A few months ago, Adriana and I had some of our friends over for a get together.  My friends Grant and Nicky attended with their son, we’ll call him A.  While we were catching up they asked if I would be open to the idea of doing a family photo shoot for them.  Pros are too expensive and they just wanted to get some quality pictures to hang in their house.  Needless to say I jumped at the chance – these are the sorts of things that turn into real learning opportunities.  So I took them up on the offer and away we went!

This was a first for me.  I’d never done any formal portrait work so I did a lot of research beforehand.  I spent a lot of time reading tutorials online and watching some guys on YouTube talk about outdoor portraiture.  I have a shoot through umbrella that I bought a year or two ago when I was learning about off camera flash, and also some cheap wireless triggers that I bought through ebay.  So I bought extra batteries, cleaned my lenses, packed all my stuff and was off to meet them Saturday morning.  We decided to go to a nearby park to get the photos; I wanted them out of the sun with a nice background (forest/trees) for the photos.  We tried a few different poses and ways of sitting, crossing our fingers that A was in the mood to play.

The first round of pictures we took while sitting on top of a log – I thought it would be a nice place but A was still tired from his nap, as you can see below.

For the beginning of the shoot, I had the umbrella setup camera left to throw some extra light on the family.  I used a CTO gel as well to give a little glow to their faces.

I wanted to make sure we tried lots of different setups, but I was also conscious of the fact that with a little kid it’s really about spur of the moment photography.  It’s difficult to get a toddler to look at the camera, smile, etc.  And what I also learned is that it’s sometimes hard to even get the parents to look at the camera!  Seriously, I have a ton of photos where A is finally looking at me and smiling but either Nicky or Grant were looking elsewhere or not smiling.  If I had to do it over again I would have tried to communicate this up front (but of course I didn’t know and wasn’t really aware of it until looking at the photos later).

The last set of photos with the shoot through umbrella were pretty entertaining, as A threw leaves at Mom and Dad while they laid on the ground.

When that was done, I took down the umbrella and we began a more informal session.  A was really into his ball, running around all over the place and playing with it.  It was so funny to watch but really hard to photograph as well.  I set my camera to AF servo and did my best to track the little guy as he ran this way and that, kicking the ball, and generally having a blast.

I took a picture of the ball with A running towards it in the background.  I thought this was a fitting shot, because the ball really played a central role in the day and I wanted to make sure it was remembered.

All in all it was a great, great day.  I learned a ton.

Here are the top 5 things I learned from my first family portrait session –

  1. Prepare – yeah, I know.  It’s not rocket science.  But I spent a lot of time researching online, reading some of my old books and making sure that all of my techniques were clear in my head.  I bought new batteries, cleaned my lenses, tested my equipment before the shoot, etc.
  2. It’s all about the kid – similar to shooting a wedding, when you do a family portrait like this you’re pretty much going to live and die by the kid (or the bride in the wedding of course).  When A was in a good mood, the parents were happy, I was happy and we were off and running.  When he was aloof and not really in the mood for photos, the entire thing sorta stalled.  One of our friends was there and did a tremendous job in entertaining A.  That was a colossal help and in hindsight is something that really saved my bacon, because it’s really tough to focus on your photography while trying to entertain a toddler!
  3. Shoot with an appropriate aperture – I wanted to get the background out of focus so I was shooting with a pretty tight depth of field; my aperture was like f/4.5 or f/5.0 for a lot of the shots.  And it wasn’t quite enough – I wish I’d set it to f/7.1 or f/8.0 to ensure I had focus throughout the frame.  There’s a few photos where A and Nicky were in perfect focus but Grant is just a teeny bit out.  Lesson learned for next time.
  4. Editing matters – I had to wait for the new LR 4.1 update so I could work with my RAW files; once this came I edited the photos and spent a fair amount of time on each one.  In particular I whitened the eyes in many of the pictures and made sure that they were sharp on the edges but overall soft so as not to be too harsh on the faces.
  5. Think – Finally my last lesson learned is to remain calm and think.  While I was there I felt like I was the photographer so I had to keep shooting.  In hindsight I wish I’d spent a little more time making sure that my aperture was set accurately; I went back and forth between shooting in Manual and Aperture priority mode and I could have done a better job in having a mental focus on the exact picture I was trying to take at the moment.  Again I think this will come with time.

I’ll be doing another photoshoot with a different friend of mine who’s son will be celebrating a one year birthday pretty soon.  After I get a few of these under my belt who knows?  Maybe I’ll get to a point where I can charge some money for the work and have people just buy the photos directly from Smugmug.  Until then I’ll continue to take advantage of my friend’s for free learning opportunities!  Thanks Grant and Nicky!

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