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Beyond the Family Photograph – Finding Inspiration

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably the designated family photographer. It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional or a hobbyist, you’re the person with the best camera. Everyone relies upon you to make them look good and document all the important events. It can be a drag to view life through an LCD screen.

people with cameras

Sometimes I grab a ‘reverse angle’ at a family event, just to document how we experience our lives through our cameras. This started me thinking about how I could make the digital photo age, and it’s responsibilities, more fun for family photographers.

katie cake photogs-sm

Something I noticed was that family photographers often record what’s happening, but rarely try to influence or interact with it. Having been a news photographer first, then an editorial shooter and finally an advertising guy, my career has led me from observer to controller. But even with my training, I had to make a conscious effort to ‘set up’ the family shots.

Set up shots require cooperation, and that takes strategy. For the example below, I said, “Let’s take a shot of your pink jacket.” In her mind the shot was about the jacket, not her. This seems trivial, but it has made the difference between cooperation and stubbornness in hundreds of photos.

DSC_0071 Pink Jacket 700px

I started making assignments for myself instead of treating family photos like a chore. The difference was like night and day. Of course I was motivated because I needed lots of material for my magazine articles, photo classes and online lessons, and that helped.

Instead of documenting an event or producing another mediocre snapshot, I looked at each chore as an editorial photo shoot, an equipment test, or a lighting comparison. Every shot became a challenge. A shot of a new trike was actually a lesson for using LiteDisc. I coached my young model into a Road Warrior pose.

Road warrior LiteDisc

In the next example, a new Facebook photo became part of a “how-to” location portrait lesson. I took myself through every step of the process and ended up with better results than if I had just done the shot as a chore.

Los gatos setup 2

Here’s the best part: While you’re experimenting with new techniques, testing your gear and practicing your lighting patterns, you’ll be creating a family photographic history that will make you look like a hero in 20 years. Begin with the basic test, like the shot on the right, but don’t stop there.

Erin Multidisc

Envision yourself doing a magazine cover and build the shot into something that makes a statement.

Charlotte trio 700px

One trick that’s fun is to create a silhouette of your subject. Forget about trying to get just the right amount of fill light and go for a dramatic graphic composition. This photo is a more memorable image than a posed shot. I confess, IT IS A POSED SHOT… but it’s designed not to look as if it was set up.

Waterfront baby carriage 700px

Remember, every shot you take now will have historic significance in the future. For example, these (exposure test) shots of kids with technology items are just snap shots now, but how will they be perceived when the iPhone or the iPad are ancient history? Take a couple of extra moments to set them up in an interesting way.

grace iPhone CU

Katie iPad face

This photo of two young women admiring a new technology item (a toaster) in 1909 is a fascinating insight into a bygone era. You can be taking photos today that will be just as interesting in 100 years from now.

Ladies with toaster

What about other mundane objects in our homes? How about practicing your product lighting skills on toys and collectibles? This series of shots will fit right into a photo album now, and be a “walk through memory lane” in just a few years.

possesions CU

I hope this lesson helps you to look at your family photography chores in a new and different light.

Have fun!

Jeffery Luhn
Thanks to Photoflex