by Helen Bartlett Published 01/04/2009
I like to do any group shots first. Whether I am shooting indoors or outdoors, I find that those first few minutes when I am new to the children are the time when they just might sit still. I like to do the children first then add in the parents after that.
When shooting indoors using window light there is, as I have mentioned above, often very limited depth of field to play with so I need to decide what effect I am after. Do I need every family member in sharp focus? If so, I need to get everyone's heads on a level plane which is often easiest done either lying on the bed, sitting on the sofa (if it is near enough to the light) or just getting the parents to pick the kids up so they can't run away. If we are really struggling with the light then I will sometimes open the front door and shoot into the hallway. However, I don't always feel the need to have all the family members in sharp focus; I find that it can add to the feel of the picture to have a bit of differential focus. A shot with the children sharp at the front and the parents softer in the background works very nicely. There are plenty of examples of family portraits on my website so again my clients know what to expect.
Power of play
After I have taken any group shots, I spend the rest of the photo shoot playing with the children. For older children, I often photograph them engaged in favourite hobbies and interests such as playing an instrument, making something or reading. I find it fascinating to see what the children do and what enthusiasm drives them forward as they discover their place in the world. I enjoy chatting to the children about these things that they enjoy and it is often a great moment to catch lovely close up portraits as older children sit around and talk about their hobbies.
We might also play family games as a group and these can result in lots of great shots. Games that require concentration such as Jenga work particularly well with teenagers who might be very cameraaware.
A bit of competition can really aid concentration and the banter of a family activity quickly makes most people forget the camera, resulting in lovely spontaneous shots.
With younger children I just go with the flow of what they like to play - it is certainly an unusual situation to find a two year old that doesn't have an opinion on the best game of the moment, whether it's Thomas The Tank Engine, Angelina Ballerina or a huge cardboard box. It is worth mentioning that I do always have my clients actually play the games rather than just pose with them as props. I find that it is necessary for them to engage with the activity and with each other to get the images that I have been hired for.
I hope this article has given you a few more ideas for your own photo shoots over the coming months. I enjoy wet weather shoots, and hope you will start to see a rainy day not as a reason to postpone but full of new and exciting photographic opportunities, even if it means waterproof shoes become an essential piece of kit.
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