Getting Creative With Family Portraits

JakeI became the official family photographer for my daughter, Lara, and her family when I was asked to paint a portrait of her three small children.  Lara wanted me to do a watercolor of all three of her children together in a natural setting. Since I use my own photographs as reference material when I paint, I set up a time to take the kids on a photo shoot.

I am not a professional photographer but I have learned a few things over the years through experience. I have taken hundreds of photographs of my children and my favorite photos happened when the kids were oblivious to the camera.  I used a telephoto lens quite often to catch my children in very candid shots. So I knew I better be prepared with several lenses for the photo shoot with my grandchildren.

Lara and I decided to take the kids to the Rose Emporium.  The Rose Emporium is a nursery for antique roses on the outskirts of Brenham, Texas.  The nursery is known for its beautiful gardens and photo opportunities. The settings include rustic wooden fences, windmills, old stone pathways, a bottle tree, porch swings, gazebos and even Beatrix Potter’s children garden.

Keeping the three children focused and together was an interesting and sometimes daunting task.  I took several rolls of film using a SLR 35 mm Nikon camera. I wasn’t sure if I was getting any really good shots. (Now with my digital camera I know immediately!)  I was hopeful that I might get one or two good photos, since even an amateur lucks out sometimes.   But, I feared none would come out, when the kids grew tired of our little game of “Look at the pretty flowers!”  Being a model isn’t all that it is cracked up to be!

At that time my grandchildren were 18 months, 3 years and 6 years old.  During the photography session we had tears, temper tantrums and sullen looks. The youngest child tripped over a rock and fell down. The older two became hungry and thirsty. They all became very tired of Grandma and her camera.

So, as everyone became exasperated we called it a day. Lara took the film to be developed and we were pleasantly surprised. We got some good ones and the absolutely best photographs were the first pictures I took. The children were fresh and happy.

I did the painting and it turned out great. The only problem is that Lara’s family grew by two more children. So, I will need to do an additional painting in a few years.

Since that first photo shoot, Lara has asked me to take family photographs each year. I take a group photograph and individual photos. Each year Lara replaces the old ones with the new and hands them on the wall in some nice frames. I have to admit that I am often sad to see the change out. I get attached to the photographs like I get attached to many of my paintings.

Let me say again that I am not a professional photographer. Here is a list of things I think about when I take photographic portraits:

1. Take pictures in the early morning or late evening light.
2. Have an outdoor setting.
3. Take lots and lots of pictures changing the light settings and shutter speed on your camera.
4. Try taking picture while the children are doing some sort of activity. Best individual shots I have gotten were of the kids jumping on the trampoline.
5. Change up the background. Each year my daughter and I brainstorm places we can take pictures. We have gone to Washington on the Brazos, downtown Anderson, the piney woods behind my daughter’s house, my back porch, etc.
6. Throw in an unusual background. One year I took a photograph of my grandchildren standing in the middle of a country highway in Washington, Texas. It was perfectly safe. I had other adults watching for traffic. You can see the road disappearing in the distance over a hill. It is quite unusual and a stunning photograph of the children.
7. Don’t insist the children look at the camera. I got a great photo one year when I lined up Lara, her husband and children on a stairway. The adults were focused on the camera, but the children were on their own wavelength. One child was shy and looking down, one child was giggling and the other completely turned and looking out away from everyone. The picture was perfect because it showed the personality of each of the children.
8. Take some really close up shots, just the face.
9. Include pets in the pictures.
10. Include hobbies or musical interests in the photograph. My grandchildren each play an instrument. A close up of them playing their instrument makes for some fun photographs.
11. Use photo editing software to crop photographs.
12. Don’t say cheese. Some of the best photographs are not smiling.
13. With infants, do close up interaction of mother and father with baby. One really great photograph I got was of mother and baby cooing at each other. Another nice photo was of baby holding one of daddy’s finger with his little hand.
14. Take photographs from a distance when kids don’t know you are there.
15. Change up the point of view, take pictures from various angles.
16. Don’t follow the rules. Brainstorm. Come up with your own ideas.
17. Try to be quick. Stop before people get tired.

This week take out your camera.  Blow the dust off of it.  Take some shots of your pet, child, neighbor, and/or your landscaping.  Most of all have fun!  Then send me your best photos.  I would love to see them.

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1 Response to Getting Creative With Family Portraits

  1. This article has so much truth in it! As an educator, I also strongly believe that small children will learn better through fun and games. They are children after all and cannot be expected to be taught like adults. Remember that a child, if taught correctly, can assimilate more information than adults because they are still in the process of training their little brain, whereas adults subconsciously limit their thinking skills to that which they have already learned. I am surprised to see you haven’t written any articles about the importance and effectiveness of teaching a foreign language to small children using this same process. Maybe you should think about it!

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