There’s just the tiniest hint of spring in the air today – it’s still blummin’ freezing but at least the sun is shining! I’m really looking forward to being able to take photos of families outdoors again now it’s warming up. I know that some photographers are hardy souls that carry on regardless of the bitter winds and soggy trails, but I took a decision last year not to shoot littlies outdoors after the first week of November – it’s miserable for smalls who can’t stay warm regardless of the number of layers, and the red and runny noses are not what I’d want in my family pictures!
So now the sun is shining and I thought I’d share a few tips on preparing for and getting the most from your family photo shoot. Whether you’re shooting with me or any photographer, or if you’re shooting it all yourself (kudos!) here are just a few thoughts based on my experience that you might find useful.
1.Who do you choose?
Choosing your family photographer is a bit like choosing your family hairdresser. You need someone you can trust, someone who understands your style, someone that can work with your kids and someone that you feel relaxed around. Anyone who has had hairdresser issues in the past can attest to the nightmare that is a bad cut or colour, and I meet a lot of people who say they will never book a photographer again after a bad photo session.
To find the right photographer for you, start by getting a good idea of the sort of photos you want. It sounds obvious, but I meet a lot of people every year who haven’t really thought about this, and I can’t say when I meet them whether I’m the photographer they need. Photographers have lots of different styles and we all have different strengths, so always check out the work on websites and social media and see if it looks like the sort of thing you like. I would always expect a photographer to ask you about the sort of images you’re after when you first contact them, and I know that I and many others will occasionally recommend an alternative local photographer when the request is out of our wheelhouse – so don’t be offended by that! It’s a bit like asking a bike mechanic to fix your car – they may be able to do it but they might not be the best person for the job!
A personal recommendation from a friend or family member is a great place to start, but don’t just rely on that to get photos that you like. If your friend likes bold black and white studio portraits, and you prefer soft pastels outdoors, you may be disappointed if you go with their recommended photographer. That said, a recommendation is based not just on the photos, but also on the experience of the photo shoot. If you’re seeking recommendations always ask how the photographer was to work with, how they got on with the kids, how they managed the shoot and how they were to communicate with both before and after the shoot. Facebook and Google are a good source of reviews and I always try and post some of the reviews I get to my Facebook Business Page so that people can easily find them.
2. How much should you pay?
Photographers charge a huge range of prices for family sessions; anything from less than £100 to over £5000 can be found with a quick Google search. What complicates things further is that we all structure our pricing differently. Some photographers will always sell you a package up front that includes a shoot and some prints, others do digital only, some don’t charge at all for the shoot but charge more for prints afterwards. Some photographers have mini-sessions available which means a short, less expensive shoot, while others always take 3 or more hours for a shoot.
This makes it really important to have an idea of what you want at the start, and to ensure you’re comparing apples with apples when comparing the prices of different photographers. See how much time you’re getting, how many images you’re guaranteed to see after the shoot, what digital or prints are included or what they cost to buy. It’s likely that a less expensive photographer may be less experienced (so you might want to ask about that) although it doesn’t mean they are any less good! If their print products are cheaper that’s probably because they are using a cheaper supplier – again they could be right up your street but I would recommend seeing some examples before you make a final decision.
On average, my family photo people spend between £150 and £500 with me – depending on what digital images, prints or wall products they go for – so that’s quite a range and quite a lot of options!
Side note – A lot of people ask me why family photographers are so expensive and the short answer is that there’s a lot going on behind the scenes! I charge £65 for a family session of around 1 hour, but when I get home after the shoot there is at least another hour of sifting through the images (they are not all gems unfortunately!) and another hour of processing them on the computer. Processing doesn’t mean ‘photoshopping’ – it means taking the basic image and making it shine through the use of colour, tone, contrast and sharpness. A photographer’s style is a combination of how they compose, light and shoot the image and how they process it afterwards. So if I were to give my clients the images straight out of the camera, they won’t look like they are expecting! So whether it’s a digital file or a print there is still a cost to me in terms of time if not in terms of buying an actual printed product (and those are not cheap – especially frames!).
3. How can you make sure it goes well?
A little preparation goes a long way! Before every family shoot I send my clients a dressing guide. It’s a very short and simple guide that just gives hints and suggestions for getting great images. For me, it’s not about getting everyone in matching outfits, it’s about colours that work together, giving yourself some options, and having a couple of props, such as favourite toys or books, that will both entertain the kids and capture their love of that thing. I prefer to avoid characters on kids clothing because it makes images look dated later, and I always advise women to go for their normal makeup look rather than going bigger for the sake of the photographs – I just think it looks more natural especially if you’re being photographed out in the woods with the dog! I love accessories too – hats, sunglasses and the like – plus these things can help distract the kids!
I also tell Mums, Dads and Grandparents that the most important thing is that they focus on looking good themselves – I will sort out the kids! It’s really a shame when you get that great shot of the kids, but Mum is frowning or Grandad is looking off into space. Photographers that work with kids (and dogs!) a lot, will have loads of tricks for getting smiles and facial expressions, so leave that to us and you can just focus on looking great yourself!
Perhaps most importantly try and relax. I know it’s hard, you’re paying for a session and you really want that great shot of all the kids smiling and looking the right way and with just the right amount of teeth. But unfortunately the more you try and force it, the more kids tend to rebel and the less chance you have of a great shot. I really don’t believe you need to have everyone looking straight at the camera and smiling for a great picture you can hang on the wall. What’s more important is the connection and interaction between and that’s what I look for and aim to capture.
Building a rapport with kids is a key part of my job when I’m photographing families. I need to make sure they are comfortable with me and the camera, and that they can have fun during the shoot. It takes a little while for most kids, and a little longer for some, and that’s why my shoots are at least 45 minutes long. The best shots are inevitably taken once the kids are virtually forgotten about the camera and are focusing on having fun!
If you have any questions about family photography, do drop me a line by email firstname.lastname@example.org
You can see more of my family photography work over at www.siantphoto.com