Doing portrait photography is a great way to have a career as a photographer and have fun at your job. Unlike shooting professional models, when working with a family you have the opportunity to not only be silly in the studio but also create lasting memories for said family.
Sometimes when a family, especially one with young children, goes into a studio, there’s an air of nervousness and stiffness, and that creates some unnatural and forced pictures. No one wants to look back at their pictures and see strained smiles and stiff poses. Getting natural family photos is all about having fun, and getting the right kind of reactions.
A good way to remove the stiffness of any pose is to get the family to move and bend. Sitting or standing perfectly straight is not natural. Make good use of a person’s joints and have them bend at the elbows, knees, and hips. People can hook fingers in their belts or pockets to loosen up their arms. Have the family turn slightly with one knee bent and their hip pushing out toward the camera. If they’re sitting down, let them lean forward a bit, or turn to their side and extend one leg while the other stays bent.
Most of the time when you’re shooting a family portrait you won’t be capturing the action, but rather the reaction. If youwant natural family photos, tell the family to do something, and wait for the moment after it happens. Have one person whisper a secret in the other’s ear and capture the two of them laughing afterward. Get the kids to surprise attack the parents and capture the family dissolving into laughter after. Whatever you ask the family to do, you want to shoot the aftermath, when the family is having fun and their smiles are real. Capture a true natural family moment.
Unlike shooting an intense fashion shot or a light and airy nature shoot, you want to get the family in a soft and fun light. Use a light colored background, white is best, and use either a large window with natural light or just one light. Make sure that the light isn’t pointed directly at them or coming from directly overhead. It’s best to have a very bright studio and to use a flash to help add contrast. Set the flash up at a 45-degree angle to avoid odd shadows.
Especially when it comes to photographing toddlers or young children, you want to give the family something to help focus their attention on. Not every photo has to be the family in a straight line staring into the camera. It’s okay for them to let their attention wander to an object, and sometimes even creates the family’s favorite picture. Ask the parents to bring one of the children’s favorite toys or books. Encourage the family to simply play with the child and capture their reactions. If you have your own props, let the children choose what they want to play with, and shoot their play time. Let the kids be kids and have fun.
People tend to be self-conscious about their body. Maybe someone is concerned about their weight, or someone else has a large birthmark they can’t cover up with makeup. It’s easy to pose people in ways that flatter them and make them comfortable with the end result. Study your family as they are in the studio and notice blemishes or anything they are uncomfortable with. Then change your poses to match.
If someone is worried about their weight, have them lie down on the ground facing the camera. Having the kids climb on top of them creates a natural pose and helps hide their body. Also, in other poses, try to angle the camera so it looks slightly down on them, this will hide any double chins and help slim the body.
For any blemishes, have that person’s face or turn a specific direction. If they’ve got a pimple on their chin, for example, simply have them turn their head slightly so that that side of the face is always facing away from the camera.
If you’re working with a couple where there is a huge height difference, have the couple sit down. In standing poses, get the taller of the two to stand with their legs apart a bit to help bring them down. When shooting a single parent and young children, encourage the parent to lift the children into their arms. You can also get great natural family pictures by having the parent kneel on the ground and hug the children from behind.
Shooting families can seem a bit scary; you don’t want to mess up precious memories. But forcing the family to stand still and smile at the camera creates memories that family may not want to remember. Just let the family be natural and have fun. Make sure they don’t stand or sit too stiff and always try to bring the family’s original personality to the pictures.