All You Need to Know Before Your Next Family Portrait Session

All Photographs by  Laura Nelson

All Photographs by Laura Nelson

Before you book your next family portrait session, you're going to want to read this. We've asked professional photographer Laura Nelson six common questions our readers ask (or wonder) before planning their next family photos. Enjoy!

What makes a good family portrait?

Family portraits are a little different for posing than any other session, like a bride and groom or senior portraits because kids don't take direction well, haha. Every shoot no matter the subject I try not to over pose, but to direct, giving simple movements or actions they can do together and it ends up looking natural because you're naturally capturing who they really are.

When starting a shoot of a family with many children, I first try and just get all of them looking at the camera for that traditional photo, just so they have one and before the meltdowns begin. It's usually easiest at the beginning when they are not over stimulated and cooperate a bit better. Then I'll move in some fun direction, capturing them as they are. For example: having them all walk away holding hands makes everyone more comfortable not having a camera in their face.

Finding things in the surroundings that make the children feel like it's fun or a game, like building a sand castle, flying a kite, swinging in the arms of a parent, picking flowers, riding on shoulders, looking for shells. All these things distract them from the camera and the feeling that they need to behave and obey, but that they can just have fun and be themselves. It's a lot of work keeping these guys happy and every shoot has tears.

The parents have to do a lot of work too, like, making sure they are well rested, well fed, comfortable and that their minds are prepared for what's ahead so they know what to expect the day of the shoot. Most meltdowns are because one of those needs are not met, so it's so important but also, expected, that's why hiring a professional is important. You can take a situation that is really stressful and still create images that are beautiful. Like if the child is crying, having a parent hold them, resting their heads together, comforting. Is there a sweeter shot than that? 

What is the value of hiring a professional photographer? Can't a family just do it on their own?

I struggle with this in my area so much. It's a small town and there are more photographers than people, haha! It all comes down to valuing yourself, then others will see the value in you. If you, as the photographer, are always giving discounts and doing things for free or charging less than your worth, no one is going to value you. It's a really hard struggle because we want to create. It can be a slow and never ending process, but educating people on why you are worth it and teaching yourself to know how valuable you are, then others will see it too.

Having a tripod or friend with a camera can be nice for a quick photo, but hiring a professional is so much more than pressing a shutter. You're supporting a person, a mom, a dad, an entrepreneur. A professional photographer will document your family as they are and bring out the beauty, personality that is yours to share and in a way that is a piece of art for you to cherish, always. To me, there is nothing more precious than photographs. Family photos especially are harder to photograph and a professional photographer has tools and confidence to create something out of a seemingly difficult situation and are able to document your moving wild child in the way you remember and never want to forget. 

A professional photographer will document your family as they are and bring out the beauty, personality that is yours to share and in a way that is a piece of art for you to cherish, always

How important is the location?

I always choose the location, unless they have someplace sentimental they want to shoot. Location scouting I think is 50% of my time, I'm always searching with eyes for light, because I'm really picky and I want my location to reflect my client's desires and be unique to them. I scout and come back in all different lights to see what time is best and then I always have my clients meet me 30-60 minutes before I actually want to shoot because I want to chat with them so they are comfortable, but also because they are usually running behind and I want there to be enough light.

What's your advice on choosing outfits?

My clients are pretty good about their outfits, but I do chat with them a bunch over email leading up to the shoot. We talk about location and what kind of outfits would work well with that setting. I have a Pinterest board I share with them for ideas and we email back and forth if they find something online. I want them to feel comfortable and beautiful, that's the most important thing because it shines through, that confidence, in their images.

Some people need that extra help, so you can have them bring several options and you help them choose what to wear. You can also put together an inspiration board in photoshop with a color pallet or even hire a stylist!

How do you direct your clients in poses?

Giving simple direction instead of a pose makes the photos so natural because they are being themselves and moving freely. For example, instead of putting them in a pose facing each other and putting his hand on her can direct them by saying, ' turn towards each other and brush the hair from her face, then slowly bring your foreheads together.'  All these simple movements create these in between moments like when he touches her hair, she might smile. Having them do what feels comfortable and fluid movements create photos that are not stiff and posed looking. If they are looking stiff you can have them do something not so close, like walking hand in hand away from you. That gives them time to relax and you time to think of a new direction.

Why do you think family photos should be printed?

Everything is so much more meaningful and treasured with it's tangible. Having prints or an album made is an heirloom and is something that will last for generations. Most film photographers include prints with their packages, but if they don't, just ask! Every photographer's dream is to have their work held dear and displayed on their clients' walls, that's what it's all about: creating something held so dear and documenting history, life. This is your life, your family, your history. It's worth it. And another thing... if something is holding you back from being photographed, stop that! Having tangible prints are a daily reminder of the people we love and the places we've been.

Our children, this whole life, goes so fast. There is no better time than now to document our days together. Don't let insecurities rob you or your children, grandchildren of seeing the beauty you had together as a family.  

Full Image Gallery