When I first started doing photography for other people I didn’t charge – instead I asked them to make a donation to my favourite charity – Unicef. This was great in most cases and so many of my clients were happy to make generous donations which was great! However, as time went on and the expenses of running a photography business materialised (website, equipment, insurance blah blah) I wasn’t able to continue in this vein so a new approach was needed.
I wanted to continue to give back to charity because it feels so good to do that, and like many people I’m not really in a position (yet!) to make large cash charity donations on a regular basis. So I started donating family photography sessions to various good local causes – everything from school fetes, to tombolas, to raffles and full scale charity auctions. The way I look at it is this – even if the person who wins the session doesn’t need it/want it they and many others will have donated money the to charity for their ticket and that is a good thing. In addition the person who wins might end up having spent a couple of pounds and got something they otherwise couldn’t afford to do – so that’s a good thing too. I always include a few branded images in these sessions so that people can (if nothing else and they cannot or don’t want to buy prints and things) share their session on Facebook and what not – so win win really!
Don’t get me wrong, there are sound business reasons for this approach too. It helps get my name out there and people sharing photos on Facebook with my logo on is great advertising. These are local charities so there are lots of people there who are potential clients and I’ve also picked up a few business clients from things like this, plus opportunities to get involved with other local events. Some winners even buy a print or some digital images from their shoot so that covers a little of the cost of doing this – but it’s the charity that really benefits and that’s why I love doing it.
I wanted to share some of the images from a recent family shoot that was the result of a charity auction at a local school in aid of Born Free Foundation– one of my favourite locally based charities. I had such a wonderful time with this great family, they made a generous donation to the charity and were so welcoming to me at their shoot. I had a brilliant time both on the day and afterwards processing the images and I love how they came out despite it being quite a grey day.
A huge thank you to these guys and to all the families who’ve made donations to various charities for their photo shoots over the last few years – I’m so looking forward to more of these in the coming spring and summer months!
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 email@example.com
It’s taken a long time to get around to writing this particular blog – not only because the summer has been a wonderful whirlwind of family time and exciting photographic opportunities, but because organising my thoughts on this has been a long time coming.
Last year I finally resolved to deal with my own fear of being photographed. It is frankly ridiculous to be a portrait photographer and not be able to stand to look at a photo of yourself. How on earth could I help those I photograph to feel comfortable, to understand that I’ll take care of them, that they will look great and that previous bad experiences in front of the lens must be put to one side and forgotten – when my own gut instinct was to run a mile from any camera pointed my way. My excuses were feeling hollow even as I said them “I’m just not photogenic” “I always make a weird face” – excuses I’d heard so many times from my portrait subjects and which I routinely acknowledged then laid aside.
My rational, business minded self also knows that people buy people as much as they buy services, and I’ve blogged about the importance of connecting with potential customers through your profile photo and your About Me section. You see, it’s not that I don’t believe all of this, it’s simply that I know how hard it can be! The wonderful Hannah Couzens so kindly did my headshots last year and they are lovely – honestly she did wonders with my immobile face and it’s tendency to look murderous even when the actual thoughts behind the eyes are much more banal. It was a great experience to be photographed by Hannah and the images are great but a year on I could feel the old fear surfacing again and so I figured I needed another ‘shot in the arm’ so to speak – it was time to create my own self portraits!
I had a free couple of hours so I planned for 3 different looks going from pretty banal to more daring on the grounds that if the banal went badly then I could bail on the more daring! I wanted something with expression, something with character even though I know that leads to a less pretty result – expression tends to give me more wrinkles, smaller eyes, more ‘weirdness’ all together but honestly it’s who I am and it’s about more than just a pretty picture, it’s about embracing the weird!
So here they are – 3 shots – all quite different but all very much me. Don’t get me wrong, the idea of putting this out there still worries me – and before anyone asks (that means you Dad!) it’s a strapless top! However, I’m a good photographer and while these are most definitely not ‘straight out of camera’ I think that makes a difference and sharing them is perhaps a little step along the road to accepting my face as it is (in it’s mid-thirties, with some wear and tear, feeling a bit of neglect but probably typical). I don’t look like a model, but a good photograph doesn’t require you to look like Kate Moss.
A few weeks after I made these photos, and a week before writing this blog I did my first ever training on working with the media – I had to do a video interview. This did not go well! I cringed at the sight of my miserable face on the screen, hated the camera angle with a passion and frankly wished the ground would swallow me up as my colleagues and trainers watched the film back. So – still work to do on self acceptance, but baby steps perhaps!
I’m always looking for great quality and excellent value print products that I can offer to my family and portrait photography clients. The price is important because I aim to make photography affordable for a wide range of people and I see the final print on the wall as being the end point – so it needs to be cost effective in order to keep the price low, cover my costs and make a modest profit. That said, I will not sell people ‘cheap’ nasty products; they need to do justice to the photographs, have longevity and give that wow factor that ensures my clients feel they’ve got something special.
Saal Digital, based in Germany have been my go-to lab since last year when I was sent a free portfolio book in exchange for a review. Since then I’ve had canvases, aluminium prints and paper prints from them and all have been great! The colours are always spot on (against my colour calibrated monitor and soft proofing process) and I’ve been impressed by both their colour and black and white prints. So I was excited when they offered me the chance to try something new in exchange for another review.
Until now I’ve steered clear of acrylic mounted prints. They tend to be highly reflective and that causes problems with stray window light and ceiling light bouncing off the surface and causing areas of the image to be be obscured by glare. The acrylic also tends to be quite thick and I don’t like the feel of looking through the thick resin to the image below, I like more direct contact with the image such as what you get with an aluminium print or a canvas. However, I do like the modern feel of acrylic prints and they are practical; easy to clean and easy to hang on the wall. So I decided to try the new gallery print from Saal. It combines an aluminium backing and an acrylic front and importantly a matte finish is available. Now, I’ve had matte finish acrylic before and still found it to be disappointingly reflective, so my hopes here were not high!
I am totally thrilled with the product! It looks really special. It has the most amazing velvety finish without glare and doesn’t look at all like cheap plastic. The image is beautifully crisp and the colours are both accurate and gorgeous, soft and rich with a really high class look that is perfect for my studio shot of my boy and his Grandad. There’s a tactile quality to the gallery print that you can’t really appreciate from the pictures but I’ll be interested to see the reactions of those I show it to in the flesh as my personal inclination is to turn it over and over in my hands and not want to let it go!
The sub-frame hanging system on the rear is the same as others from Saal and will make hanging it a breeze and even on larger prints (this one is 20x30cm) it will be really secure on a picture nail. As always Saal delivered swiftly and in perfect condition so there’s not much more to say on that front. The gallery print is a combination of an acrylic front panel and an aluminium rear panel so it feels robust without being too heavy and the edges feel a bit less sharp than a straight aluminium print.
All in all I’m much more impressed with this product than I thought I would be. It is a bit more expensive than my current canvas and aluminium offerings but I think I’m going to try a matte finish straight acrylic now as well and compare that to this to see what difference, if any, that extra aluminium layer is making. I’m definitely going to add this as a new option for clients in the new few weeks as for the right image I think it looks and feels superb.
I was talking to a friend a few weeks ago about why it is that people prefer to have a less than flattering selfie as their social media profile picture, rather than paying quite a modest amount for a decent professional one. ‘They don’t want to seem vain” she told me, “those posh pictures are just for show-offs”. Aside from my initial bristly reaction (my own profile pic is a professional one and I love it!) I then got to thinking about this a bit more. I can understand the view, but I think it’s a rather outdated and short-sighted one. I’ve always thought it a little odd when people have a lot of professional shots of themselves on the walls at home, but I think this says more about me and the fact I definitely don’t want to see my own face all over my walls, than it does about them.
In the internet age, our online persona has probably become the main way most of us engage with new people. Whether it’s your business page on Facebook, your online dating profile on Tinder, your professional profile on LinkedIn or your personal blog – most of us are looking to make an impression of some sort in the digital world. While the content you post and how well you promote it are key to success online, human beings are inherently a visual species and we want to see who it is we are engaging with. There’s something untrustworthy feeling about those profiles without profile pictures, or whose profile pictures are something abstract like a cat or a tree. We find ourselves asking why the person is hiding, is there something they’re not telling us?
So having a profile picture of yourself is a good start for sure. However, it’s a competitive digital world, so that picture needs to ‘stop the scroll’. We all do it, scrolling through Facebook or Instagram, passing by most of what we are shown. If you want people to notice you online, your picture has to make them stop scrolling and look.
Ok so I’ve maybe sold you on the profile picture thing, but you hate having your photo taken right? So much easier to do a selfie, you can keep trying until you get one you like and no-one will laugh at you right? (well as long as you’re not taking that selfie on Westminster Bridge when your iPhone falls off the selfie stick into the Thames – then people will laugh for sure!). So, I grabbed my friend Lucy, famous selfie taker, local celebrity and distinctly not impressed at the idea of me taking her photo – perfect!
So – we started with Lucy taking a selfie in the studio – Here it is.
Then without changing Lucy’s clothing, makeup or hair we worked on some headshots – here’s the one Lucy chose.
Full disclosure – this image has been processed in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. The colours have been balanced, the contrast boosted and I’ve evened out Lucy’s skin tone and faded some lines but not removed them. I have not changed the shape of her face in any way! Getting this image was about careful lighting, choice of lens and focal point, depth of field and positioning of the head and body – oh and having a laugh at the same time!
Lucy is my friend, but even so I know this wasn’t the most comfortable of experiences for her and it was crucial to keep the mood light and fun in order to get a picture that shows who she is – a fun, lively, mischievous and professional personal trainer (www.sun-fit.co.uk).
Next we posted both the images on Facebook and asked people which they preferred – and that’s probably how you came to be reading this blog – so now you know! Universally people preferred the professional shot. I have a theory that this is because they don’t see having a beautiful picture as vain, they just see a beautiful picture which they enjoy!
If you’ve followed me for a while, you might already know about my long-running portrait project 50 Faces. For those who don’t know – here’s a quick summary of what it’s all about.
Back in spring of 2014, I decided I wanted to learn more about portrait photography – that I might actually want to be a portrait photographer – but I wasn’t sure. Up until this point my serious photography had been focused on the sport that my husband and I were deep into – rock climbing. I’d started photographing climbing for the record of what we’d acheived, and had taken many successful images of the landscapes in which we climbed and the routes we took from top to bottom. Increasingly though I was finding it more interesting to focus on what I now know are called ‘environmental portraits’ of the climbers, to try and capture the feeling of climbing through their expressions and their body positions.
I decided that the best way to find out whether I should pursue portraiture as a creative avenue, was to simply do more of it. To hone my skills in portraiture by simply getting a lot of practice and deciding what worked and what didn’t, what I liked and what I didn’t. I didn’t want it to be totally random though and I decided quite early on (after a number of people I photographed asked me what I planned to do with the images) that I wanted this to be a project and potentially an exhibition so I made them all black and white and all square format – limitation being the father of creativity afterall!
Fast forward to today and the project is finally complete. In the intervening years I have met and photographed a lot of interesting people! Many of these people I already knew, quite a number I did not. Many surfaced as volunteer subjects with whom I’ve since become friends. I took my project to various places I travelled to, including my time spent working in Oman but I also focused on those close to home. What I’ve realised is that I have definitely changed, developed and found a style as a portrait photographer – and I adore it! I love the challenge, the interaction with the subject, the planning to get the perfect shot and even the failure when something just didn’t quite work. I love the look on a person’s face when they see their image and they love it, and the sometimes quizzical reactions of those who see something they didn’t quite expect. I love the collaboration of making something that truly reflects the person, whether at just that moment in time or with deeper meaning and connection with their personality, their life, their loves. More than anything I love the creativity, the multitude of ways that a person can be represented in a photograph and the sheer variety even within the self-imposed limitations of the black and white, square image.
Technically, all that progress (along with a lot of additional training which I would never have known I needed without this project to help me realise what I didn’t know) has led to me launching Sian T. Photography and moving forward with my photography knowing that the path I’d glimpsed back in 2014 was indeed the right one.
I’ll be writing more about 50 Faces over the coming weeks and will eventually share the whole project – for now just know that the exhibition (entitled Face to Face and in collaboration with two other amazing artists) opens on 13th June 2017 at Cranleigh Arts Centre, Surrey, UK. I’m both excited and terrified about the whole thing. This is 3 years of my work out there to be judged, but more than that it’s the story of my photographic life over those 3 years and how it’s made me who I am today.
I’ve recently had the pleasure of working with a number of local small business entrepreneurs and I’ve come to realise just how much this new breed of business owners, can benefit from sharing their lives as well as their products online. The rise of social media marketing as an accessible, free way for new businesses to reach their customers is well documented, as are the many an various reasons why some businesses are more successful than others. Jasmine Star has a lot of great content on this over on her blog, so I won’t repeat it here, except to say that using social media successfully to build a brand and attract loyal customers takes a lot of work!
One the key things I noticed about those I’ve recently worked with, is that they share a lot online and it’s not always directly related to their products. They do share products, great pictures showing the lovely things they offer, but they also share their lifestyle – and that’s where great photography comes in. I think this comes down to a couple of things. Firstly – we are more likely to buy something we need from someone we identify with, someone who we feel ‘gets us’ and who we trust to provide the product we need. If there’s a choice between a faceless organisation with whom we feel no connection, and someone we know and trust – all other things being equal we’ll go with the person we know.
Secondly, for many people, the desire to support and help local businesses, especially smaller, newer ones is strong. Certainly here in Surrey there’s a big movement against big chain stores and in favour of supporting more niche, local businesses who provide different products, better quality or simply a better customer experience. So telling people about who you are, what you do and what you offer that’s special can tap into this instinct to support and help. Sharing how your customers’ support makes a difference to you, helps you grow, helps you improve or simply helps you put food on the table – can be a powerful motivator.
The kinds of imagery you need to achieve good results in this area is a little different to the standard corporate headshot. I’ve blogged before about how great imagery makes a massive difference to your business website (see here) and in many ways this is similar. The images should reflect your brand, be excellent quality of course and communicate about who you are. However, with these kinds of images we are looking for something else as well – we are looking for ‘soul’. It’s a tricky thing to put your finger on, but essentially it’s honest, fun, sometimes quirky images that capture both the person and the business and draw people in by engaging with them on a human level – it’s about selling you and your story, much more than selling your product or service.