1. Get to know your client ahead of time so you know what they expect.
I always send out a questionnaire to the family ahead of time. I not only survey them on their personalities, etc. but also the poses they are looking for. I let them know that while I have certain ones that I will use, there could be photos that spotlight relationships you do not want to miss but did not know exist. Who would know that little Tommy wanted a photo with his favorite aunt? That mom and daughter want just a special photo of the two of them?
2. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Worry that you can see every person’s face and they’re not lost behind someone else. Worry that there are no shadows on faces. Worry that everyone is posed in a flattering position (think dresses+ underwear). Worry about taking multiple shots of the same pose for head-swapping purposes. But don’t worry about calling someone the wrong name (hey, it happens to me all the time to the point I now call clients “mom, “dad, and “brother” sometimes) and don’t worry if everyone is not in the picture perfect position. Case in point, see below … big brother is playing with sand but it didn’t matter. Mom and dad still loved it!
3.Learn to transition from pose to pose smoothly.
For both traditional sitting and standing poses of large familes, I always position the oldest member(s) of the family first – either grandma/grandpa or mom/dad. From there, I build my poses slowly adding in family members. You don’t want to ask grandmom to keep getting up and down. Keep them there. First get a photo of grandmom and grandpop. Then, add in siblings. Take out siblings. Add in grandkids. Now add in siblings. Voila. Three poses and grandmom and grandpop didn’t have to hurt themselves moving in the process. Photographing a newborn? Take a photo of mom and baby. Then ask dad to join in.
4. Ditch the list you have in your head. Sometimes the big group isn’t the first photo.
Check your questionnaire (see tip #1). I ask them what the #1 photo they want is. I go for that first. Don’t think to do a large group first if the #1 photo they want is one of their child laughing. Do that first. Why? Because as the mom of 3 kids under 3, I know that one moment my diva 3 year old can be the happiest little girl in the world. Her brother can say or do something to her to set her off and then she’ll be miserable for the next 2 hours. Or bedtime or naptime can creep in and you will capture the frowns and tears rather than the giggles and smiles. And then, you’ve missed what the family wanted most because you chose to do all the family ones first. Sure, in a perfect world, you could do both and most times you can.
5. Let them have fun.
You hear it all the time … the dreaded “cheese,” the stiff poses, the doe in headlights look at the camera, the yelling “stop doing that.” Too much pressure often for a little kid. Make it fun. Make it a game. Ask them to tell you a story. Capture them enjoying themselves. Often, with mom or dad (or even all extended family) looking on, kids can act up, get uptight and sometimes even upset. Put them at ease. I make weird animal noises, jump up and down and scream to get relaxed laughs. If that means asking mom or dad to take a few steps away or head into a different room, don’t be shy. Ask. Your photo could depend on it.
6. Once you think everyone is posed, tell them to move just a little closer …
Tell them to touch. Be affectionate. Show emotion. Like I said before, it’s not about the perfect positioning … it’s about the love you can capture. You don’t need everyone standing all stiff next to each other. They’ll thank you later for making them “squeeze” together. Trust me.
7. A large group doesn’t need to be a procession line.
Large groups are the toughest. Throw in different familes and posing presents a problem. I’ve learned two poses best for familes. While still maintaining their separate family dynamics by having mom and dad slightly face each other, place the kids in front of the respective families. The other is to have two rows with mom/dad or grandmom/grandpop in center. And then follow #6. Either way, never have a straight line.
8. Offer families different poses that they can’t do themselves.
While anyone can grab a passer-by and ask them to snap a photo of them all together, most can’t ask a stranger to create a silhouette or capture a tender moment or a laugh.
9. Switch it up. Think outside the box. Ditch what you were taught. Kinda.
You’ve been taught about chopping limbs. Big no-no? Not necessarily. Envision it. Take the photograph and CHIMP … you may be surprised at what you get. Don’t delete on the spot. Go home. Open it up. You may be surprised. Don’t delete at the session. What looks bad in the viewfinder could be saved with a little tweaking and cropping.
10. You are the photographer. Remember that.
I’ve found that the more options given, the more room for error there is. I only photograph families outside either super early in the morning or an hour before sunset. Don’t let a client choose their time. If you don’t offer it, they don’t expect it. Tell them. I can photograph you at this time or that time. Don’t photograph in an area you don’t know. Give them a list of a few locations. Show them examples on your website or blog of sessions that took place in those locations. The moment you step out of your element, disaster happens. I only photograph in certain locations and I always check them out ahead of time. You never know when Mother Nature can plays a nasty prank on you. Your favorite tree fell in the last storm. The dune you photograph families on was washed away during the last storm. You are the photographer.
Courtney Keim, New Jersey
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Courtney captures her every day with a Canon 5d mark II and varying lenses in a classic yet modern style. Residing in Atlantic City with her surfer husband, princess-clad daughter, and firetruck chasing twin boys, Courtney is a “self-proclaimed science geek” spending her days as a Chemistry and Physics teacher and her off time as a photographer.