Photographing a family, particularly when young children are involved, can be a daunting task. The most important thing you can do to make things go smoothly is to plan as much as possible before the actual shoot.
Pre-planned shots can be executed quickly, which is important with young children, who can get bored easily. By planning everything in advance you can make sure the shoot happens quickly, and you won't have too many photos with the kids looking bored or distracted.
IMG_0064 by thebaphotography on flickr (licensed CC-BY)
Try to stick to one or two locations for the shoot, any more will be too much. Make sure you visit each location beforehand to get an idea on lighting, space, and possible shooting positions.
Look at things like:
- If you're planning on using bounced flash, check the wall and ceiling distance from your shooting position. Check the wall and ceiling color is neutral as well.
- How much space is there for the family group, and how much space will there be between the group and yourself?
- How much space is there for, and where can you set up any additional lighting?
- What direction does the ambient lighting come from, how strong is the lighting, and what color temperature is it?
- Are there any distracting elements? Can they be removed or hidden?
- In public areas, will there be any problems with other people getting in the way or will you be getting in other people's way?
You should visit the locations at the same time of day as you will be shooting there, so you can see what the natural light is like. It is a good idea to take a few test shots with yourself or an assistant to see what the lighting will look like for the portraits.
If you are planning on using artificial lighting, it is also a good idea to test your lighting setups with a real subject. This lets you see how the shadows will fall on the subjects, and will let you get the positions and power of your lights right. You don't want to spend too much time messing around with your lighting on the shoot, particularly if impatient young children are involved.
Often one outdoor and one indoor location can be a good choice. If using an outdoor location, be sure to have a backup plan in case the weather is bad on the day of the shoot.
The focal length or lens choice for the portraits depends on how much room you have for the shoot. A smaller location means you will be nearer the subjects, and so need to use a wider angle focal length to get the whole family in the shot.
If you have an interchangeable lens camera, a good lens choice can be a wide-angle zoom for group shots, and a medium telephoto lens (e.g. 85mm or 70-200mm) for individual portraits.
Family Session - Mariela y Javier - Palermo - Buenos Aires by emilianohorcada on flickr (licensed CC-BY)
An assistant can be very handy to have when shooting family portraits. For families with very young children and babies, you can have the assistant position the child, then quickly get out of the shot. Then you can snap the shot before the child has time to move out of position or crawl away.
Having an assistant to help can also be useful in terms of moving lights and giving general directions to older family members. Basically, an assistant will help speed up the shoot, so children are less likely to get bored.
When shooting a family with very young children or babies, it is a good idea to make sure that the children are fed and rested before the shoot. This way they should be a reasonable mood and won't be crying for food or going off to sleep part way through the shoot. When deciding on the time of the session, you can ask the parents what time is best to make sure the child has eaten and slept before the shoot.
As with all group photos, ask the family to co-ordinate their clothing somewhat, so that they aren't wearing clashing colors. They shouldn't all be wearing the exact same clothes either though. Generally they should wear whatever they are comfortable with.
Careful planning of as much of the shoot as possible before hand should make the shoot more pleasant for everyone. You won't be in such a rush when you have a set plan. The kids won't get too bored or irritable when there's little waiting around. And in turn this means the parents will stay calm and relaxed. All of which will make for better photos.