Ahhh..... The family portrait session. You see beautiful family portraits posted on Facebook and Instagram that depict the perfect family with everyone dressed perfectly with perfect smiles and perfect hair and looking so perfectly happy. But, in your mind, all you can imagine is something like what you see in the images above. The thought of getting everyone ready and where they need to be at the right time, and keeping everyone happy and trying to look fantastic yourself is just an exhausting concept. Well, it doesn't have to be. The first step to a successful family portrait session is to embrace the fact that your family is perfect just they way they are. They are perfect because of the love that binds them. It really is as simple as that. They are yours. You love them. You cherish these years that are passing too quickly. You want to capture that and treasure it, forever.
As a fan of Modern Family, I am reminded of a great episode that poked fun at the stress of preparing for a family portrait session. In typical fashion, Claire held on to the unrealistic expectation for a perfect family portrait. She was setting them all up for failure because her concept of perfection does not exist in the human world. Had things gone according to her plan, the resulting portrait would have been stiff and fake. As a result of one hilarious mishap after another, the portrait that you see above is full of emotion and reveals the genuine love that binds them. I am not advocating that your family have a mud fight right before our portrait session, but rather, remember that all of Claire's fussing and nagging was in vain.
So, what might be a better approach? Well, let's first identify the goals of your family portrait session. What do you intend to do with these precious portraits that we are creating? Would you like a piece of wall art to display on the mantle? Are you thinking about a series of three or four square canvases to hang in a series in the hallway or foyer? Do you just want something to frame on your desk and use for the Christmas card this year? Knowing our desired purpose will help us to make smarter decisions along the way.
Okay. We have our goal. How do we get there? Planning and communication are the keys. Since we have our "why" (the goal), we need to carefully establish a plan for the "who, when, where, and how," and then effectively communicate these plans to everyone who is involved in the portrait session.
Who? You might be thinking that the "who" is obvious, our family. Defining your family can require some thought. If there are step siblings, think about how you want everyone included. Would you like for any grandparents to be included? If older children have girlfriends or boyfriends, would you like for them to be in any of the portraits? Are your pets an integral part of the family? Would you like any portraits of just mom and dad? It is possible that the wedding portrait is the last good portrait featuring just the parents? What other groupings should we capture at this time? If one of our goals is to create a wall collage or a series of portraits, then what combinations would you like to feature? Identifying the answers to these questions will drive our portrait session. Communicating this information to me will make our time together more efficient. Communicating this information to your family members will prevent the need for discussions in the moment and avoid hurt feelings.
When? The sunset time dictates the time of day for our portrait session, but the time of year must be considered. Maybe you are hoping for a particular season. Fall portraits are absolutely beautiful. However, if you intend to hang this on the mantle in the formal living room which is decorated in a palette of pale blues and silver, then a portrait with oranges, reds and golds may not be a good choice. If your kiddos are involved in multiple activities, think about the time of year when the schedules are less hectic. If you have kids away at college, find out when they will be home for break. Think about your work deadlines and busy seasons to avoid. Again, communicating the time of your scheduled portrait session to all involved will help to ensure that you have everyone participating. Kindly make this information known as soon as you schedule the appointment so that all can plan accordingly. Providing tactful reminders as your session is approaching would be helpful to set your mind at ease that this is really going to happen.
Where? Sometimes the where is obvious. If you live on a farm, we will want to take advantage of that beautiful setting. If you have property on a lake or belong to a country club, then you may want to utilize those pretty settings. If your family has a special place where you have built some treasured memories, then that may be your ideal location. Is your family comfortable in the outdoors immersed in nature? Is a metropolitan look a better fit? Are we looking for casual or formal portraits? Do we need a location that can offer both?
If your family includes younger kiddos, then think about how they will engage in the location. Portrait sessions in the home with toddlers can be difficult. They know their surroundings too well. You may want them to play by the pretty tree, but they remain fixated on their Little Tikes car in the driveway. Forcing a move will surely bring tears. I love documenting toddlers exploring a new setting and capturing the wonder in their eyes. Keeping things fresh and new, but maintaining a feeling of security is key to natural-looking portraits with little ones. Again, be sure to communicate the specific location with all involved so that we have everyone together in the same place.
How? My philosophy is to keep it simple, but make it fun. The Claire Dunphy style of neurotically micromanaging every detail will add stress and set us all up for failure. If we have addressed the questions already stated above, then we are well on our way to a successful portrait session. Nonetheless, we do need to address the all-important issue of "what to wear." In the future, I will be dedicating an entire blog post to this significant element in a portrait session, but there are some key factors that I will share as they relate to the family portrait session.
Allow me to reemphasize: keep it simple. When someone looks at your family portrait, they will be focusing on your faces and reflecting on the relationships among your family members. This is not a portrait of outfits, it is a portrait of precious family members who are individuals, yet part of a dynamic family unit. That is not to say that the wardrobe is not important, but it should not become the focal point. Bold patterns and large graphics tend to take the focus away from the people. Outfits that are too matching actually become distracting. Having everyone in exactly the same thing makes it difficult for me to pose members in a way that creates layers and interest by separating bodies but still creating connectedness. This is why I advise against dressing members in black or white, not to mention that wearing black or white will wash out pale complexions.
Rather, when planning a wardrobe for a family session, it is best to choose clothing items that represent a family of coordinating colors. A few examples can be found above. Go back to your purpose. What is your intended use for these portraits? What is the color scheme in the room where you want to hang a large piece of wall art? Do you have an accent color in that room that you can use to make this portrait add interest? Is this going to be a casual or formal portrait? Does your intended setting dictate what might be appropriate? What colors look good on your family? If you want a palette of soft pastels, then remain consistent with that. If you want deep oranges, golds, and dark greens, then stay within that family. Shades of blues and tans can be a beautiful blend. I recommend laying the intended outfits out on the bed next to each other. If they are pleasing to the eye, then you are good to go.
When dressing the little ones, think about their comfort. Place your hand inside the clothes and feel it for yourself. Is there a scratchy seam where the tulle is gathered at the waist? Is there an annoying tag at the neck? Check the gathering points around arms, legs, and necks. Are they too tight? When buttoned or zipped, can they still move freely? These are things that can make for an unsuccessful portrait session. That outfit is only cute if the little body inside is happy.
Remaining consistent with the need for communication, be certain to make the wardrobe expectations clear to all members in advance of the session. You do not want to deal with a meltdown or resistance as you are trying to get everyone dressed on that day. Have the outfits set aside so that you are not rushing things in and out of the clothes dryer. Start getting ready early so that you are not rushed. If you are concerned about little people getting dirty, then dress them when you arrive at the location. Let them know that they are included in this special day and that "all of us are looking so nice today."
So, as we prepare to create your gorgeous family portrait, we will strive to "keep it simple, but make it fun." You bring me your prepped family and let me do the rest. Together, we can plan and communicate to enjoy a successful and stress-free family portrait session. Your family is already perfect. Let me show you just how beautiful that is.
You make the memories; I will help you cherish them.
Love and smiles,