, try to choose a shady location and brighten eyes with flash (watch for dappled sun/shadows) or face your subjects away from the sun and fill with flash. Otherwise everyone will have washed-out, shadowless faces and squinting eyes.
4. Consider posing
Family groups look best when there is some organization to where bodies are placed in the photo. An easy posing option is lining everyone up horizontally, provided that the positioning looks like it was done intentionally.
Groups also look great posed in mini-groups of 2 or 3, with all faces at different levels.
I often do a “get-close” shot once I have finished the more formal poses, and have everyone squeeze their faces in close together. This is usually fun, a little silly and generally gets some great smiles!
5. Relax and have fun
Adding fun elements into your photos can get everyone laughing, and often speaks more about the personality of your group than the perfectly-posed-everyone-stiff-and-smiling shot.
At the end of the day, the most important thing that will make or break your photos is whether everyone is having fun (or not…). I think that sometimes a photo is more interesting for what went wrong, not always what went right.
Case in point, a historic event took place just a couple of weeks ago and a picture-perfect couple were married in a picture-perfect church and had their formal wedding portraits done by a professional, competent and experienced wedding photographer (what a gig!!) in a picture-perfect palace. The result of course was a picture-perfect shot of the couple
and then a very-real-can’t-control-what-the-kids-are-doing-even-when-you’re-royalty shot of the newlyweds with their young attendants. Love that they released this shot, absolutely my favourite!
So get out there, shoot those family portraits and accept that what makes your photos real is the real people in them!
All photos except the Royal Wedding portraits by Anita Woo.