When I am working with a family my main goals are to capture love and connection; a glimpse into the essence of what makes a human relationship. I do not want my clients to have images that are stiff and uncomfortable (albeit well-dressed) versions of themselves. I want them to end up with images that convey a feeling, and that bring them back to a fleeting moment in time.
Without a sense of connection you are simply capturing the pose and their outfits. Perceivable connection gives family photos a human feel, and makes everything contained in them appear genuine.
Once you give yourself the creative freedom to go beyond traditional, stiff and posed family portraits, you can create artistic and emotive images. I like to think of my approach more as guiding than posing.
Here are five of my go to “poses”, and how I bring out emotion within the each one. I try to get maximum value (the greatest number of potentially usable frames) from each pose. Getting value from poses is especially important with families, as young children with limited focus are often involved
I ask them all to hold hands and spread out a bit to form a line. I make sure that they are always holding hands to keep the physical connection present. I ask them first to look at me, then I encourage the family to look at each other. Often the children continue to look at me because they are curious. There are two layers of connection here. Their actual physical connection and the connection to me and the camera with their eye contact. Next I bring them all in tight while standing and ask them to look at each other. If they are having trouble relaxing and engaging naturally, I ask them to start talking and joking. This yields more genuine expressions and relaxed body postures. The connection is exhibited by their close physical contact, eye contact, and casual interactions with each other.
I usually ask the family to sit on the ground. This is the most posed and traditional image I get, however that does not mean it has to be stiff. I want their bodies to make one contiguous shape, no matter how many subjects there are. I ask the parents to sit right next to each other, then put the children on top of the parents laps or very close in front of them. Make sure that you can see the parents heads and that the parents have good posture! I make noises and sing songs to hold the children’s attention just long enough to capture a shot with everyone looking at me. You have two layers of connection here; subject connection through close physical contact and connection to the camera through eye contact.
If it seems too stiff to have all the family looking, or you simply want to yield another shot from this pose, stand back and ask the family to talk to each other and pretend you aren’t there. They don’t need to be looking to make a strong and connected portrait. Shooting a family interacting invites the viewer to contemplate the family and their loving relationship.
This is my personal favorite pose as it always yields a carefree and connected shot. Immediately after I made everyone sit and look at me, I ask the parents to gently tickle the children and remind them to look at the children while they do it. The kids laugh and have fun and the result is an image full of love and joy in an unbridled manner.
I love to have my families lay on a blanket together. First ask the parents to lay down next to each other. Then ask the children to lay on top of their parents. This usually makes the children laugh and because it is silly they are excited to execute this pose. Next ask the parents to look at each other and the kids to look at you. This creates a close and playful moment which is loaded with connection. The children’s eye contact draws you in, and physical proximity is a layer of connection which combines well with the parents gazes toward each other.
Capturing connection with movement creates a captivating portrait. I will often ask the parents to hold hands and stand back and ask the children to hold hands and walk or run toward me.
To get the whole family involved in movement, I ask them to hold hands and spin around in a circle slowly while singing a song. Another option is to ask them to hold hands and walk away from or toward you, or engage them in an activity like playing in the waves.
Ask dad to toss one of the children in the air. As he is doing this ask the rest of the family to stand back and watch. An added bonus will be if you get the family members who are watching to touch in some way or participate in an activity like dancing or twirling.
Simply encourage them to play, run, jump, or splash. They will have fun and you will capture a real moment.
Movement creates a dynamic layer of connection. The viewer is drawn in by the authentic facial expressions and body language that come out when the family is moving. The viewer is connected to the activity, even if more static, perhaps pondering what the primary subjects are doing. It is as if the viewer has a private glimpse into the family’s unique relationship or dynamic.
Family portraiture can be artistic and intimate. I encourage you to relax and enjoy your family sessions. Explore the deep love and connection that is present in every family, and discover how to convey these emotions through your creative work. A successful session will often inspire a family to invite you into their usually private, intimate world.
If you want to explore my style of family photography, check out my Lifestyle Family Photography workshop.