Family photography is common these days. People choose to do professional photo sessions because they want great family pictures. They usually want photo books or albums and many high-quality images to share with their friends and relatives. Family images require a combination of skills, including knowledge of candid photography, children photography, portraits, lifestyle photography, and commercial photography. They also require storytelling and management abilities.
Although it looks popular and easy to market, family photography is a challenging job. Happy families and good recommendations are your goal. Moreover, you need to stand out and find a unique style. Otherwise you’re just one of countless photographers who have chosen to turn their lens to family photography.
We’ve come up with five key features that are extremely important for professional photography. You may be surprised to see that they don’t necessarily refer to camera settings and technical matters. There’s more to photography than technique. For family photography, you need to be a people person, a manager, a director, and a very intuitive photographer.
How to set up a family photography session
You have a client who wants some family images. You need to organize a photo session for two adults and some kids. As with lifestyle photography, fifty percent of your success depends on how you organize the photo session.
Have a long and detailed talk with your client. Try to find out as much as possible about the family’s preferences and personality. Don’t forget to ask about everybody’s age, the children’s gender, expectations, and budget. As any good manager does, you need to come up with a plan. Carefully plan these five aspects and you won’t regret it:
After you know the family’s preferences and possibilities, choose the location. Never use the same pattern. People are different, and their family images should also be different. For some people, an exotic trip might be the perfect photo session. Others might prefer to have the photo session in their own home. There isn’t a single recipe for success. Being flexible and open to suggestions will widen your portfolio. Avoid clichés. Not all family portraits must be taken in the local park or in the studio.
Time of day
If you organize an outdoor photo session, the time of day is extremely important. Consider shooting during the golden hours (sunrise and sunset) to take advantage of beautiful and warm light. It’s flattering for the skin and will add a soft glow to your family portrait. Or you can choose a more dramatic light and use the blue hour. The blue hour refers to the twilight (dawn or dusk). The light at these times is mysterious and deep, with blue shades. While not traditional for a family portrait, shooting during the blue hour can be an amazing experience. French photographer Julien Mauve may be an inspiration.
Many photographers think family photography is just about shooting family portraits in RAW. While there’s nothing wrong with that, to really stand out and amaze your clients you need to consider a narrative. Build a story for them. Use all their personal details and develop a fun environment where they can be the stars. Diversity is good, but a thematic photo session will impress viewers and will give them a nice memory to share. Consider this visual journey when you print their photo book or album.
Lights and gear
Usually you have a couple of hours for a photo session. Maybe more, if you do commercial photography. You have to work fast. Prepare your gear and lights in advance. Even if you shoot outdoors, bring a reflector. A family portrait should have bright faces. Avoid using flash if you photograph small children. Because family images capture people in motion, you’ll need a low ISO and fast shutter speed. For group portraits, use a deep depth of field to have everyone in focus. For individual portraits, you can blur the background using a shallow depth of field. Change the depth of field by adjusting the aperture.
To avoid chaos, write a short scenario. Include poses, activities, stories, jokes, and all that you consider useful. You need to be in control all the time. Create a comfortable environment that’s playful and fun. Let your subjects be themselves. Still, give them simple directions and help them relax. You’ll be taking pictures when they’re aware of it and when they aren’t. This is the beauty of family photography. Catch the chemistry between family members and their natural way of interaction. A good photographer is always an observer.
Have fun! Bring props, sweets, and toys, and be creative. Use different angles and focal lengths. Create fun compositions by transforming people into actors. Close-ups and wide angles are equally good. The secret is to cover more perspectives and to avoid compositions that look the same. Create your own style, but allow yourself new inspiration and approaches. Focus on people’s faces. After all, you’re doing family portraits.
Learn to edit family images
The world of professional photography is divided in two categories: one that uses photo editing software and one that doesn't. In the first category, you’ll find all types of commissioned and commercial photography. In the second category you’ll find fine art photography and documentary photography. Family photography is in the first category. You need a good photo color editor to show the natural beauty of your subjects.
Luminar 3 will help you create the perfect mood. Using its creative filters, you can easily adjust brightness and warmth. For family portraits, we recommend the Image Radiance, Orion Effect, Soft Focus, and Soft Glow filters. You can also adjust the tone, colors, white balance, and many other aspects.
Because a family portrait isn’t always static, you’ll have some cropping to do. Don’t forget to fix the aspect ratio and use the same one for the entire series of photographs. Luminar 3 has many useful tools for this and lets you work with layers and history.
Skin retouching is very difficult, but Luminar helps you again. In Luminar, you can do tonal adjustments, remove hot spots, and smooth the skin. The result is natural, fresh, and warm.
You can use Luminar as one of Photoshop plugins or as standalone software for Mac and PC.
Using lights in family portrait photography
Lighting conditions are important for family photography. A family photo session means a lot of movement. Be sure you have a fast camera, tripods, and enough light to work with ISO 100 or ISO 200. You don’t want blurry characters or noise in your images. For portraits, you need a good light source directed at people’s faces. It may be the sun if you have an outdoor photo session. Or it may be a reflector if you have an indoor photo session or if you prefer to have natural backlighting. Keep in mind that light can flatter your subjects or can be ruthless and harsh. For example, women are generally flattered by backlighting while men are flattered by side lighting.
If you can, avoid using the flash. Or at least use it in manual mode and set its intensity according to your needs. Flash scares newborns and small children. It also gives a cold light, which will make everybody look tired and upset. It makes weird shades and it’s difficult to edit.
You can still work on lighting after the photo session. Luminar 3 has an amazing filter called Sunrays that adds sunlight to your pictures. It also has filters that mimic light during the golden hour. Filters are a valuable help when the family you photograph doesn’t have time for an elaborate photo session.
Find inspiration in love photography
Love photography is not quite a separate type of photography, but many photographers dedicate their careers to photographing love. It’s one of the most used newborn photo ideas. What can be more beautiful than a mother’s love for her baby? It’s also frequent in street photography, couples portraits, and documentary photography. Family photography is also a good place to photograph love. You have different generations and different kinds of love. Nevertheless, love photography focuses on the feeling itself and not on the people.
Photograph facial expressions and gestures, unintended touches, and natural poses. People express love in many ways. Between your directed poses and actions give them time to be themselves. Encourage them to kiss, cuddle, and act naturally.
Take pictures all the time; sometimes the greatest family portrait is taken when nobody’s looking.
Encourage love between all members of the family. Love between parents is different than love between parents and children. You can also focus on love between siblings. Love photography is great for family albums in all aspects.
People can be shy when it comes to their feelings. Include love in your scenario in one way or another. Surprise them with tasks in which they have to show affection. For example, collude with the children to surprise mom with a gift or an action. Or ask the parents to hide for a moment and photograph the reunion. Be creative and playful, and follow your inner photographer’s voice.
Use black and white photography for a family portrait
Black and white photography is dramatic and artful. Without colors, a composition relies only on shapes, lines, and contrasts. Light and shadow become very important. Monochrome photographs enhance people’s features, but they also flatter human skin. A family picture can benefit a lot from this technique.
Use black and white photography for portraits. Focus on people’s faces and fill the frame with them. Show all their perfect imperfections: freckles, expressions, wrinkles, large smiles, a child’s missing teeth. Do group portraits as well as individual portraits. This way you create visual milestones for the family. Your images will make them cry and smile years from now. Black and white photography replaces colors with emotions. It’s up to you to use humor, sadness, nostalgia, candor, or any other feeling. Get inspired by the masters of black and white portraits like Annie Leibovitz.
For monochrome portraits, use an orange filter. Colored filters are common in black and white photography. They enhance or reduce contrasts by favoring one color or another. An orange filter is perfect for flattering human skin. For a more subtle effect, use a yellow filter, and for a more dramatic effect use a red filter.
While photographers recommend shooting directly in monochrome mode, you can always transform your family images to monochrome using Luminar. Its creative filters will do all the hard work. You just have to adjust the contrast.
If you choose to focus on family photography, you might read some psychology books beside photography books. Learn to use the gear before organizing your first photo session. In family photography, there’s no room for mistakes and delays. Practice anywhere, starting with your family and continuing with people on the street and in the parks. Even if you do staged poses and organized photo sessions, family portraits will mostly be taken in motion.
What’s great about family photography is that it’s fun! Your job will be to play with children, provide them toys, photograph love, and go home with good energy to edit the pictures. Besides, you get to make up stories and narratives, choose beautiful places, and work with Luminar. This is a great life indeed. If you haven’t decided to buy Luminar yet, download the free trial version and see what it can do for you.
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