Thursday, January 24, 2013

Okay...Everyone Smile!

Have you ever had a professional family photo shoot? 

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Have you ever had a professional family photo shoot?  I’ve been researching how to get this done with as little pain as possible. This little side project started after a recent trip to see my side of the family in Indiana.  Prior to departing I asked the daughters for a recent picture of all the grandchildren (together) so I could show my parents. I assumed this would be an easy request since they are never very far away from their phones and snap candid photos all the time.  When they couldn’t come up with one picture that had all the kids together I decided it was time to take action and work on a family photo shoot.

Going into this I know that it will be no small feat, especially with two three year olds who are always on the move, complicated career schedules with little time to do this, band practice, and Son-in-laws who don’t always see eye-to-eye.  With a little planning on my part, I will somehow manage to get everyone in our family looking happy and peaceful for the camera, if only for a few minutes.

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 Here are some tips that I’ll be using to make this a positive experience for everyone:


I’ve learned that there is nothing that will make a family posing for a photograph turn on you faster than not being prepared. People, especially little ones, don’t like to be kept waiting; so this is what I’ll be doing to prepare:

  1. Scope out the location beforehand. The background is not the most important subject of the photo; keep it simple and uncluttered. Atlanta has beautiful parks and natural settings; other fun settings might be the front porch, old buildings, or pretty fences. I’d love to use an old barn, but they are in short supply here in the city.
  2. Think ahead about the pose. How will we position everyone and frame the shot, I’ve learned that photos with taller members in the group towards the back and centered with shorter people on the edges of the group look best.
  3. Communicate what is expected. It will be important to make sure everyone in the family knows my goal. I need to get by-in to make this successful.
  4. Prepare the equipment needed. Check the camera settings and adjust, make sure it has charged batteries. Test the sturdiness of the tripod on uneven terrain with the new camera.

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I’ve also learned that when the photo is taken is just as important as where the photo is taken. In order to get enough detail you need to have sufficient light. So, getting schedules coordinated to fit the best lighting conditions is important.

1.   Schedule the photo shoot when kids are at their best. Usually, at least for little ones, this means 5 to 6 p.m. is not the best time.  Morning seems to be better idea.
2.  That said – lighting is important, so we may have to be flexible.  Bright, high noon sunshine is not ideal, so I’d like to shoot outdoor photos either in the morning or just before dusk.  If it’s a bright day and the sun is low in the sky, don’t position the sun directly behind the camera or you’ll have a collection of squinting faces in your shot.

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The Look

The photo above is a good example of what to do when it comes to dressing for the shoot.  The photo collage below is what not to do when dressing for the shoot - Too much of any one pattern is never a good thing and porta-potty's are not the best choice for a backdrop.

1.   Coordinate, but don’t match. I know several families that like to wear the same outfit for their portraits.  But in the examples that I’ve looked at, photos look better when everyone blends well, but doesn’t match too much.  To be honest, when I see a photo with the entire family wearing the same thing, all I see is a sea of one color – not the people.
2.   Avoid patterns. It’s okay if one family member has a simple stripe or a basic design, but too many intricate patterns distracts from the overall look.  Overall it’s better to go with a simple, solid-colored shirt in a neutral tone. Several neutral colors (denim, grey, white, khaki) mixed with a “pop” of color seems to work best.
3.   Go casual. Especially if you have little ones.  I love photos that look like the family is relaxed, and having fun with each other; not posed stiffly in their Sunday best.

Above: Four -BAD- examples of Family Photo Shoots

Above: Some good choices for a coordinated look for your photo shoot.

The Shot

The beauty of digital photography is that you can edit, retake, retouch, and experiment in all sorts of ways.  Have fun taking the photo and keep it relaxed and light-hearted.

1.   Take Multiple Shots. One of the best ways to avoid the problems is to take multiple photos quickly. I’ve learned that the first shot is often not so good, the one or two directly after it often look a little less posed and more relaxed.
2.  Similarly – shoot some frames off before everyone is ready.  Sometimes the organization of a group shot can be quite amusing with people telling each other where to go and jostling for position.
3.   Get in Close. Try to get as close as you can to the group you’re photographing (without cutting some members of it out of course). The closer you can get the more detail you’ll have in their faces – something that defines a great photo.

Take Control

Those who know me well will think that this step should not be an issue for me. I have no trouble taking control of a group and making them comfortable working together.  But when it comes to family I’m low on the list of authority.  So I’m going to approach this with determination and clear direction.

1.   Keep talking to the family members, letting them know what to do, motivating them to smile, telling them that they look great and communicating how much longer I’ll need their attention.
2.   Also important is to give a reason to pose for the photograph. When you give people a reason to pose for you they are much more willing to take a few minutes to pose.
3.   Another very useful line is – ‘If you can see the camera it can see you’. This one is key if you want to be able to see each person’s face in the shot.
4.   If there are more photographers than just you or distractions like a plane overhead, wait until the moment passes and then get the attention of the full group. Otherwise you’ll have everyone looking in different directions.
5.   Of course I don’t want to be a dictator when posing the family or I could end up with shots of very angry people. The best photographers know how to get people’s attention, communicate what they want but also keep people feeling relaxed, and like they are having fun.

Yes, I mean Me.  There’s nothing worse than a grumpy stressed out photographer. I want to Have fun and enjoy the process of getting the family photo and I hope the family will too!


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  1. Lots of great tips for taking a family photo. My daughter has been on me to take a family photo, I am going to use some of these tips to get it orginazed.
    Everyday Inspired

  2. Wanted to pop over to say. Enjoy your trip to Old Edwards, too.

  3. Great post, so much relevant information.