Many of you aspiring professionals have a hard time choosing a photography niche, but some of you already decided to have portrait photography as one of your main go-tos. And the rest of you striving to make it in this transition from an amateur photographer to a pro haven’t really wholeheartedly decided for portrait photography, but you end up doing portrait gigs once in a while because this is what is most often offered to you. Since building a portfolio always requires you to show off your paid gigs, it’s only natural to accept most of the employment offers coming your way even if you don’t need the money that bad (you have another main job) or even if the subject isn’t really your cup of tea. And this is how the matter of family portraits arises.
The customers employing you to take photos for them want portraits most often than not, obviously, so there you have it: sooner or later, every aspiring photographer needs to deal with portrait photography no matter how much or little they like it. But perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves and you really have a genuine interest for this kind of photography, well, even better in that case. You’ll need all the enthusiasm you can muster, just as in any other photography niche. We’ve previously shared with you a general outline about the dos and don’ts of portrait photography, but this field has its own subfields which can be very different from each other, like wedding photography, artistic nudes, mother and child photography and so on. Today we’re going to talk about what it takes to shoot really wonderful pictures in the subfield of family portraits, so that you hopefully end up with a product that satisfies both the client and your own artistic and professional exigencies.
1. Be as relaxed as you want your subject to be
Photographers complaining about how some subjects just can’t pose and how they freeze in front of the camera often forget that the subject’s attitude is very often dependent on theirs. Talk to clients beforehand about any previous experiences with photographers and, if they trust you, they’ll confess that photographers freeze too behind the camera and start fidgeting. The manner in which a photographer fidgets is something like this: continuously changing camera settings and lighting, giving contradictory instructions for the subject’s posing, seeming unsure of themselves and of what to do next, and generally conveying a discontent vibe about the whole thing. If you make your subject(s) uncomfortable and general
2. Adjust your lens to the group’s size
The lens you equip dictates what kind of angle your camera will be capable to sustain, as well as opening up a whole array of focusing options. If you’re taking the portrait of a large group, like multiple generations of one family or more than 4-5 people, you need to equip a wide-angle lens of about 18 mm, allowing more people to fit in your shot. A telephoto lens (greater than 70 mm) works, as the name implies, better at a distance, but don’t allow a great angle. If you’re shooting a group sitting further away, this could be a good option. Just climb on something that gives you a bit of an altitude and shoot away for some of the best family portraits ever; the distance will prevent you of missing the angle.
3. Use Exposure Compensation to get the skin tones right
The Exposure Compensation feature is something landscape photographers often use to brighten or darken up skies in order to obtain more realistic or dramatic images. When shooting family portraits, this feature can be used as a trick to make sure that the lighting isn’t tampering with your subjects’ natural skin tone. You can dial up this functionality (the exact place to find it depends on your camera so search it in the manual) by positive or negative ¼ measures until you feel that the skin tone is now just right.
4. Increase your ISO to counteract your subjects’ movement
People tend to move around quite a bit when they have their portraits taken and this is true especially of large groups. Imagine many generations and kids and pets all crammed up together in a tight group and having to wait for multiple shots to be taken. But don’t worry, this can actually work to your advantage, as they will be more relaxed and natural if they’re allowed to move and you may be able to capture some very fun family portraits. The only downside to all this is that movement can make the pictures blurred, depending on your camera’s aperture and shutter. To prevent the blurring, you should increase your ISO and bump up your shutter speed up to 400, and even higher in low light. This might produce a little bit of a grain effect (at higher ISO values like 3200), but even so the pictures will still look better.
Remember to practice patience and friendliness and keep researching and experimenting with various camera settings. Your portrait photography skills and photography skills in general will get better for it.