Getting to Family Portrait Joy

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Family portrait

I love sharing happy moments with my clients when they see their finished portraits for the first time. A few days ago I met with Karen to help her choose the appropriate frame for this portrait I made of her family in their back yard earlier this year. It has a lot of meaning to her, incorporating her kids, grandkids, and the 1947 Buick that had been her late husband’s pride and joy and will be passed down to her son. She was nearly overcome with joy when she saw the finished portrait with all the retouching and finishing work complete. I’ll deliver it to her home and put it on the wall for her when framing is done.

But let’s go back to the beginning.

Planning and Preparation

Karen bought a portrait certificate at a charity auction last winter, planning for a spring session. I visited her home to plan the session, look at possible locations on her property, and check out the classic car she wanted to include. We discussed clothing options and looked at places where she might display the finished portrait in her home. With a plan in place we set a date and time for the photography, considering when everyone would be available and where the sun would be for optimal lighting.

Family portrait
First version of the family portrait, straight from the camera.

I arrived at the appointed time with my camera and lighting gear. I double-checked her back yard to finalize the exact location and her son brought the Buick out of the garage and parked it in the right place. I set up my light and placed people around the car. I made a few test exposures to fine tune the lighting and then helped each person adjust the way they were standing so they felt and looked comfortable and relaxed. Then I made several exposures to make sure I captured a good expression on everyone’s face.

After we were satisfied I had a good image of the first composition, I had everyone move and created a second variation of the whole family around the car, which is the one she ultimately chose. Then I moved on to photographing smaller groups in different places in her yard. I like to create variety, so if my client decides to display several portraits together they don’t all look the same.

We’re all at least a little uncomfortable getting in front of a camera. For most families, it’s a big deal to get everyone together, choose outfits, get fresh haircuts, and then pose for a professional portrait. We ask ourselves, “What if I look fat?” “I’ve got too many wrinkles.” “What if the baby cries?” “Will the dog sit still and look at the camera?” Those are all very real worries and I’ve heard them all.

Family portrait

A big part of my job as your photographer is to help you look good and feel comfortable in front of the camera. Posing and lighting go a long way toward minimizing your size and wrinkles, if that’s your big concern. I always allow enough time in a session for a small child to have a breakdown … and recover. I’m patient with pets, kids, and the occasional adult. I often hear from folks at the end of their session that they’ve had fun with the experience, even when they were nervous and hesitant at the beginning.

The Artistic Finish

After you’ve selected your favorite images then I put on my retouching artist’s hat and do the finishing work on your portraits. I’ll clean up little distractions, soften wrinkles, brighten eyes, whiten teeth, and make subtle adjustments to brightness, contrast, and color to enhance the final portrait — all while keeping it very natural and real. It’s an art I’ve developed and practiced for the ten years I’ve been photographing families.

The final portrait becomes a cherished heirloom that you’ll enjoy every day in your home. Our own family portrait, on our living room wall, brings me warm feelings every time I look at it. It was made before our boys got married, so we’ll need to have another one made in a few years when they let us know their own families are complete.

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