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7 Tips to Make the Best Family Portraits

Professional | Fun | Candid | Orange County Children & Family Portraits

In Studio or on location in Orange County, children family portraits are all about having fun and letting your child’s personality shine during your family portrait session!  In this article we’ll go over 7 Tips to Make the Best Family Portraits.  Getting the best family portraits has taught me that young children don’t have the ability or capacity to take posing direction.  Instead, children are extremely litteral and really over exaggerate when it comes to a posing request.  My best children and family portraits are uncoached, unscripted, precious and spontaneous moments from the heart.  Instead of trying to over-pose children during family portrait sessions, I let them be more relaxed and shoot for emotion.
7 Tips to Make the Best Family Portraits

7 Tips to Make the Best Family Portraits

1.  Warm Up Time Upon arrival, whether it is a studio or location family portraits session, the first thing that i do, even before greeting the parents {sometimes} is say hello to the children.  I’m 6 ft. tall, very fair skinned and super blonde, for a little kid that can be a bit intimidating.  I always make sure that I sit on the ground, almost immediately, when I’m start getting to know them.  Making yourself smaller is less threatening. Its kind of an even split between shy, apprehensive and outgoing.  My family portrait warm ups take between 5-15 mins. depending on what type of personality the child has.  I feel that this is such a crucial step to gaining trust and making sure that the child or children feel comfortable around me and in their new environment and it really puts them at ease for their family portrait session.  I make sure that I know their names ahead of time.  I’ve also taken notes on what their favorite activities are and what toys and movies they like so that I can weave this into our conversation.  If there is more than one sibling I’ll often guess the wrong name on purpose.  Kids like to be right.  One of my favorite family portrait warm up and giggle strategy is to do is guess their age incorrectly, even though I know exactly how old they are.  Children are very proud of how old they are whether it be three fingers {3 years old} or three and a half they’ll always correct me.  During their family portrait shoot I’ll ask them their age again an make the same mistake on purpose.  BTW, this is a great time to click off a few frames.  Their expressions can be great.  Don’t ask me why but they find this funny.  I ask kids allot of questions during their family portrait session, like, what did you have for breakfast?  I tell them that i had butterfly pancakes or a caterpillar milk shake {yumm}.  I used to introduce them to my stuffed animals that I keep in the studio, but quickly found out that they would get very attached to them and want them in their family portrait shoot.  Now I wait until the end of the family portrait session and use that as a surprise or reward for a job well done.

7 Tips to Make the Best Family Portraits 2.  Criss Cross Apple Sauce: I coach the parents, especially when we are going to meet at the park for their family portrait session to reinforce the idea that their children are going to meet me for a fun photography session and that playing on the swing set and the slide is a reward for listening well and doing a good job during their photo session.  If their kidos play first, they will get very attached to the  idea of play time and it can be difficult to near impossible to tear them away {sometimes in tears} from the playground.   During on location family portrait sessions kids naturally want to play and run around allot.  Great stuff  for them but hard to photograph a child and create a meaningful portrait for their parents when they are running here and there.  To quell this a bit, I put them in a natural seated position.   Criss Cross Apple Sauce:  Most kids, ages 3-7 years old have been listening and practicing this simple request since kindergarten.  Basically, it is a request to sit indian style. If you are photographing a crawler or toddler, just forget about try to have them sit still at all!  Crawlers and toddlers want to exercise their new found independence and explore the world.  Good luck getting them to sit still!   Most children can stay in this seated position easily for 5 minutes.  More than enough time to get allot of great family portrait images.

7 Tips to Make the Best Family Portraits
3.  No Cheese Plz:  Fake smile just don’t cut it.  I’d rather have a non smiling serious family portrait of a child than a fake smiling one.  I work hard to make sure that children I’m photographing are relaxed and having fun at my sessions.  Relaxed kids will smile and laugh.  Two words that are not allowed during my sessions are No!  and Smile or say Cheeeeeze {okay that’s three}!   I actually had a mother give her daughter a “time out” and face the wall at a session a few weeks ago.  Not a good way to have a happy child.  I encourage moms and dads to not say smile or say Cheeeeze!  When you ask a child to smile it is forced and what they end up doing is contorting their face, showing lots of gum line and exposing all their teeth.  They are actually using a completely different set of facial muscles when they smile for real.  In my book, natural expression and a child’s laughter trumps a fake made up smile every time.  Think about it.  We actually laugh with our bodies.  The face lights up with energy, heads tilt back a bit, cheek muscles contract even your tummy gets involved in a good laugh.
4.  My Little Red Monkey:  I have a small {stuffed animal} pet red monkey in my studio that helps me with my family portraits.  His name is Mike the Monkey.  Mike helps me photograph some of my family portrait sessions.  Sometimes he sits on top of my camera, right on the lens barrel while i’m shooting family portraits, other times he sits on my head.  I ask Mike to come out and help when a child has trouble focusing her/his attention.  Or seems a bit apprehensive, even after our warm up time.  This works best with children 2-5 years old.  Be careful when using stuffed animals.  Kids love them.  Especially Mike.  They want to hold him and when they do they get fixated on the stuffed animal and it is hard to get them away from the child.  What I’ll say is that Mike is hungry and needs to go back to his special place and eat some bananas and then take a nap.  If I want the child to look directly at me, I’ll ask them if they can see them selves inside of the lens.  I point at the front of the lens and ask them….”Can you see yourself in here?”  Its just enough time to get their attention an pop off a few images.  Make sure you are focusing on their eyes or the eye nearest to the camera.
beautiful outdoor children's portraits in laguna beach of brother and sister
5.  Give Praise Often:  You’re a great listener! |  Oh my gosh!  Your so good at this….have you done this before? | Oh!  You look so pretty! |  Your eye are so blue, where did you get them from? | What a pretty dress. | Your nails are so pretty! | Wow that’s a cool hat! |  When you are giving praise, make sure your face is expressive, let your eyes get wide open, smile, allow your voice to go an octave or two higher than you normally talk and be a bit animated.  This is comforting and reassuring.  Remember you want to keep your young ones totally relaxed, feel secure and having fun!!  You can see another example of a fun family portrait session right here.
fun b&w and color outdoor children and family portraits

6.  Clothing Styling and great clothing choices are essential elements for family portrait sessions.  When choosing clothing, incorporate color and texture.  Leave out loud prints, stripes and big logos.  Make sure the clothing fits nicely.  To big or too baggy just doesn’t look good.  The two factors that I use to chose a clothing for a family portrait session for the color palette are eye color and skin tone.  I’ll often go into my clients closets with them to pick out their clothing.  I’ve had mom’s stop by the studio or email me with images of clothing that they are thinking of picking out or purchasing for their family portraits.  I always offer suggestions about what I think will work best.  I’m a big fan of layering and bright colors for kids.  If you are clueless about the whole clothing and styling thing, pick up an Abercrombie or a Lucky Jeans catalogue, or fashion magazine or go to the mall and see what style you like best and what is in fashion.  Some mom’s have this totally wired.  They have a great sense of fashion and just pick out prefect outfits for their kids.  But they are the exceptions.  You’ll find that you can be an enormous help to the families that you are photographing by helping them chose clothing that is appropriate for them and the environment that you are photographing them in.  I always suggest between two and three outfits for a family portrait session.  This allows for variety and variety equals a greater selection of images for your portrait families.  P.S. A white tee-shirt and a pair of nicely worn blue jeans are a timeless look that will never go out of style!
outdoor children's portraits costa mesa orange county{The image of Brandi, above for her family portrait, was created in a parking lot.  Yes a parking lot.  She accessorized with bright colors, a plaid skirt,  funky striped socks, a hot pink tank top, a black studded vest and a cute pink hat that ties in perfectly to her color shceme.  Notice how the plaid and the colors of her high top sneakers tie in perfectly with the rest of her outfit. When I’m doing an on location portriat session the first thing I look for is pockets of beautiful light and then a clean non-distracting background.   Green is always a great color for a backdrop because it is the opposite color of the subtle warm red  tones in skin and adds nice contrast to any portrait session.}

7.  Accessorize:  For the ladies, some bling might be just the thing …. Shinny thick bangles and bracelets, a pearl necklace, a hip choker, some feathers in your hair and a great pair of boots or high heels.  For men a hip leather jacket, or a mod shirt with some embroidery on it, a great long sleeve, button down {not starch please} rolled up at the cuffs, tails out.   A knit cap, a cool fedora, a funky wool hat, a knit textured scarf or a brightly colored silk scarf is a great finishing touch for any one.
fun studio family portraits newport beach, irvine, orange county8.  Bonus!!  Family Portait Groupings:  The Low Down.  As I mentioned before, variety = a greater selection of images.
Here’s how I’d break it  down …. for a family portrait of four:  Mom & Dad and two little ones family portraits in 65 minutes.
1.  The whole family seated and standing about 10-15 minutes.  I always do family first just in case one of the kids has a melt down.
2.  Each sibling by her/ him self  about 10 minutes each.
4. Both siblings with just mom about 10 minutes.
5. Both siblings with just dad about 10 minutes.
3. Both children together for about 15 minutes.
6.  Mom and dad together about 5 minutes.
There ya have it.  7 Tips to Make the Best Family Portraits:  Plus a bonus that will make your family portraits fun,  stylish and amazing.  I hope these tips will be helpful to you in your quest to get the best family portraits.  I wish you success!
Best of luck on your upcoming family portrait shoots.  Questions?:  I welcome your comments below and will respond to each of them.
Shoot from the heart and shoot for emotion,
p.s.  My next big post will be my complete post production workflow.