Mastering Family Portrait Part II: How to Deal with Clients

So you had your pre-shoot consultation, and you’re ready to go. You get to your location, and the family are all there on time, in happy moods, excited to shoot, and looking great.

Photo by Barbara Stitzer
Photo by Barbara Stitzer

Except for that toddler who just wouldn’t go down for his nap. (Note: NEVER shoot a toddler during his naptime…EVER!!!) Or that grandfather who doesn’t want to walk all the way over to that perfect location that you spent hours scouting, the teen aged boy who hates you on sight, and, Oh, right, Bessie just broke her arm yesterday…hmmm, a little daunting, but you can get through it, I promise.

Happy wife, happy life

The first thing I usually do is have a Meeting of the Men. I gather them around and say something like that I’m very comfortable with men hating me, (then they laugh), but that there is someone very near and dear to them who really wants these pictures and, I usually just shrug and say “Happy wife, happy life” and they all just kind of nod and look meaningfully at each other, and go for it. It puts them in the right mind frame or where they need to be.

Since looking into a black hole and smiling in a meaningful, relaxed manner is usually disconcerting to most people, I start them off doing something that gets their mind off of pictures, like walking, jumping, or playing a game, like musical chairs, also known as Musical Mom and Dad, where I sing, and the family walks around the parents until I stop and then it’s a mad scramble to grab a family member, look at me, and smile. I know that it sounds kind of stupid, and I sing very poorly, but I’d say that it works every time. It can be anything, as long as you’re not expecting them to come up with a pose and do something brilliant on their own.

Photo by Barbara Stitzer
Photo by Barbara Stitzer

Remember, these guys don’t do this every day, YOU do, so it’s up to YOU to tell them what looks good. I know that this is a sticking point with most photographers, but really, make sure that they don’t have the bottoms of their shoes pointing your way, or that odd parts of their bodies aren’t sticking out, and that they have interesting, relaxed expressions on their faces. I don’t judge the quality of a good picture on whether everyone is smiling, or even if everyone is looking/not looking, as long as the shot makes sense. I would much rather that everyone is having fun, showing genuine emotions, as opposed to forcing smiles.

Swiss, Cheddar, or Gouda?

Speaking of which, whatever you do, do NOT tell a little kid to say cheese. The thought behind it is that the “eeee” sound will kind or force your lips back into a smile, but if there is nothing to smile about, it will produce something between a wince and an “I’m pooping” look. Go to the mirror and try saying the word cheese without forcing yourself to smile. Your lips purse forward and your top lip goes upward, bottom lip downward in the middle, but that’s about it. Instead, give them something to smile about. Toddlers under three like songs, or an assistant who can bop you (the photographer ) on the head, or even a big, high pitched “Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii” can get them looking. They’re the toughest.

Photo by Barbara Stitzer
Photo by Barbara Stitzer

Three and up like it when you play the “where is Michael ?“ peek a boo type game, or when you get them doing something, like “squish daddy”(make sure to ALWAYS ask if they have any injuries before doing that) or “throw the flowers at me and try to hit me” and after age six, you’re golden. Get them on your side by asking them to help you or letting them look through the camera and press the button, challenge them to a race to the next location, and you have a friend for life. And Teenagers are always glorious, so let them shine.

Out, dang Spot

I had one certain spot where I used to live that always looked amazing. Early morning, high noon, sunset, it was always perfect, and everyone always bought a huge one right from that very spot, so I got pretty possessive of that spot. I used it every single time I shot. It was like my little good luck charm spot. Until I had a group where one of the family members was unable to navigate grassy, hilly terrain, and I realized that I had nowhere to take them. I was pretty embarrassed. I quickly figured it out, but then I just pulled it together and found a new spot.

Photo by Barbara Stitzer
Photo by Barbara Stitzer

And it was fine. I’m pretty firmly an early morning/late afternoon shooter, so make sure that no matter where you are, you turn around and see what’s behind you. You might be able to move a few feet and use that same spot as a background, or, if your clients are late, or if you’re in the zone and the sun drops down before you realized, and you still have shots to take, you can turn your family around, and shoot them in the wonderful, amazing light that’s made from the sun that just passed under the horizon. Ultimately, the background, while it should be beautiful and uncluttered, should be pretty blurred out in a family shot, especially, since there are so many little sweet faces that should have the emphasis on them.

The injured

While the general thought is to hide casts and the like, always ask first. The gentleman in the above picture was using a walker at the time, and wanted some shots with it in, and some without it. Sometimes families like to show them, as a kind of family marker of sorts. It’s like missing front teeth in seven year olds…I LOVE seeing the hole, but some people don’t, so just ask!
Next week we’ll talk about everyone’s favorite thing to do: Posing!

By BarbStitzer

Barb Stitzer is an award winning Master Photographer living in Hudson, Ohio with her husband, her teen, Zoe and her tween, Tenley. She creates beauty and memories worldwide. Feel free to find her on Facebook or check out her website.


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