Family portraits. Whether this is an annual event for your family or something that happens once in a blue moon, they have a tendency to stress people out, especially mom. From coordinating outfits to making sure all the kids are behaving, to convincing your husband that even taking a picture together is a good idea, and then getting to your session on time; no wonder that so many people look tense in their photos.
Whether you’re the the one being photographed or you’re the photographer, helping people to relax and feel comfortable being in front of the camera isn’t always easy. However, we’ve got a few tricks up our sleeves that should make this portrait season a lot easier.
1. Go Somewhere Fun
Part of the reason so many photography or portrait sessions seem stressful is the pressure we feel “not to screw up” when there’s money on the line. If we’re paying someone to take our picture, we certainly don’t want to waste our money or their time in the process, so we do our best to put our best foot (or FACE) forward. Unfortunately, most of us will fall flat on our face in the process.
What if we could strip that pressure away and turn a portrait session into something that you and your family could enjoy?
With that in mind, choose a location that the entire family will enjoy such as a park or the lake. Everyone may be more willing to cooperate for photos if they know that they’ll be treated to a little fun when they’re done.
2. Break the Ice
You’ll often encounter children (and adults) that need a little time to warm up to the idea of being photographed. We find that it takes most people 15-20 minutes to lower their guard and act natural (thus the reason so many portrait sessions are an hour long). Those first minutes are a great time to take any sitting or family sitting shots (once the kids loosen up, they’re less likely to sit still for very long).
While you’re shooting, talk to the people you’re photographing about what they did that day, or what they have planned to do later in that day (or week/month), their favorite characters, etc. The key is to make a connection with them. The more they start talking, the more relaxed they will become and the more natural their smiles will be.
Since so many moms tend to stress over what to wear, be sure to compliment her on how everyone looks. A few simple words goes a long way toward helping mom relax about the session. But don’t let the compliments end there.
Throughout your session, encourage “good” behavior by complimenting them on anything they’re doing well: standing right where you asked them to, smiling or walking. It may seem silly to compliment a kid on walking, but if they’re doing what you asked them to do, they’ll continue to “perform.”
Meanwhile, when you’re photographing adults, be sure to encourage your model by verbalizing your thoughts. For example, “oh wow – you look amazing in that light,” or “you’ve got to see this, you look so beautiful.” Then show them the back of your camera.
We’ve found that simple words of affirmation help people feel more confident in front of the camera, which is reflected in their images.
4. Build a Relationship
Building a relationship with your clients should start before you ever meet on location, but spending much time face-to-face is typically difficult, unless you are friends with your clients.
With that in mind, a note to mom: if you do have a friend that is a professional photographer, HIRE THEM! We guarantee that your session will be a little easier because you won’t have the added awkwardness of getting to know a new person.
If you are working with someone that you don’t have a personal relationship with, it’s even that much more important to build a relationship with them during your session. Developing that relationships will increase trust. The more a person trusts you, the more comfortable they will feel!
How do you build that relationship, you ask? Well, it often starts with compliments, but you deepen the relationship by continuing the conversation. As you’re shooting, carry on a conversation. Think of it in the same way as your dental hygienist trying to talk to you while she’s cleaning your teeth, but in this scenario, your client can actually talk back. This distraction tactic often helps people to forget that you’re photographing them.
5. Capture Their Personality
While you’re getting to know your client, find ways to capture their personality by encouraging them to do things that they are already comfortable and confident doing. If they like to dance, play some music. If they have a favorite stuffed animal, encourage them to bring it. If they love a certain football team, have them wear their jersey.
Capturing someone who is comfortable in their environment or doing something they love is a good way to capture their personality.
6. Help Pose
Most people don’t know what to do with their hands or legs when they are being photographed, so it helps to have a little guidance.
If you’re not great with posing, you’ll need to practice a bit, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. We usually suggest for a family (or individual) to stand in a certain spot. You can point to the ground or stand in the exact location until everyone gets into place. Then ask them to pose themselves naturally so you can see what you’re working with. Ask if they’d mind if you moved them a bit, then physically (but gently) adjust hands or move bodies to where you want them. Take your time, no on is rushing you. However, if the pose isn’t working, don’t be afraid to move on.
7. Use a Zoom
We are huge fans of our prime lenses (in particular our 50 mm f/1.4 and 85 mm f/1.8), but sometimes we like to shoot with the 24-70mm lens because it allows us to shoot people from a distance. People who are a little shy tend to appreciate the space, but children often feel more comfortable if that big scary lens isn’t right in their face.
8. Be Silly
We’ve found that many of our clients enjoy doing a silly pose after a serious pose. So, you start with a very posed shot and then tell everyone to act silly. Easy enough, right?
This tends to work especially well with the men who feel awkward or uncomfortable in front of the camera. It also works remarkably well with large families. A few silly shots is usually all it takes to loosen them up and allow them to smile naturally for the rest of the session.
9. Use Props
Standing in front of the camera without anywhere to lean or put your hands can be incredibly awkward for a lot of people, so look for props that your model can lean against or sit on.
Being able to lean against a prop (such as the ladder above) can help your clients relax and enjoy their surroundings.
10. Capture Candid Moments
While most families schedule a portrait session to have that perfectly posed shot in their head realized, we find that the most printed images are those candid moments that best capture a family being themselves.
If you’re not sure how to set up a candid moment (yes, it does require a little planning), then try asking your models to do one of these activities: jump, walk, run, dance, kiss, whisper, eat, tickle or ride.
Any word that evokes emotion can help create an atmosphere that lends itself to beautiful candid moments worth capturing. It’s in these moments that you’ll really capture the love of a family.
With all of that said, feeling comfortable being photographed doesn’t always come naturally, but with these tips, that awkwardness will disappear much sooner.
Photo Credit: Ashley Sisk