Little Adventures

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

Family Portrait Photography

An unposed shot while the little girl rests from her play. This was in the Four Seasons Hotel Doha's marina viewing deck. Most of the background colors are white and light and are not distracting. I asked them to sit together here, just rest and pretend I'm not even there.

The common idea of a family portrait shoot is to go to a studio where family members will be photographed in a variety of poses wearing makeup, under a lighting setup and in front of a cloth or canvass background. The location may be in the family house's garden or living room but they would still be in a more formally arranged seating. Not that there's anything wrong with that. This is, in most cases, the way you should photograph a family portrait if they intend to print it large, framed and hanged on the wall of a grand living room or family room.

This couple has been our friends since we have first known them here in Doha. While their baby girl is playing in the lawn, I asked them to come close together and simply took this shot. They liked it and have told me they will have this printed large. This shot is posed, yes, but they were already standing together as they watched their child play. I simply asked them to look towards me.

I do the other type of family portrait shoot which is the informal type for two reasons. First, I don't have a studio and don't have much experience in studio lighting setups but, more importantly, it is a personal preference.

This fence is slight curved. As she looked at the boats through the balusters, I saw this as a moment when she enjoyed where she was at that time.

As mentioned in a previous post, we went to Doha Four Seasons Hotel for a family photoshoot. Their rented apartment is not ideal due to a number of reasons. It was a temporary accommodation (they are leaving Doha soon) so they did not bothered with decorating the place and personalizing it. The living room does not have enough natural lighting. To shoot succesfully there, we'll have to have some lighting setup that would make the pictures look like a studio photoshoot. That would not work with our shoot concept. And because of the limited space, we don't see much flexibility and possibilities in there.

Little girl playing with Dad on the couch in the hotel lounge.

Shooting in a hotel, this is actually the second time I have done this with them. It was a succesful shoot so the idea is a tested one. The first time was more than a year ago when their child was only 5 months old. Now, at 1 year and 9 months, the little girl is a toddler who loves to play and run-around. She's also become conscious about the people around her and refused to go with me or even smile. I am not exactly a stranger but since she does not see me everyday, I am not a regular in her world. And so she was a little skeptical. Getting her to cooperate became a problem. Fortunately for me, her parents know her weaknesses. They brought along her favorite candy and would give her one if she would smile for the camera. She would smile rather quickly though and so I had to be in full alert and be quick to capture those moments. There were times when I had to resort to shooting lika a papparazzi with a long lens and steal some shots out of her.

Enjoying the beautiful orchid which was on every coffee table at the lounge.

It was a successful shoot, nevertheless. I've shot about 155 during that day - I would have definitely shot more had the weather been more pleasant. Out of that 155, I counted about 110, give or take, that I personally liked. 71% success - not a bad ratio. That plus another 32 useful ones.

She found a play pen and immediately dragged everone there.

EXPERIENCE LEARNED

1. Expect the children to be part of your problem solving activities. Some children easily warm-up to strangers while some are too shy. You need to win their trust confidence, and cooperation. I guess I made a mistake in this shoot. I already knew that one of her weaknesses is Dunkin' Donuts Munchkins and I didn't bring some. It would have been a lot easier to ask her to smile and look at the camera at the same time. We could have also brought her favorite toy but I failed to suggest on bringing that along.

2. Avoid shooting with direct flash. Not only is the lighting harsh and unflattering but some kids may not like the experience of having bright lights constantly bombarding their eyes. This may cause them to refuse to cooperate any further during the photoshoot or other future photoshoots. You should not, therefore, use your camera's built-in flash.

She had a lot of fun here and it shows in her smile.

3. Use an articulated flash gun with a diffuser. This should be the type where you could redirect the flash into various positions so that it may be bounced off the wall or ceiling. The diffuser will soften the harsh light further.

4. Use fast lenses. These should be those with a minimum of f/2.8 maximum aperture. Not only do they allow you to freeze constantly moving children, they also create a nice bokeh (out-of-focus or "blurred" background) around your subjects. Plus they allow you to take advantage of ambient lighting and minimize the use of flash. Unfortunately for me, the only fast lens I have is an EF 50mm f/1.4 USM. *sigh*

One tender moment.

5. Keep your camera in "firing mode" and be alert on moments between each family members' interactions. Unposed photos come out usually the most natural and best looking. I find it best to shoot with the shutter in continuous mode. With subjects off-guard, especially the camera conscious types, they reveal their natural smiles and expressions. This is one of those moments where I appreciate the EOS 20D's 5 frames-per-second speed.

6. For posed shots, I find it best not to say "cheese" or give any cue to cause a "posed" smile. To me, that strategy only works with a large group. It helps a lot when the people you are shooting are confident with the photographer and facing the camera for that matter. Keep a steady conversation and watch out for moments. You, as the photographer and artist, should "see" your subjects and be alert to click that shutter at the right time. For this kind of shoot, you may also use continuous mode.

7. Avoid grand backgrounds. They compete for attention with your subjects. Choose a simple one, without too many distracting elements. A cluttered background causes the viewers eyes to wander around and loose concentration on looking at the subjects. Remember, the photoshoot is about the family, not where you are shooting them. Unless, of course, this was requested your subjects then you should include a photo showing the background that they liked. But again, put the emphasis on the people which are the subjects of your photoshoot and don't make it the main theme of your photoshoot.

8. Take candid moments of individual members of the family. Parents may want you to concentrate on photographing their children other than their group photos but take the time to shoot Mom and Dad as well. Mom's solo, Dad's solo, or both of them. Dad and kids, Mom and kids.

9. Choose a good location. Their home should be the ideal location but if it's not flexible or suitable, I would suggest beaches at sunset, a local park or, if possible (as we have done) a hotel lobby.

10. Bring plenty of films or if you're a digital shooter, plenty of memor y cards. Shoot plenty and liberally. This does not mean be careless with your shots but I'm sure you will (and they will) be glad to have plenty of shots to choose from. And with that, you're giving your client good value for your services. In a span of just about two hours, I've done 155 shots where I gave my client 142 useful shots. A good number, turned out great of course.

11. Bring spare batteries. One fully charged battery for your camera may last for a particular shoot but bring a spare one anyway, just in case. Your flash gun will consume more power so don't get caught up dead with a useless flash.

Shooting informally would be more fun for your subjects and it allows them to be themselves and reveal their personality. As the artist in the shoot it allows me to present these people's "inner" beauty - who they really are. While a formal studio portrait presents a record of a time when they were made to look good on pictures, an informal shoot presents a record of a time in their lives when they were together and happy.

Cheers,

alexdpx

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