From the other side of the lens – family portraits :: a 3-part series

So you've decided to get family pictures taken … please read this three part series of blog posts. I hope it will help you from being on the other side of the lens (we just had family portraits taken). Great results can happen with your images by open communication and planning ahead. This will be a three part series, so sit back and relax... feel free to make notes and forward this to your friends and family as well. 

part one :: BEFORE THE SESSION

1.  Practice POSES and facial EXPRESSIONS in front of the mirror and with the other people who will be in the portraits. Make sure you like their facial expressions. You can even give names to certain poses that you come up with together. Let your kids come up with some fun stuff, too. It will give them some ownership in their own images. If you want a "serious" posed picture, make sure you tell them the difference between looking too mad and just serious. Our son decided that angry and serious were very similar … so we had to help him a little with those ideas.

This is his "I'm a serious songwriter" look. Not for family portraits, son. Please. : )

This is his "I'm a serious songwriter" look. Not for family portraits, son. Please. : )

2. Pick out CLOTHES that are your style - not the ones shown only in pinterest pictures or in magazines. If you're not super trendy, don't pretend to be. If you want a funky, stylized shoot, that's okay, but make sure you change into your regular clothes, too. Talk to your family about the outfits and get their opinions. Make sure you either text a picture to your photographer if you need color coordinating advice, or send it to your friends that are color theory experts (or at least know your style and won't steer you toward something stupid). I sent a text to two college girlfriends from our art department, and they gave me good tips. It makes it more fun to get a little advice. Let kids add a touch of their personalities - at least for a few shots or more.

Our son wore a vest that he loves, it's retro, from when my brother was a kid, so he loves it -- and it's not itchy. Make sure you pick out clothes well in advance -- at least a week or more -- and have a back up option that you don't hate in case your kid tries to pull a last minute switcheroo. You don't have to go out and buy new clothes, just look at your own wardrobes with new eyes. Don't wait until the day of the shoot to tell your kids what they'll be wearing. I've never had that be successful in all the years I've photographed families. AND! If you do choose to get new clothes, wash them prior to the shoot. I've had babies super angry because of an itchy, uncomfortable outfit and the moms can't figure out why they're crying. 

This was the first shot I texted to my girlfriends. One responded that I would look like a rockstar and the guys, well, more like my back up singers. Maybe not in those words, so I changed this to a navy jacket. Subtle changes do make a difference! And only ask your honest friends, your mom will either tear it all down or she'll think you look great … but not so much. 

This was the first shot I texted to my girlfriends. One responded that I would look like a rockstar and the guys, well, more like my back up singers. Maybe not in those words, so I changed this to a navy jacket. Subtle changes do make a difference! And only ask your honest friends, your mom will either tear it all down or she'll think you look great … but not so much. 

3. Talk with your photographer about LOCATION ideas if you're not using your own property. Talk to the owners or event coordinators of locations well in advance if you have a good relationship with them, but perhaps your photographer doesn't know them from boo-tattoo. There is nothing more embarrassing than saying you did talk with someone, and then get kicked out during the session. So get permission!

Jean Ann and I always work together to come up with fun Christmas cards. This year's session included time at the barn where her horse is boarded. But, I won't show you the images we got for their card (I love surprises!). They are one of the best families that I work with and I love seeing them every time we do a session. In the past we've done studio stuff and also shots in their backyard and at a park.

Jean Ann and I always work together to come up with fun Christmas cards. This year's session included time at the barn where her horse is boarded. But, I won't show you the images we got for their card (I love surprises!). They are one of the best families that I work with and I love seeing them every time we do a session. In the past we've done studio stuff and also shots in their backyard and at a park.

As a photographer, I also try to find more unique places than what is trending at the time. There's nothing original or cool about your pictures' backgrounds looking like every friend you have. Be proactive about driving around and scouting out new places if your photographer doesn't have ideas. Work together to figure out a good place for everyone involved. Parks typically require a permit, so if your photographer doesn't have one, talk to them about it before you get there. Also, if you want to take portraits in businesses like coffee shops or even the zoo, you MUST get permission first (not during the session, have the photographer call in advance -- or take responsibility and call them yourself.) Newbie photographers have told me they never call in advance. What? That's like someone coming onto your property to have a picnic and just plopping down to eat and then playing corn hole on your yard without your permission. Would that be cool? No? Okay, so yeah … be considerate.

Let's say you find a cool location. Take a picture and text or email it to the photographer. Make sure it's at the same time of day, and if possible on the same day of the week (because the city is busy during the week, but not so much on certain weekends) ... that way they can see shadows and where light falls. You may only see a cool backdrop, they'll see what kind of equipment they'll have to bring to get the light right. I never take all of my equipment on location, it's just too much. So make sure you talk with the photographer beforehand

4. Share IDEAS with your photographer well in advance. There is nothing more frustrating than when a client shows up with a list and says, "I just stayed up all night and printed these Pinterest ideas for you." If you have some ideas, feel free to talk those out with your photographer, talk with them about work you've seen on their web site, but don't always show them other people's work. Remember, you don't like being compared to every mom, dad, kid or worker, they don't like it either. So be respectful and talk – before the day of the session.

When I booked our session with Tyler Zoller, it was because I have seen his work and I know he does amazing things with studio lights. His work is great and he's a good friend. I wanted something funky and clever for our session along with candids. I already had an idea in mind that not everyone could pull off, I thought of him immediately. So I called him and asked if he'd even be willing to do this with us because he typically works with models and seniors. He asked me a few questions and we worked it all out. Making sure you've seen the person's best work is helpful. Again, make sure you're communicating with the photographer up front.

5. Other things to discuss BEFORE the session  –––

  • MONEY:: don't make $$ the only reason you're using that photographer ... The best way to handle money issues is not to just start with a talk about how much the photographer charges. Talk with them about their work first and how they work Ask them about how you'd like the session to go (candids, posed, etc...) and THEN you should talk with them about money. If you can't afford their prices, don't freak out and tell them that their prices are out of control. Just nicely tell them that is out of your budget. You never know, they may need some of your services. Let's say you are a potter, so ask them if they'd be willing to barter. But never bring that up as the only way to pay them. You should work together on the ideas of bartering to make sure it's a win/win for both parties. You could say, "Oh, that is a little out of my budget. How could we work together with XXX for a budget?" 
     
  • TIME:: session length, editing and deliverables (proofs, prints, digital files, etc) ... Talk to the photographer about how much time to set aside for the actual session. If you have to take off work, take into consideration how long it takes you to get to the location, the length of the actual session and getting back to work. Don't make it a problem for the photographer. If possible, don't leave halfway through and let your spouse deal with the kids alone. If you truly only have a few hours, tell them that upfront, but don't wait until the day of and rush them. TJ was great and we talked it out beforehand, so he took off the whole day. You may not be able to do that, but consider these portraits as probably a once a year thing. Seriously, you have an hour or two of time you can use for these important images. Just remember that years later you'll be grateful you took the time out. Your family will outlive your working hours.

    Before the session, make sure to ask how long it will take to get a gallery of the images and how long before you'll receive the finished deliverables. Every photographer delivers different products on different timetables, so make sure you get that spelled out well in advance. If you think you want digital files along with prints, please ask them if they even sell the files.
     
  • BEST ATTITUDE & OTHER IDEAS:: make sure you discuss the best time of day for the attitudes of all involved. The kids probably won't be so happy if you don't feed them breakfast. Also, don't plan the session during your baby's nap time. Make sure everyone is fed and have had naps or at least a good night's sleep. Again, think ahead. I've had people bring kids that have just had their vaccine shots, so not only are they in a bad mood, but most of the time they've been crying, so their little faces are splotchy. I know there are people with more than one kid, but think like them. Would you want YOUR picture taken after crying because of a shot? Okay, and this is a no brainer I think, but make sure your kids aren't sick. If their nose is running non-stop and it's green, you should call and reschedule. The photographer doesn't want to get sick, thank you. 

    And this might be tough, but try to keep fighting to a minimum before and during the session. Talk with your family about positive things. Bring up happy things that have nothing to do with the day, maybe about something they've done that you can praise them for.... Talk to them about things they like to do and how fun the session will be. Answer questions they might have … just make sure to try and keep it upbeat. The better your attitude is about the session, the better everyone will cooperate. If everyone is Grumpy Gus before they show up, sometimes I will just want to turn around and leave. But I don't and I also tell corny jokes to get them thinking of something else besides what is about to happen. 
Think about lighting and certain times of day are the best. You won't always be able to schedule at those times, but think differently than just in a field with weeds or at a park. Simple sunsetting shots can make a gorgeous image. You just have to think ahead. 

Think about lighting and certain times of day are the best. You won't always be able to schedule at those times, but think differently than just in a field with weeds or at a park. Simple sunsetting shots can make a gorgeous image. You just have to think ahead. 

Remind everyone that it's not brain surgery. It might be awkward, but try to relax and enjoy your time. And it is only one moment in time, you'll cherish the images later.

**This may seem like a long blog post, but it's so worth looking into this to make your session a success. The next blogs in this series won't be as long, but you see how important it is to communicate prior to the actual session. I'm sure your photographer will love it when you plan ahead. 

Three cheers to you for getting your portraits taken! 

 

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