Photographing Families on Film


In the latest installment of our advice column series, we’re talking all about family photography!  We hope that those of you who are in the thick of family session season find a little encouragement from what Alexandria Smith of Daphne Mae Photography, Brooke Schultz of Brooke Schultz Photography, and Melese Miller of Melese Miller Photography had to say about photographing families on film!

How did you find your niche?

“Having my own children and feeling how grand each spark of a moment was to me truly led me to photograph families. I wanted to document these fleeting days for others since I know the urgency in sensing them slip between your fingertips.” –Alexandria Smith

“Really through personal work. I’d just had my second baby and wanted to document it so I threw myself into photographing my kids and that led pretty seamlessly into photographing other parents and their children. There’s a lot of heart in it, and that drew me in.” –Melese Miller

How important is the location to you?

“I really just adore light. Beautiful even diffused light, golden backlit sun, patterned dappled shadows and dancing light, just give me natural light in some form and capacity, a family willing to be seen, and that is my favorite location.” –Alexandria Smith

“In the beginning it used to feel absolutely essential–I was adamant about only photographing families in their homes no ifs ands or buts. I still think in-home is ideal, but now I see that a photographer can bring her vision and voice to any location and that there are oodles of things you can do to make outdoor locations feel more cozy and comfortable the way a home does (at least visually!) like having clients sit or lie down and photographing them in motion vs. “HEY WE’RE STANDING IN THE LEAVES ‘SUP” and no one feels natural.” –Brooke Schultz

How do you make sure you get enough light for in-home sessions? Are there any tips you can offer to those who are shooting an indoor session for the first time?

“I almost always move furniture in clients’ homes! I’m sure they love that : ). But if I come into a home that I know will result in underexposures, then I will do whatever I need to in order to avoid that. My job is to document the love that lives there in the most honest and beautiful way, and if I need to move a sofa to the window, I will do just that.” –Alexandria Smith

“If you come into a home and there’s not enough light inside, do what I do and shoot through windows, on porches, and in backyards. I also do the full family smiling shot outside to make sure I can get everyone in focus.” –Brooke Schultz

“I think it’s just important to go where the light is. When I get to a home the first thing I do is have the parent give me a tour and show me all of the rooms that they love and want to be photographed in so I can take meter readings. There’s also nothing wrong with opening doors to let light in, or scrunching everyone up nice and close to the window.” –Melese Miller

How do you convey emotion in your photos? Do you have any advice for photographers wanting to break away from cookie-cutter family photos?

“Too many photographers focus on an elaborate plan to get their clients to FEEL natural and emotive–but the most important thing is to get them to LOOK natural and emotive. That sounds heartless, but you as a photographer need to be able to deliver every time, and you can’t do that if you’re constantly waiting for clients to give you what you want, yet you’re not sure exactly what you want because you’re waiting for them to show you. My advice would be to get ultra clear on your vision and what you want to say as a family photographer. If you were being paid by an art gallery instead of a client, what kinds of images would you want to create? That will give you all the information you need about what kinds of emotions you most want to convey, and then you can work backwards in actually creating them.” –Brooke Schultz

“I like to think ahead and take a few minutes before the session to sketch up some ideas that could evoke emotions I want to photograph, that way if I get into the session and there’s a lull in ideas I can pull out my book and try something I jotted down previously. I also like to use the time loading more film to watch the family and see what they do naturally so I can try to recreate that as I shoot.” –Melese Miller

What is your favorite posing trick for family sessions?

“I love getting them all tangled up and asking them to just tickle and kiss. Suddenly everyone is smiling and laughing and touching and it’s the best.” –Alexandria Smith

“Whatever direction you give needs to have a stopping point at which you’re ready to take the shot. It’s the difference between ‘Everyone spin around!’ and, ‘Everyone spin around and stop when I say ‘stinky feet!’.” –Brooke Schultz

“With smaller kids it’s important to not require them to look at the camera all of the time. The first shot I take is the big group ‘everyone look at the camera’ shot, when kids are slightly shy and the most cooperative. After that I try to let them breathe and guide the session as much as possible. A forced kid is never a happy kid, and by letting them relax and do their thing you get a lot more images that have natural emotion in them. I also try to play games with the family to get them to interact naturally with each other.” –Melese Miller

How do you price your family sessions so that you’re still making an income without shooting big weddings? Do you have any tips for those wanting to add more family photography to their business model?

“I book about two shoots a week and that is plenty for me! It allows me to make my family the forefront of each day, while also bringing on some income for my family and connecting with other mothers. I would think about how much you need to bring home each month, then work it backwards to figure out how many shoots you can accommodate, and then how much you would need to price them at to make things work for you and your family.” –Alexandria Smith

“Consider where you want and need to be priced sustainably, long term, and avoid the trap of coming in low to get experience and then having to hike your rates year after year and lose all your clients and start over. To get experience, do a select number of portfolio building sessions for cost only and then it’s your regular, long term pricing, knowing that there’s probably going to be a lull while you build up your clientele but that it’s going to be worth it because those clients will be with you for years cause you’re not raising your prices like crazy every year.” –Brooke Schultz

Thank you to Alexandria, Brooke, and Melese for sharing their thoughts with us! We hope their experience helps assist you in your own family sessions this year!