For photographers, a family portrait session at home can be an exciting but also a daunting proposition. What will the home be like? What will the light be like? How can you make the most of the location, whether it’s an interior-designed house or a small and cluttered apartment? Which rooms should you shoot in? It definitely can be overwhelming, but with a bit of thought and preparation, you can learn to make the most of any home environment.
Look for the best light, and for ways to improve it if necessary.
Take some time to look around the whole home before you start the session to be sure you’re not missing any great opportunities. If the home is on several floors, bear in mind that the light in a loft space is almost always going to be better than the light in a basement.
When you’ve selected a room to take photographs in, have a quick check to see if the lighting is as effective as it could be – ask the parents if the blinds open any further, and make sure curtains are open as fully as possible. I also look for interesting lamps in children’s rooms – coloured plastic lamps can give off a pretty and flattering light, so do try making use of this.
Don’t be afraid to turn the overhead lights on if necessary – some natural light photographers feel restricted to only using daylight, but if it’s a dark day and you need more light, don’t beat yourself up about using all light available to you!
Aim to have daylight falling on faces wherever possible – this can be make or break between achieving an average or a standout shot.
[Related Reading: 5 Easy Family Portrait Posing Ideas]
Mum and daughterRemember that part of the reason a family may have chosen to have a portrait session at home rather than in a studio is to capture memories of family life. Find out where the family spend most of their time.
Even if the kitchen’s not the most picturesque spot, it’s often the hub of the home so do consider taking some photographs there. Ask the parents beforehand what the family enjoys doing together, and suggest they line up some of these activities for the session. Photographs of baking together or kicking a ball around outside can give lots of variety to your photographs, and will bring back lots of memories for the family in years to come.
- Children love to show off their bedrooms – use this excitement and enthusiasm to take individual portraits of the children that bring out their personalities. If a child is shy, asking if they can show you their room can work wonders for building rapport – so important with taking expressive photographs of children. Remember shy children will want a parent with them though. I find that an 85mm or a 50mm lens is best in these situations, as it lets you photograph the children up close without having to worry about too much of the overall bedroom clutter getting in the shot.
- Parents’ bedroom: Remember that it’s exciting for most children to play on their parents’ bed.
With toddlers or young children, ask the parents if it’s ok to suggest some jumping on the bed – even the grumpiest toddler will soon be won round by being given permission to leap on a big bed! It can also be a great location for photographing the whole family together in a natural way – having everyone sit on the bed brings their faces to a similar level.
For an average sized bedroom, you’ll likely find that a 50mm lens is best, as you’ll need to be fairly far back from the bed. It can also be effective to use an 85mm lens here too, to come in closer to the family.
Incorporate elements of the family’s home into the photographs, as these will be meaningful to the family and will also bring a different dimension to your photographs.
Ask yourself what makes the home unique or interesting, and use those features to add something special to your photograph. Is there an interesting window? A dramatic doorway? Sliding doors? An unusual banister or even a cascade of brightly coloured toys that you can use to create an interesting photograph?
Are there wall stickers in a children’s bedroom or nursery that might make an interesting backdrop?
Is there furniture at the children’s level that could work well in a photograph?
Set yourself the challenge of finding at least one interesting feature in each home, and it will becomes easier with each session to spot – and make use of – these features.
A wide angle lens comes into its own here – a 35mm lens (or wider) will allow you to incorporate more of the room’s architecture in the photograph. Remember that families often feel self-conscious having a photographer in their home – reassure them that their home is giving you’ve got lots of options, and compliment them on the parts of the home you especially like. Apart from anything else, helping a parent to relax goes a long way towards taking great photographs!
[Related Reading: 10 Tips For Preparing For A Successful Family Portrait Session]
Time the session not only around the children’s routine, (for when they’re not especially tired or hungry), but also for when the natural light is best. In the UK, I find this is generally in the morning, with sessions starting around 10am. Pay attention to how the light is in your home and in other buildings you visit locally until you have a feel for when the light has come up enough in your local area.
If you’re photographing in low light, you’ll need a camera that works well in high ISO, and you will also benefit from fast lenses that can operate at wide apertures such as f/2. If you’ll also be taking photographs in the family’s garden, you’ll want to avoid the harsh midday sun as a small garden may not offer many options for finding shade cover.
Giving some thought to these five key areas means you can become confident of taking interesting and meaningful photographs in any family’s home environment. Please let us know if these tips helped you with your next family photo session and if you have some tips of your own that we should share here! As usual, let us know in the comments below!