Saturday, December 17, 2011

Family photos: Some ideas on how to take better photos for the holidays

Towards the end of every year I start getting phone calls and emails from friends asking for family photos. There is nothing more gratifying than capturing nice images for family friends, who otherwise may not have them. As I looked through all of the images, I thought that I would do a blog post about family portraits to help give some tips for others to use.

All of the images that you see here were taken in the same small park by my house. I have not photographed in this spot all that much, but try to come up with a different location for my friends each year. I picked this park because the trees still had fall colors and their was ample sunlight and shade for me to pick good shooting locations.

This was one of the first shots that I took of Dave (one of my hockey teammates) and his clan. This is a nice "straight-on" shot of them. We had the younger kids sit in the front to add a little more dimension. I am not a huge fan of the straight line "firing squad" look. :)

After shooting the first grouping, we repositioned the family to try something different. 

Then we searched for a tree with interesting bark to try something a little more fun. We started with the parents in front and then had the kids go around behind the tree and peek out from behind them.

Remember how I just said that I usually do not line up families in a straight row? Well... part of photography is about breaking the rules. So, this time I broke one of my own rules and had them line up and hold hands for this shot.

Walking through the park, we came across this area of grass which was covered with fall leaves. I asked the kids to lay down and hold hands and then, using a 24mm lens, I pre-focused the camera and held it out directly over them and fired off this shot. (This was our favorite from the session and the image that they used for their holiday card.)

But, we were not finished yet. It was time for the kids to have some fun. I asked each of them to pick up a bunch of leaves, and then on my count of three, to throw them in the air. My wife, who was there helping out, asked the parents to stand in the background. It was a great idea and a nice addition to the photo. (Photographer's note: For all of the images in this blog post, I used an on-camera flash generally set to -1 stop. For this particular image, due to the fact that I needed a fast shutter speed of 1/1600 to freeze the action (and my camera and flash only sync at a maximum of 1/200), I set my flash to high speed sync mode. Without the flash, the kids would have been silhouettes, due to the bright sunlight coming from behind them.

The next day, I returned to the same park to photograph more friends. Since this was a smaller grouping of people, I decided to put them in a place where I could use the late day sunlight as hair light.  This is a totally different look from the images above, and really works well for them.

The last family of the weekend was coming from their company holiday party, and we had to work fast, as the sun was setting and I was losing my light. As we got out of our cars, I noticed that the late afternoon sunlight was hitting the golden leaves of this tree, and thought that it was make for a nice background. So we started in this spot (literally 5 feet from the street).

Later, when looking at this image on my computer, I wondered what it would look like in black and white. So, using NIK Silver Efex Pro, I converted the image to see how it would work. I liked it, but thought that it needed a little more.

First, using Adobe Photoshop, I created a layer mask and brought back the colors in the family, while leaving the background B&W. The results were interesting, but not quite what I was looking for. 

Trying something a little different, I then lowered the opacity of the B&W layer to reveal a little of the color in the background. I like this better than the pure contrast of color and B&W in the image above. It gives a hint of the color in the trees, but maintains more of the attention on the good looking family.

Whenever I photograph families, I always shoot candid shots in between the formal poses. I love this shot of their daughter as she looked up at mom. There is no way that I could have gotten this "real smile" in a family pose. No way!

Talk about real emotions - I love this shot! Like the family the day before, I asked Mike and Bonnie and the kids to pick up leaves and throw them in the air. What do I love so much about this shot? Look at the emotions of the kids and they throw the leaves. Doesn't this just scream "pure happiness"? I especially love the expression on their son, with his hands outstretched  and him looking to the sky. Upon first look at this image, I was a little disappointed that Bonnie was not throwing leaves at the same time as the rest of the family, but as I continued to look at the photo, I realized that the look of her enjoying her daughter's excitement was even better.

Like I said at the beginning of this blog post, nothing is more gratifying than capturing nice images for family friends.