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!
After a HUGE amount of deliberation and some soul searching, I recently launched a creative portrait package. The deliberation was down to the fact that the Surrey Hills is not exactly a hot market for portraits that go way beyond headshots. This isn’t London, or Brighton and while people here love their family photography and the business photography market is booming – I’m not sure they will be bashing the door down to get ‘interesting’ in the studio.
BUT – in the end I figured there was no harm in launching something – kind of a ‘if you build it they will come’ sort of thing. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes, but the early signs are promising.
What I wanted to share with you here is the shoot that started me off thinking about all this. I wanted to try something big, something really creative and something collaborative. At Halloween last year I got my first taste of this kind of thing with the Lilith shoot (check out this shoot over at my Spark page) and honestly I had such an amazing time I wanted to do it all over again! I have always loved dressing up, both in the glamorous evening wear sense and in the fancy dress sense (that’s costume for my American readers) but I love the piecing together of an outfit, the concept, the finding of unique pieces and the creating a look almost as much as I love wearing the things!
I’d been trying to persuade my friend Chantal to model for me for a couple of years but she wasn’t really having it until I presented her with this particular idea which would only work the way I wanted with a model that looked just like her (honestly it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good without her golden skin and black hair – it just wouldn’t!). Having convinced her I set about gathering others to help with the set, the styling and the makeup and the result is what you see here – Violet and Gold!
The key thing here is that Chantal isn’t a professional model, so making the experience of being part of this a positive and fun one was critical for me. No-one was getting paid so we had to enjoy ourselves as well as make some really great images. This is what makes me think that anyone can ‘model’ for something like this and the experience of being the star for a few hours is something that more people should have. No matter how confident (or not!) you are in front of the camera, I know we can have a great time and you can look great. If you’re not the kind of person who enjoys the sight of their own face – you can be someone else for a day! It’s amazing how when you step into a character the inhibitions are broken down and you can behave however you want because that’s what the character needs. I totally get why people get into the whole reenactment or live action role play scene – dress up and lark about as someone else for a while – what better escapism could there be!
So – enjoy Violet & Gold, I’ve put a few images below but do head over and check out the full shoot with details of everyone involved plus behind the scenes images and background info over on My Spark and if you fancy giving something mad and creative a try get in touch!
For the full Violet & Gold experience check out the project HERE
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!
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!
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.