Yikes, family portraits scare me. They really really do. Every year at this time of year various family members, friends, and neighbors ask me to do their family portraits. Hey you take pictures don't you? You have a really nice camera. Would you mind doing a family portrait of us. Hey what can I say? Sure… No problem.
I really don't mind, in fact I enjoy it. The problem is I hate most of the "professional" portraits that I see on greeting cards, laying around peoples houses, etc. They aren't mug shots - they are line ups. The lighting is okay - I guess. The problem is that these people are not professional models, their kids are not professional models, and they are all stiff and staring into the camera. I hate to put my name on those - I really do. So here is how I survive.
I take those kinds of pictures because that's what "normal" people want - strait forward - stare strait ahead and look very unnatural. That is usually not the pictures they see of my kids but it is what they want for their holiday portrait - there is some strange expectation that somehow I will magically make the family lineup more like my unposed pictures. The same but like we get at the Walmart. While doing the pictures that they expect I will also do ones that I can tolerate.
Without fail they "like" the ones that were my way better - the laugh and think they are wonderful but end up printing the lineup face forward stiff stuff on their christmas cards. Take the shots they think they need - then take the shots you want. I predict that within a couple of years they will be begging you for the other ones that they didn't put on the card. Well at least you will like them better.
Here are some tips: If you have more than one person in a shot having everyone look at the camera usually turns out bad - have them interact with each other. Some interactions work with one of them looking at the camera but not the other ones. Trust me - try it. I can count on one hand the number of family portraits that I have seen where everyone is looking at the camera that were any good. Shoot first ask questions later - if you see something that is great hit the button - do not worry too much about focus, etc. Do it even if your flashes are not ready. Every once in a while it will be flawed but fabulous. Sometimes the flaws will actually add to the fabulous - other times it will not matter. Your job is to get them as they actually are in an appealing way.
Make your lighting really really simple if it is more than one person - it needs to be fool proof. These people are not pro's and if you are worried more about shadow placement and angle you will miss the moment. Well, I am off to do a dad/daughter of my old neighbor - I will let you know how it turned out.
Here is one I did last week of nieces: This is not the final just an example of hit thebutton anyway - even the ones that have all kind of flaws can be worthwhile. My light was not recycled yet on this one and the motion was really really fast so I have a lot of motion blur buy who cares.