Recently my brother-in-law and his family visited for the holidays. One of the days they were here they stopped by my studio for a quick portrait session. Their children are 6, 3, and almost 1, and while they are all well tempered kids, I stilled needed to use some of my “secret” methods to get the kids to smile.
One of the best things you can do when photographing kids together is make it quick! The longer they have to sit in one place, the smaller the chance that you’ll get a big juicy grin. To help get the best facial expressions possible, I often photograph each child separately and then Photoshop them together.
The key to this method is using a tripod and a remote trigger release. With kids they need adult eye contact. They don’t like to smile into a lens, that is a learned behavior that comes later. So I played peek-a-boo with the baby bobbing up and down from behind the camera, threatened to tickle my 3 year old niece with a feather duster, and asked my 6 year old nephew to say silly stuff like “I like to kiss girls.” You see, because they vary in age there isn’t always one tactic that will produce a smile on all three, different methods need to be used that are age appropriate. By shooting with the intent of photoshopping them together, I am allowed the freedom to focus on each kid and get big, genuine, and even goofy expressions at times. None of that can be achieved regularly if you’re hiding behind the camera. And if there is anything the professional portrait photography world demands, it’s consistency from client to client. I can’t cross my fingers and hope that the kids smile, it needs to happen every session.Once I had the photos in my computer it was a simple task to blend them together because they didn’t vary much. In each photo the boxes were in exactly the same place thanks to the camera being stationary on the tripod. I simply had to mask out the empty areas in the images so all three kids were visible. Another benefit of this technique is that I didn’t have to worry about one of the kids being out of focus. All the images were shot at F4, which would have meant if I had taken their portrait together and focused on the baby she would be sharper than her older brother who is slightly behind her and outside the focus area. By using Photoshop I can employ a skill known as focus stacking to create sharpness and blur where I want it. The same idea could have been used for their family portrait as well, but I tend to save that for larger groups (20 or more).
For their family photo I went old school and pretended the feather duster had a mind of it’s own and was attacking me. Kids have a keen (though juvenile) sense of humor and will only find a joke funny a few times so it’s important to have more than one punch line ready at your disposal. Finally we did photos of each kid alone. I love the photo of my nephew looking away, it really caught his adorable shyness. Also my nieces are just beams of light! Looking at their photos makes me wish they didn’t live so far away!
Hope you enjoyed my family photos, if you’re thinking about doing a family portrait session please contact me to check availability.