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.
A lot of people I talk to say that they’d love to get some great images of their families, but they’re worried about what it will be like. They say they don’t know how to pose, worry that the kids will misbehave and feel like the images they have in their head aren’t possible for their family. I’ve written before about what you need to know if you are considering a family photo session but I wanted to talk a bit about what a family photo experience with me is really like – of course the best people to tell you about that are the people that have experienced it!
Luckily, I recently photographed Amber Evans (editor of Muddy Stillettos Surrey) and her family at the lovely Box Hill near Dorking. With two teenagers, husband and pooches in tow we headed out on their first ever professional family photo shoot and she’s been kind enough to write about it.
Your family photo shoot should be a fun experience in itself. It’s not only an investment of your money but also of your time and let’s face it – who’s got either time or money they can afford to waste! Whether you want the photographs for your own wall or as gifts for the rest of the family, whether your children are small, teens or even furry – the experience should be something remembered with fondness and smiles. Preparation is key as is finding the right photographer for you. Photographers all have different styles so be sure to look for someone whose portfolio matches what you want from your images. I like to have a good chat with all my clients before their shoot so that I understand who they are and what they’re looking for and I can be sure that I can get them images they’ll love. If I can’t – then I’ll try and match them up with a different photographer who can.
My style of family photography tends towards the documentary. I shoot a lot of black and white and many of my images don’t have everyone smiling direct to camera. I like to walk and shoot, stopping occasionally for set ups and capturing shots on the move as well. I do direct people, I will ask you to walk in a certain direction or look at each other. I will try to make you laugh and I may fall over (happens more often than I’d like). I flex my approach depending on who I’m with. If your kid is loving the camera and wants to do cartwheels in their photos we will do it. If your teenager doesn’t want to look at the camera at all that’s fine too. Above all else your photos should be true reflections of who you are and your relationships with each other. Family life is beautiful – it’s rarely perfect though and I think that’s what makes it awesome!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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 so honoured to be asked to write this special spring blog as guest blogger for Muddy Surrey, the Surrey branch of lifestyle blog Muddy Stilettos. I love the Muddy way of doing things, gorgeous things for the busy, fashion conscious but not obsessed woman (or man!)
Check out the blog, and the rest of their content at
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