Christmas cards are around the corner, which means it’s time for family pictures. Once upon a time, long ago, in a far away land, when I was a photographer, I took a lot of those family pictures. Between that experience and my own family’s aversion to sitting still, I have developed a few helpful tips to a successful family portrait shoot.
1. Choose clothing that people like. I still choose what my kids will wear for a picture, I just try to choose things that coordinate that they will be comfortable in. I mean, do you really want to smile when your wearing itchy tights and a tickley collar? Skip busy patterns and my personal pet peeve, the matchy-matchy, but if you love 6 different shades of denim in a row that’s your prerogative. Oh, and one more p.s., I know dresses on little girls are super cute, but if you have a lot of people to keep track of and you don’t want her underwear as the focal point, might I suggest leggings or pants, the embellishments can go elsewhere.
2. Choose a familiar location or get there early to get the exploring out of the way. Getting to a brand new park with all sorts of entertaining enticements and then saying ” now sit still and smile,” is not setting small people up to succeed. Location is not as important as you might think. Your backyard will probably work just fine. The less distractions the better.
3. Early morning or late afternoon are the best lighting times. Lighting is the art of photography, don’t try to get that warm glow and soft skin tones at high noon, God didn’t make the world that way, fighting against it is vanity.
4. Start with the group photos while everyone is freshly prepped and excited about the experience. It doesn’t take long to lose the attention of children and the more people in a picture the more focused cooperation you will need.
5. Let them play and follow them around. Anticipate the smiles and the laughing. Good candids are not accidental; it takes experience and time to capture the smile that you enjoy everyday.
6. Involve them in the creative process. Kids have some really great ideas and ownership usually aids excellence. Even if their ideas bomb, they will be having fun which will create more smiles.
7. Remember kids smell stress like dogs smell fear. If you are uptight about perfectly ironed skirts or every hair in place you will have to trade that for natural smiles and a fun experience. Your goal here is not to fabricate memories but to capture them. If you’re not a formal perfectly posed family in real life you won’t be one in pixels.
8. Lastly, in general, rewards are better in this situation than disciplinary action. Some may call it bribery, I call it “for the joy set before them.” Our last family session, we set before them a bonfire and s’mores if only they would endure the sitting. “Reasonable discipline” doesn’t always produce instant smiles (though it should produce lasting ones), but all of my children will smile on command for a roasted marshmallow.