BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: New Questions

Photography Question 
Lisa Jones
 

Family Portrait - Tips and Techniques


Please is there is any advice you can give me? I have been nominated to take my boyfriend's family portrait this Sunday (5 teenage grandkids). I have always had a very big interest in photography, and they seem to have the confidence in me!! I'm going to be using my new Digital Rebel 6meg. I still have not finished reading the manual yet! So it will have to be automatic. I'm hoping we can pick a nice spot outside. Any advice would be very much appreciated. Thank you.


To love this question, log in above
1/27/2006 1:11:32 PM

 
Bob Fately   Lisa, while it's generally true that it's the photographer, and not the equipment, that makes the picture great - that's particularly true of portraiture. The real trick is to get the subject(s) to feel comfortable in front of the camera, to make them forget that there is someone with a fancy contraption standing in front of them to gather an image.
So, putting everyone at ease (no small feat with most teens, for sure) is a big part of things. One possible help here could be to set the camera on a tripod and use a remote shutter release (wired or wireless) - people have a tendency to behave more naturally if the shooter is standing to the side of the camera, chatting them up, and surreptitiously snapping shots with the remote. Of course, to do this, you need to get everyone situated in their general positions and frame the shot through the viewfinder, but then move away from the gear.
As for lighting, if you'll be outside, pick a shaded area or, if it's an overcast day, you should be okay in general. What you want to avoid are the harsh shadows that come with strong direct lighting - think of the beach at noon as an example of terrible lighting. Indoors, you might want to try aiming the flash off the ceiling (called "bouncing") to soften that light (assuming you have a flash).
The auto-exposure will no doubt work fine - the question of how much of a focus zone (how much depth of field) you want is an artistic decision. If the background is visually distracting - say, lots of colors and shapes back there, then you will want to use a wider aperture to limit DOF so when the group is in focus the background is pleasantly blurry.
I hope that helps, at least...


To love this comment, log in above
1/27/2006 2:01:34 PM

 
Christopher A. Vedros
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/14/2005
  Lisa,
Bob gives some good advice. Here's a little more:
If the weather is nice where you are, try to take the picture outside. If it's a clear sunny day, try to do it before 10:00 am, or in the afternoon after about 4:00 pm. You want to avoid the middle of the day, when the sun is high. Your subjects would either be squinting or their faces will have dark shadows.
Find a large background that is not too distracting, like a wooden fence or some large bushes. Place your subjects 6 or more feet in front of the background, not right up against it.
Have your subjects get comfortable. Maybe they could sit in a close group on the grass. Don't just line them up shoulder-to-shoulder; that will look boring.
Try some shots in Auto mode (green square), but also try some with your camera in Portrait mode (the little picture of a person's head) or A-DEP mode. Either of these should put your subjects in focus and the background blurred, which looks nice in a portrait. Remember, a portrait is a picture of people, not necessarily a scenic landscape shot with people in it.
If you are using the 18-55mm kit lens that came with the camera, don't get too close to your subjects. If you are close and using the wide-angle end of the zoom range, it can make people look funny. Back up some, and zoom in on them. Good luck!


To love this comment, log in above
1/27/2006 2:26:25 PM

 
Betty Fleet   Once I learned a tip from a professional portrait photographer, that can make even everyday 'candid' shots look like a million. The trick is to choose 3 colors and tell each of the people in the photo to wear any two of those colors. Usually white or black can be added without distraction. We did a family shoot a long time ago and chose red, blue and yellow. It worked great with people who like to wear jeans. There can be various shades and textures of the 3 colors, but no more than three.
Have fun!


To love this comment, log in above
1/31/2006 5:26:24 AM

 
William Koplitz   I'm not sure I'd "chat anyone up" while I was trying to take their photograph - unless I really meant it. verb. To talk flirtatiously with someone, to make sexual overtures. {Informal}


To love this comment, log in above
1/31/2006 5:35:11 AM

 
Bob Fately   Why, William is right, of course... what was I thinking? Don't speak in any but monotonous tones (if indeed you can't just point them to where you want them to stand and avoid talking altogether), for fear of making the subjects too relaxed. Perhaps you can get a computer and have it "voice" some words that you can type in beforehand - just to further eliminate any emotion in the process. After all, that's the point of a portrait - to be as clinical and concise as possible.

Thank you for checking the dictionary, Will - always great to see productive commentary!


To love this comment, log in above
1/31/2006 8:02:54 AM

 
Maria Melnyk   Just to add to the great advice above, have your subjects' heads at all different levels. Definitely the group's clothing MUST be color-coordinated; don't take the photograph if it's not. Either follow the above advice on 2-3 colors, or just use one color (ex. all in white).
Have fun and good luck. It's not easy photographing your boyfriend's family (been there, done that).


To love this comment, log in above
1/31/2006 8:50:06 AM

 
Linda D. Smith   HI LISA,
ALL SOUND ADVISE. TIMING FOR THE SUN IN THE SKY WILL DEPEND ON WHERE YOU ARE. I KNOW AFTER 4 THIS TIME OF YEAR WHERE I AM THE SUN IS PRETTY MUCH GONE AND SO ARE PORTRAITS. A SUGGESTION WITH TEENAGERS, TO MAKE IT MORE THEM AND FUN, HAVE THEM HOLD, OR SIT ON THEIR BIKES, FOUR WHEELERS ETC, GET THEIR PERSONALITY IN IT WITH THEM. THEY WILL LOVE TO SHOW OFF THEIR STUFF. THIS WILL HELP YOU TO NOT GET THEM IN A "LINE UP" OR GIVE THEM THE MUG SHOT LOOK TOO.

WHEN I SHOT OUT SIDE I TRY TO KEEP THE SUN OFF TO ONE SIDE OF MY SET UP, AS I LOOK THROUGH THE CAMERA THE SUN SHOULD BE TO THE RIGHT OR LEFT OF MY SHOULDER. CAREFUL OF THE BLACK EYE LOOK, YOU CAN GET YOUR BOYFRIEND TO HOLD A WHITE BOARD TO REFLECT LIGHT BACK ON THE FACES IF YOU THINK THEY HAVE TO MUCH SHADOW, WHILE HE DOES IT YOU WILL BE ABLE TO SEE THE DIFFERENCE. SHOOTING DIGITAL OR FILM THE BASICS ARE PRETTY MUCH THE SAME, BUT I GUESS IN DIGITAL YOU CAN REPAIR SOME MISTAKES.
KEY TRY TO MAKE IT FUN, AND SHOOT UNTIL YOU FEEL YOU GOT WHAT YOU WANTED.


To love this comment, log in above
1/31/2006 12:23:55 PM

 
Log in to respond or ask your own question.