I remember the moment I wanted to become a photographer. I was just a girl and our family was enjoying a dinner get together with friends who had five sweet and darling daughters. The kids naturally headed upstairs to play where the bedrooms and toys were, and that’s when I saw the most gorgeous picture on the wall. In this large picture, five sisters were wearing white dresses, barefoot and holding hands in a circle. It was a breathtaking photo that perfectly captured their inner light, beauty and innocence. Awestruck, I said to myself, Someday I want to take pictures of my kids like that!
I’m thrilled to say that I made that dream of mine come true! I’m grateful to have learned how to take beautiful pictures of my children and of other families, too. I’ve grown so much in my 10 years as a photographer, and I’d love to share some quick insights with you. With a little education in lighting, outfits, posing, printing and displaying your photographs, you’ll be more prepared for picture day, improve your own photography skills, and finally, be inspired to style your home with some of your family portraits!
The first thing you should know is that lighting trumps everything. It doesn’t matter how fancy your outfit is, how breathtaking your location is, or how smiley your children are; if the lighting isn’t right, none of that matters. On the flip side, even if your kids are pouty and wearing rags in the ghetto, if the lighting is right, those photos could be works of art.
My quick go-to tips for natural light are first, make a great effort to shoot on a clear day a few hours before sunset; second, if you can’t shoot a few hours before sunset on a clear day and you’re dealing with harsh mid-day sunshine, find some open shade. Open shade is shade that isn’t created by a roof. If you’re standing underneath something, you’re not in open shade. The side of a building is often a place where you’d find open shade.
If taking pictures on a clear day isn’t an option, an overcast day is the next best thing. But even on an overcast day, I’d try and find “open shade” or shoot near reflective surfaces (a sandy beach, rocks, asphalt, for example) so that you can get some directional light. Without directional light, pictures tend to look flat and lifeless. Finally, if you’re shooting with natural light indoors, position your subject at a 45- degree angle to a window that doesn’t have harsh sunlight coming directly through. North facing windows are ideal.
Here’s the thing about outfits; start with mom’s outfit because if mom looks good, everybody looks good. As irrational as it might sound, it’s just the truth! And yes, you want your outfits to be lovely and artsy (layers and textures are key), but this probably won’t require you to go get new everything. Start with what you have and build on that. It can be really overwhelming and expensive to purchase everything new and it would be such a shame if you didn’t have enough time, energy or money left over to find the right accessories because those can absolutely make the photo! For example, a neck scarf, a fashionable suede hat, and vests on little boys are some of my personal favorites. Also, chunky knits, denim, ruffles and neutral midtones are your best friend.
That said, everyone doesn’t need an accessory and less and understated is often more. You want it to look effortless even if getting everything together didn’t feel effortless. It’d be wise snap a picture with your phone of everyone in their clothes… or even the clothes lined up next to each other on the couch to see if anything is too distracting or hard on the eyes. I’m sure your photographer would be glad to give you feedback before picture day as well. Also break things up. Not everyone should be in jeans and a top. Sprinkle in dresses, skirts, overalls and the like.
Every photographer’s posing approach is a little different, but I tend to do a test shot on one individual and make sure my lighting, setting and surroundings are right. Once I’m confident in those things, I then gather the whole family in. I give them loose instructions. I often put mom and dad in the middle and then tell the other children where to stand. From there I tell them to link up somehow, letting them do what feels natural to them. If it doesn’t look right, I tweak from there.
After that I play lots of games with them that encourage them to connect with one another. For example, one of my favorite things to do is ask the parents to tell me a funny or sweet story about each of the kids. Sometimes I ask the kids to tell me their favorite thing about their dad or mom and vice versa. It loosens everyone up and gets some really genuine expressions out. Candid is king when it comes to family portraits, especially when it comes to displaying them in your home.
Printing matters. Your photographer will spend a lot of time making sure the color, contrast, saturation, exposure, highlights and shadows are perfect, and they’ll have spent a lot of time and money on calibrating their monitors so that what they see on their screen is accurate. Nothing is more frustrating than to have the images printed at a poor quality printer or for the colors to be all off and wonky. Print your pictures where your photographer recommends–it’s usually not even that much more expensive! My go-to printer is Color Inc.
Finally, the fun part! Displaying those works of art in your home. I used to think the bigger the better, and there is a place for that, but be careful not to overdo it. If you are going to enlarge a picture, make sure it’s worth blowing up. It should be breathtaking and show-stopping if it’s going to be big (in my opinion). I’m all about artsy and candid as opposed to stiff and formal.
The more I’ve settled into my own style, I really love a good gallery wall, both the uniform kind and the eclectic. I have a uniform black and white gallery wall, but I also have an eclectic gallery where I mix in photographs with art prints, and I also mix color with black and white. I also like to remove the glass from the picture frame so that my pictures don’t have a glassy glare to them. Outside of that, I love to sprinkle timeless photos in little frames throughout my house. They bring me lots of joy, and I hope my insights as a photographer will help improve your family photos, as well as inspire you to style them throughout your home!
Let me know if you have any questions!