Preparing to Shoot a Family Portrait
Regardless of what type of photography we ply as professionals, we can all relate to the agonies and ecstasies of the family portrait session. Because even if you don’t make a practice of it in your business, you likely experienced a family portrait session as a kid.
Was it boring? Exciting? Did it make you want to scream and pull your hair out, or did you enjoy the experience? Even if you hated it, you may later have realized the importance of the ritual and have now come around to treasure the shots.
And this is why it’s so important to nail family portraits. Moms and dads don’t necessarily care how well a photographer can pull off technical wizardry; they often just want to see everyone smiling and looking at the camera. Thus a photographer’s artistic sensibilities will come into play but must take a backseat to making a record of this moment in a family’s life.
Given the chaos that naturally comes with a family with kids you’ll need to have a game plan before the shooting starts. As with anything we shoot, preparation is the key to pulling off a successful family portrait.
Just like the popular saying goes, it’s 99% attitude. Working with families presents challenges that will test the patience of any professional. Your ability to keep clients happy will be directly related to your attitude from initial call to delivery of prints. Being a “people” person might be considered a prerequisite for family portrait photographers because this job entails as much psychology and management of personalities as it does being a photographer.
When first talking with a client, and throughout the actual session, it’s essential to communicate expectations to help avoid any disappointments later on. Make it clear up front exactly what the client can expect in terms of the location, the process, and the final result.
It’s also important to state that you realize that children’s behavior isn’t perfect, and that the parents should try to “sell” the idea of a family portrait not by threats or rewards (“No dessert tonight unless you behave well at the studio” is not a good approach!) but rather by getting kids excited about the fun to be had while shooting. The more the kids want to do it, the easier your job will be.
Also be sure to ask the client if she or he has any special requests. Each family is unique and needs to be photographed in a way that shows the world who they are. Mom or Dad might ask that you include a favorite car or pet, or maybe ask you to pose the family in front of a particular feature such as a tree or other background object.
See more: How to Take Outdoor Portraits
Location and Clothing
You’ll also need to determine what location the client would like to use. Perhaps you have a studio where you can offer different backdrops and props. Or perhaps the client would like to shoot at a beach, in a park, or other outdoors location. If this is the case then you’ll of course need to carefully itemize and pack your needed gear so that nothing is forgotten.
When setting a time and date for the portrait, ask the client at what hour of the day the kids are likely to be happy instead of cranky. Moms and dads know exactly what their kids’ tendencies are so tap into that knowledge and make it work for you. It’s one small step that can pay big dividends when it’s time to shoot.
Another crucial part of a family portrait session to consider is clothing and it should work with the location. You don’t necessarily want to go with just any color when shooting on a sandy beach; whites may not work as well as red or blue in making the photos “pop.” Help the client by suggesting what colors will work best.
The other consideration related to clothing and location is the setting in which the print will hang in the clients’ home. What’s the color scheme of the room? To best complement an existing color palette, you can ask the client to snap a photo on a cell phone of the interior space and use that as a springboard to further narrow down suggestions.
Once you’ve mapped out the desirable colors, you might also suggest accessories such as ties, hair bands and ribbons, cardigans, vests and other items that can add life and interest to a family portrait. It should be fun so encourage the parents to experiment with different looks. This can also help get the kids excited for the session once they get into the spirit of “dress up.”
With the pre-shoot prep out of the way you can now think about the actual photography. You’ll find that the session itself will present challenges but if you’ve taken these steps you’ll be confidently directing and shooting instead of feeling stressed.