Stop the Madness and Have Fun Taking Family Portraits! by Maggie Farrington

Do your children act like torture victims while trying to take your holiday photos by the Christmas tree? Do you pull your hair out trying to get a sweet smile from a sarcastic pre-teen? Here are 5 tips to more creative, less stressful, and “tons more fun” family photos. These tips might totally go against your understanding of family photography sessions (especially if you always grew up with the yearly trip to Olan Mills decked out in embarrassing matching outfits, itchy tights and a dress you would only wear once for this particular occasion, mom’s spit on your face to wipe off the dirt and a strict warning that if you didn’t smile and act happy you wouldn’t have dessert for a year), but I promise if you just *try* some of these you might actually have fun and take better photographs!

1. Take a different point of view– rather than the posed arrangements in front of the living room fireplace or a painted backdrop, change your perspective. Get outside! Take your camera to the local park or community gardens and try more candid shots while your kids are at play. Don’t be afraid to stand on a picnic table and take photos from up above. Or get down on the ground and catch a completely different point of view.

2. Be bright and bold– whether you’re photographing one child or five, be mindful of what they are all wearing. You don’t want them wearing identical outfits (don’t you remember how terribly embarrassed YOU were when your mom dressed you in the same outfit as your baby brother or sister?) but rather dress everyone in complementary outfits and colors. If you want the soft look of the family wearing white shirts and khaki pants, mix up the styles of shirts so that everyone looks and feels comfortable. Be brave and try bold bright colors! Be careful of too many bold prints and patterns though- they look wonderful for one or two children but more than that will make you dizzy. With a larger group, complementary solid colors work the best.

3. Go B&W– if you’re still using film, play with a roll of black and white film- it’s super cheap now. And buy the kind that can be processed at a color lab. If you have a digital camera- you have endless possibilities to play with color, or the lack of. Some cameras have the option to switch to black and white mode. That’s the easiest to do- but you can also read your instruction manual (I don’t like those things either but there is a reason they make them….) on how to take pictures in color and then turn them to black and white on the computer. Play with different backgrounds- indoors with white or black fabrics, natural lighting from a nearby window, or outdoors with rough surroundings that will pop with contrast when they are seen in B&W, like leaves, rocks and streams, old wood fence posts, and brick walls.

4. Catch ‘em having fun– why fight and plead and cry to get a smile from a child being forced to sit in a poised and obviously unnatural hand-fold position? What do they have to smile about? Let them have fun- candid, playful photography shoots are just more… fun. For you and for them! They will smile because they want to! Take pictures on the monkey bars- they can’t get away when they’re several feet above the ground! Take pictures while they draw on the sidewalk with chalk, study a praying mantis on a tree, chase a butterfly through the yard, or swing on the swing set.

5. Get real– so what if they still just won’t smile? Take their picture anyway. If your teenage daughter has a permanent scowl on her face, that’s the way you’ll remember her at this age, regardless of any photograph in which you stage a happy teenager. The whole purpose of taking your family’s picture is to capture the memories of that moment in your lives- so capture what is REAL: your daughter’s quirky smirk, your son’s toothless grin, your baby’s “mean” face, belly laughs, squabbling siblings that can’t sit next to each other without tickling or pinching, etc. Don’t stress over trying to get that perfect shot of the perfect family with perfectly well behaved children with perfect smiles and perfect posture. That’s not reality, so just relax, find something that the whole family will enjoy doing together and bring your camera (or your photographer!) along for the FUN!

Photos and text © Farrington Photography 2008, used with permission.

Maggie Farrington is a High Country mom and freelance photographer in Boone. She graduated in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology & a minor in art- which she mostly earned with photography classes. She fell in love with close-up photography, and though still fascinated by the beauty of classic black & white, she has also found a love for color photography and the vibrant spectrum that is around us all the time.

In Maggie’s own words:
“At last, I am turning my love for photography, art, & design into more than a hobby! Farrington Photography & Design was formed in 2004 and it is my hope that you will love what you see as well! Thank you for taking the time to read about me and what I love. I hope that my images- captured by a photograph or expressed in drawing- will speak to you as well.”

Visit Farrington Photography’s website to view more of her work, to schedule a sitting, or to order prints.