A couple of months ago, a client and friend let me know that one of the photos I had taken of her and her daughter had gained a ‘highly commended’ in the Carers UK photography competition. I don’t enter many competitions because I’m not good with the idea of ‘better versus worse’ in photography, but I’d agreed to this one because it’s such a good cause and my friend is so passionate about showing people that caring for her 25 year old daughter is not what they might at first think.
The news that we were highly commended was of course very welcome and I’m really glad that they felt my images communicated the tenderness and the sense of fun that I looked to show. However, it got me to thinking about why I love this kind of image so much. To be honest they often don’t sell to clients who prefer a more standard ‘everyone smile’ shot. But the clients that do enjoy them, REALLY love them.
For me, and for these people (whom I love dearly for their enjoyment of these images) it’s about more that what you see; it’s about the feeling. It’s about a photograph that captures a relationship, a shared moment, or the simple everyday interactions. It’s about remembering the emotion of the moment; what was said between two people, what they were looking at; about a physical or emotional connection. That is why I love these gentle photographs and why after every shoot, these are the ones I find myself looking at again and again.
As we’ve started to see the sunshine a little bit for the past couple of days, I’ve been thinking about how to inject a bit of fun and a bit of style for a different sort of kids portrait. I love natural kids portraits, particularly when they are busy as play and don’t even notice they’re being captured – it’s great and makes for timeless images that parents and grandparents always love.
But what if you’ve done a shoot like that recently? Maybe you had it done professionally or maybe you’ve mastered taking these photos yourself – what then? What could you do that would be a bit different, would be fun for the kids and get that all important gift for Granny or update for the family album? Maybe the natural look just isn’t for you and you’re after something more stylised, something indoors or just something that reflects your quirky personality.
Here are three ideas for unusual photo shoots – based on some things I’ve done with both clients and my own family and friends. The results might be a bit ‘marmite’ but if you like them – you’ll love them!
Flower crowns – I’m lucky to have a local florist who’s a dab hand at these and they are always so popular with little girls. Whether outdoors or in the studio they are a great way to add just a little bit of style when paired with pretty dresses or sassy street clothes. They can be whimsical or more rock ‘n’ roll and colours can be matched across groups to give a bit of cohesion in a diverse group.
Dressing up – celebrate what your kids are into by going for a full blown character shoot. Whether they want to be a princess, a pirate or a superhero there is tons of fun to be had both indoors and in the studio with costume, props and pretending!
Rocking it out! This shoot with my Dad and my boy really got me thinking about the possibilities for showcasing hobbies in your photographs. In this case we had musical instruments, but it would work really well with sports equipment too!
If any of these appeal to you for your next family photo session, or perhaps you’ve got your own wild and wacky idea please do get in touch – I can’t wait to hear from you!
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
Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about how to vamp up the traditional children’s portrait and create something unique that’s fun for the kids but also fun to shoot. I spotted that a local florist had posted some snaps of flower crowns she was making for a wedding and decided to create something around these beautiful pieces. Luckily for me, the lovely florist Juliette was up for doing the crowns for me free of charge in exchange for access to the images and so all that remained was to style the rest of the shoot around them.
I began by creating a mood board, gathering ideas about colours and locations as well as the overall feel I wanted. I’m fortunate to live within spitting distance of the Surrey Hills so finding a lovely open space with good light and plenty of green was straightforward and I’ve used this particular spot before for family shoots and love the graphical nature of the dead tree. It’s great for kids because its a very short level walk from the car park and the tree makes a fun climbing frame for use even when we’re not shooting.
My wonderful models are the children of my local friends and I owe their parents much of the success of this shoot because they did an amazing job of sorting the girls out with outfits that met what I was after. I wanted two different looks from the shoot, one more of a rock chick look with denim and black, as a contrast to the softness of the flowers and to reflect the personalities of these girls – who are not really girly girls at all.
And then one more dreamy but not too ‘bridal’ looking, to make a sort of modern take on a sixties/seventies look, flower power and the summer of love.
The important thing here was to make sure the girls were having fun! The whole shoot took around 90 minutes and we had plenty of breaks for them to just hang out while we were doing wardrobe changes and sorting out gear. Any longer than that and I think they would have got fed up. As it was we got a great selection of beautiful images and a really good mix of serious and smiley faces which is something I want from every shoot.
You can never be sure how kids will respond to this kind of modelling and I really think that the key is never to push for a shot that just isn’t happening – the more you push the more they will push back – it’s just what kids do. You have to go with the flow and take advantage when a good shot presents itself. Some direction helps but you have to take what they give you and it can be golden. The shot above centre is a case in point. The only instruction I gave her was put your hand on the log and look at me – that foot point we can only think comes from watching a lot of Strictly Come Dancing!
When working with kids I also find that having a lot of gear is a problem – they seem to react negatively to having lights or even reflectors in their face. So all these images were shot on moderately high iso with only the available light. Fortunately this is an area with really good even light and it was an overcast day so shadows were minimised. However, this did mean they took longer than usual to process, as more sharpening and smoothing was needed due to the higher iso and the need to shoot fairly wide to get enough light in. However, it’s worth it to get the shots with happy mini-models in natural daylight.
A massive thank you to my mini-models and their two Mums (and one Grandma) who were just wonderful on the shoot. A shout out too to Juliette Phipps who did the flowers and who I hope to work with again soon – you can find her work at https://www.facebook.com/FlowersByJuliette
Some of my favourite images are more documentary in style. These are quieter, more intimate images of the family as it is naturally, when there is no photographer watching.
When I was little, it was de rigeur for Mum to drag us all down to the local photography studio (anyone else remember Olan Mills?) for an annual photo session. These images are hilarious now, the funky mottled backgrounds, everyone in their best clothes, the cheesy smiles and retro hair do’s – I love them but they are certainly of a time. Mum would consider any image that didn’t have us all looking at the camera and smiling as a failure and woe betide you if you were the one not playing ball that day (my siblings will be laughing out loud at this point – sorry Mum!).
Now I have my own kid, I still love the smiling images, and when I work for clients I’ll do my best to get that shot – preferably with genuine smiles all round. But some of my favourite images are more documentary in style. These are quieter, more intimate images of the family as it is naturally, when there is no photographer watching.
In this personal project, I wanted to look at the relationship between my young son Isaac and his dad. I wanted to capture this strange space they’ve built (complete with rather odd signs) and look at how they work there together. I confess I don’t entirely understand their relationship. It is often fractious, always intense and so full of a strange love that I think is something quite different to my own relationship with either of them. It is beautiful, although many don’t agree that these images are very beautiful. However, I think in the long run they are a more true representation of family life.