family portrait how-to


Last weekend we finally had some family portraits taken. I think these may very well be the first  pictures of all four of us together. They make me so happy! I am still editing the images, so today I thought I would post our how-to for anyone else who is attempting to get some fun family portraits without hiring a professional.

The last time we had family portraits taken, our dear friend Tammy took them for us. She is beyond amazing. So a lot of the things we did were because I learned them from her. But now that she is big time, the sitting fees just weren't in the cards for us. Maybe some day... Finn still remembers that session with her as The Best Day Ever.

Instead, we asked our friend Nick to help us out. I don't think he had any idea what he was getting into. But he's a good sport, and agreed to spend an afternoon snapping photos of us. Nick is a photography hobbyist, good with the camera and the boys love him.

So first, I browsed the internet for inspiring family portrait ideas. Keeping a Pinterest board would've been a great idea, and I did start one near the end of my brainstorming. I decided I wanted a family-in-a-field look. At first I was excited about using lots of props, like bicycles, vintage cameras, sofas and wagons. But then I realized how much it would take for us to manage all that stuff by ourselves. So I settled on just one prop, a picnic quilt that my grandmother made.

From the quilt I had my color inspiration for our clothing. I started by choosing a dress and (green!) shoes for myself since I knew that I would be the hardest to please. Both my dress and the quilt had a lot of bright colors in them, so I went through the boys' drawers to see what they had in the same tones. Leo had a great pair of madras shorts in the same colors and a pair of kelley green crocs that would match my shoes. Finn had a kelley green t-shirt. Derick had several shirts that would work. We settled on a navy and white gingham.

From there I was able to fill in the rest of our outfits. Navy blue shorts for Finn to coordinate with Derick's shirt. Blue button up shirts for the boys, sleeves rolled, with a bit of Finn's green t-shirt peeking out. Brown shoes for the big boys, and a pair of khakis for Derick. Everything came from what we already had in our closets. Done.

Tip 1: Choose one prop or item of clothing to be your inspiration for your color scheme. Keep the clothing simple. Avoid graphics and logos. You really can find what you need in your closet. And you don't all have to wear jeans and white dress shirts!

A couple of weeks before our scheduled shoot Derick and I went to scout locations. Derick had seen a park while on one of his bike rides that he thought would work. We knew we needed it to be fairly empty on a Sunday afternoon, have a variety of settings, lots of open shade, and look like it was miles from the urban area we live in. Thankfully, it was pretty perfect.

Tip 2: Find a location that suits the mood of your inspiration photos. Make sure there won't be too many people around to get in the background of your photos. Make sure there will be areas of filtered, open shade at the time of day you plan to be there.

On portrait day we decided to meet up with Nick at 5:30. We fed the boys an early dinner, threw them in the shower, and got everyone dressed. Nick and I discussed my vision in the car on the way. I told him I wanted a variety of poses and locations. I told him it was most important to me that the photos be in focus, so he set a higher shutter speed and aperture. I told him that I was pretty sure that they key to getting a good shot would be to take hundreds of them. The chances of all four of us looking pleasant in a photo are slim! I also told him that the secret to getting our boys to cooperate (and smile) would be to bribe them with jelly beans. Gasp! Its true.

Tip 3: Make sure your photo shoot is scheduled for a time of day when your kids are generally happy. Make sure they are fed and rested. Make sure you are fed and rested. Bribe with jelly beans as needed.

Tip 4: Discuss your ideas with the photographer. You should know from your inspiration photos how you would like to pose your family. You can try that same pose in a variety of locations, and then improvise from there. Have your photographer get down on the ground, and make sure he chooses appropriate setting to get everyone in focus. And just keep snapping!

The actual portrait session went off without a hitch. We had a ton of fun. We alternated between formal poses with us all sitting on the blanket, and action sequences where we all walked hand-in-hand or ran across the field. We stayed in each spot for five minutes or so, before walking around to find a new location. Because it is summer, and the sun was still high at 6:30, the light was harsh. We took our photos in the shade almost entirely, and had great results. About an hour of shooting resulted in over 500 photos, so it is taking me a while to go through them. Of the 500, there are about 50 keepers. I hope to post some of my favorites next week. Thank you, thank you Nick!

Tip 5: The hour after sunset provides the best light, but even the hours before sunset will create nice long areas of open shade to pose in. Keep the session fun. Alternate between seated poses and action shots. The novelty (and the jelly beans) wears off after an hour, so keep it short.

Tip 6: It does take some work to pull off your own family portraits. But with a little advance planning, and some good lighting conditions it can be done. And it can be fun too. Even if your photographer is a novice, shooting in auto, your can set the scene for a good result. 

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