Sometimes meeting your clients prior to their photo session is just not possible. Have you ever stressed over how to capture your subject’s personality when you don’t know them? Stress be gone! The fabulous photographer Wendy Laurel (owner of the awesome blog Let the Kids Dress Themselves) is guest blogging to share with us how she overcomes this obstacle. In fact, these are fabulous tips even if you do get the chance to meet your client beforehand!
capturing who they are in 60 minutes
by Wendy Laurel
You show up with your camera and gear in hand. You have never met the family and they of course have never met you. You know you want more than just a posed group shot, you want love, you want personality, you want to capture the essence of this beautiful family. You only have 60 minutes to do so. The clock is ticking. Ready. Set. Go.
This is a hard challenge I know all of you have encountered. I live in Hawaii and because families often want photos taken while on vacation here, I encounter this problem more frequently than not. Here are a few helpful strategies I have learned to get past that slight awkwardness and onto creating images that are full of heart, personality, and love.
There are several strategies to help sort this out. The first is the basic assumptions I make. In a family shoot, I know those parents LOVE those kids. That they want photos that capture that love. And I know that because that is what I want when I am in front of the camera with my kids. And the second basic assumption I make is that the parents LOVE each other. Even if this love is a little quiet from long years of marriage or tired from the rigors of parenting, it is there and you have to bring it out.
Shooting in the clients home
One of the easiest ways to quickly get to know a family is by being in their home. Family photographs, décor, hints to their hobbies and interests reflect who they are and give you a great indication as to how to approach the next 60 minutes you have with them.
The next is so simple you might forget. Listen to the client. People love to tell their stories and do so all the time. All you have to do is listen. When they book, they drop hints. For example, I had a family book last month and in the initial consult the mom said, “I really want my boys to have a photograph of themselves with just their father. My husband has one hanging on the wall from when he was a child with his father. It was the only way I could convince my husband to do this photo shoot with us.” That tells me tons. I just learned the large value the mom is putting on the family shoot and I know that I will probably only have a brief period of time to get that photo with the Dad and the boys.
Or sometimes people tell me they are booking because they have a special connection to Maui. They were married here. Or came here as a child. Or honeymooned here. They are telling their history to me and all I have to do is listen.
Or even better is when they have something specific in mind. One client wanted photos of her boys at the beach with their surfboards. She wanted to document their lifestyle at this point in their lives. They came with their boards and toys and let the kids be themselves. Props that mean something to the family can help tell their story easily.
Ask Questions and Make Them Laugh
Of course sometimes I learn next to nothing at the booking. An email comes in, they want to book, they book, we choose a location and I still know nothing. But you have lots of time during the shoot to learn. I always ask questions during the shoot. I chat. I listen. I find out where they are from, what do they do, all generic questions. But if you listen, they answer not generically but with their real stories. People talk about what is important to them. And make them laugh, that is when they relax and become themselves.
This is especially helpful in getting to know the children of the family. They might not be open to being your best friend from the get go, so photograph mom and dad and from the corner of your eye, watch the kids. Even better is getting the kids alone for a few shots without the parents. Talk to them. Kids personalities have no filters just yet and you can see who they are, very clearly, by spending 5 minutes with them. Watch the dynamics at work and the interaction between siblings. Are they curious, silly, serious, or quiet? Finding those pieces can help you understand how to approach the kids as well as tell you what personality traits you want to document.
Physical clues from the family are typically the easiest to go off of. What they are wearing, how they interact, what jewelry the mother is wearing, if they are comfortable in from of the camera, or hesitant, are all wonderful clues as to their personalities. Comment on their details. I find stories there, a bracelet from Grandma which means a lot to the mom, or a bracelet with the word Strength on it. A dress that the grandma wears that shows her heritage. Capture those details.
We don’t always have the time we would like to photograph a family, but that doesn’t mean the emotions and love we want to evoke from our images have to be sacrificed. Pay attention and listen to your clients, it will enable you to capture beautiful images that bring out more of their personalities and that speak to both you and your client.
Thank you for sharing with us today Wendy! Have you ever had to photograph a family without meeting them first? Share with us in the comments below how you got their true personalities to shine! And remember, there’s an awesome set of 4 Matryoshka Photographer Mugs up for grabs and we’re getting closer to our comment goal!
This article is submitted by Wendy Laurel. She is a family and wedding photographer on Maui and the editor of Let the Kids Dress Themselves, a family photography inspiration blog.
Let the Kids Dress Themselves is a blog that is in LOVE with creative and honest family photography. We want to show the best family photography we can find, including babies, maternity, kids, and families. We love to see the personalities of people shine through in their portraits. We love photography that is unique and creative and something different — just like the people in the photos. So let your kids dress themselves and get in front of that camera.