Family Portraits: 6 Essential Preparations You Have Never Heard

Of all the thousands and thousands of images that we are bound to take with our cameras in our lives, none has as much significance and importance as the creme de la creme of portraits; the family portrait. Unfortunately, the family portrait is one of the most difficult images to get right and also to prepare for. Here are 6 ways you can help prepare your family for their portrait with a professional photographer.

1) FINDING THE RIGHT PHOTOGRAPHER. With the digital camera revolution over the last decade, new life has been breathed into the interest of photography as a whole. Suddenly it is “easy” to take a good picture. Many say that “anybody can do it!” or “there’s nothing to it!” Oh, if only that was really true. The real fact of the matter is photography still takes great skill, practice and technique to achieve high quality results. While you are shopping around for a professional family photographer, view their portfolios on their websites and compare their work to others. Ask yourself:

  • Does each member in the family look good?
  • Can I imagine my family portrait looking something like this?
  • Does this work look similar or different compared to other photographers?

When you feel comfortable enough with the photographer’s work, give them a call. Yes, I said a call! E-mail is always an option but a phone call will help you gauge how comfortable you are with the artist. A high quality photographer will ask you many questions and see if the two of you are a good fit style-wise and budget-wise. The phone call should be a comfortable experience in which you see if this photographer is a good fit for you and your family. Always remember that the more comfortable you are, the better you will look in your portrait.

2) HOW MUCH WILL YOU SPEND? Portrait photographers are easy to find but like anything else you buy there are different quality levels to consider. If you are wanting a very high quality portrait, be prepared to spend upwards of $1,000 or more. Of course you can get away with spending only a few hundred with many high end photographers but you will be limited by the size and finish of the final print. High end portrait photographers will take great care of you and your family from the first phone call to the delivery of the final images. These types of photographers stress having a high quality experience, service as well as a high quality product. Professionals like these are in no rush and want to take the necessary time to create portraiture that shows your personality as well as accentuating your best features. If it is within your budget, don’t hesitate using a high end portrait photographer.

Not everyone can afford a high end portrait photographer so a “family member with a nice camera” is sometimes all that will suffice. Others will choose to hire a lower priced photographer. These photographers generally share a few commonalities. Some of which may include:

  • Inexperienced
  • College students still learning
  • Still building their portfolios
  • Lack of/limited knowledge in posing, lighting and expressions
  • Style of photography is mostly a culmination of what they see other photographers doing so they’re own work can tend to look very much like other photographers’ work
  • Limited products offered. IE: Print sizing, print finishing, print types, albums, etc. They might offer only a CD for a flat rate and leave the printing to you.

Choose a photographer that you are comfortable with that has a portfolio you enjoy and then see if they fit within your budget. Everyone wants a good deal and many higher priced photographers are willing to work with your budget or even offer referral incentives if you are unable to order more than a certain amount. Don’t expect discounts on prints just because you ask but many photographers will be glad to offer discounts on frames or specialty items.

If your budget is smaller, the lower priced photographer will probably spend plenty of time with you and give you a CD full of images but remember that the quality of the work might be a little more inconsistent. The saying, “you get what you pay for” definitely rings true when choosing a portrait photographer.

3. LOCATION. Congratulations! You have found a great photographer and now all you need is a location and your session will be underway! So where the heck do you take this photo at anyway? Assuming that a studio portrait is not wanted, for many, a nice portrait at the park with grass and trees will suffice. Others choose to photograph their family in their own home and around their property. It might help you to consider what your family likes to do together. If your family loves to go boating, an image created with the boat at the lake might make for a very special portrait. Are you into rock climbing? Camping? Outdoors? Whatever your interests, having an image created at a location that is specifically important to your family will offer much more significance and originality to the portrait. Get your photographer’s advice and don’t be shy with your ideas!

4. CLOTHING. This is the big one! If you want your portrait to stand the test of time and always keep that “looks like it was taken yesterday” quality, you must carefully choose your clothing. Keep it as simple as you can. Remember that not everyone has to match but keeping the same general tonality is always a good idea. Earth tones work best with just about any background or skin tone. Avoid patterns and logos. What looks good in real life will not always look as good in a portrait because certain clothing patterns will distract from the faces of the family. The main goal in a portrait is to see the faces without difficulty. The foreground, background, posing, clothes, etc. should all compliment the image but never distract from the subjects’ faces.

Imagine a family of five and they are all wearing black. Now imagine that one person is in a white shirt. The white shirt will now be the first thing you see because it is the point of greatest contrast in the image. The same goes with a family of five all wearing white. If one person in the group is in black, the black will be all you see.

Your family photographer should be able to instruct you on what to wear and offer suggestions.

5. THE PORTRAIT SESSION. “Oh no! My husband is mad that we have to take a photo and my kids are fighting and my daughter didn’t wear what I told her to wear and I have bags under my eyes because I didn’t sleep well last night…..” Sound familiar? A lot can happen between planning your portrait and having it taken. There are so many variables to consider but remember that your photographer understands this perfectly! Take a few deep breaths, relax, and trust your photographer’s expertise. Your photographer will work on putting you at ease during the session and make you comfortable with being photographed. He or she will be watching closely how the family is interacting during the session and will no doubt do whatever is possible to put you at ease. Focus your mind on how fun the session will be and how happy you are that the portrait you have worked so hard to organize is finally being created! Very soon you’ll have a beautiful, custom piece of artwork for your home’s decor, which brings me to #6…

6. DISPLAYING THE FINAL PRODUCT. Your session went great and the images looked amazing! You can’t believe how good you all look and how happy you are with the images that were created. Now it’s time to decide what you’d like to order!

Most professional photographers will sell your images to you ranging from wallet sized images up to large framed wall portraits that can be a beautiful sight to behold. It is best to plan ahead with your photographer where you intend on displaying the final print. Look around your home and find the right location. Take a picture of the location for the photographer and they will help you decide what will look best for your home. You might be surprised how small a “huge” print like an 11×14 can look above an entire couch or how a large image like a 30×40 can be far too big for your hallway. Measure the area you’d like to fill with portraits and your photographer will recommend what size of portrait would work best in that location and also recommendations for different sized images in a beautiful cluster of images. It depends on your current decor and your personal taste.

For smaller sizes, write down who in your family and extended family will want a smaller gift sized print (8×10 or smaller) and then plan on Christmas cards, albums, fun keepsakes, etc.

Have fun with your photographer and enjoy your family through the entire family portrait experience. We are all so lucky to have photography in our lives to look back on different moments of our lives and although it takes a lot of effort to create a family portrait, it is well worth the effort!