What to wear for your family portraits, and why I probably failed at mine.

I rarely meet anyone who is confident about having their photo taken at a moments notice.  Many times, my hair isn't right, I'm not wearing makeup, I'm wearing my furry slippers, and no offense to the slippers but I don't want a photo of me wearing them.  Unless I am meeting a client, I keep it pretty simple, jeans, t-shirt, hair in a bun...  this is me.  If someone were to come to my house with a camera wanting to take my portrait, well.  Let's just say I would not open the door.  

When you book a shoot, typically it is a week away, (or more) you have time to plan the outfits, the hair, makeup, shoes, jewelry, etc.  On the day of, you are prepared, happy, excited, and READY.  But what are good outfits for a shoot?  I have no idea what to wear! Should I match with my family?  Is yellow a good color if everyone else is wearing plaid?  Is flannel still "in?" My husband won't come to the shoot, can you photoshop him in?  Believe it or not, these are some of the questions I get when I book with someone.  There are many many handy resources on Pinterest, and on occasion  I might send them a few 'pins' that can point them in the right direction. I think we should go deeper than a pin however.  I feel like I am giving my clients a huge disservice by not working with them more to make sure that this special moment is captured the appropriate way.  I don't want to just send my clients a pin, and be done with it- I need to be there, to offer advice, and tell them in my own words what I think we should do!     

October of 2013 we took our very own first family portrait.  I know I know!! People can hardly believe that we've only done one, but I guess it falls along the same lines as the mechanic who spends so much time fixing other peoples cars that he never has time to fix his own.  We had never done one before so I was a little out of my element here.  What am I going to wear, what are the girls going to do with their hair?  My husband hates pictures, how am I going to convince him that we NEED to do this??  What time of day? Where? How?  I am freaking OUT! Of course, I've had months, if not YEARS to plan this, so on the morning of (of course- hey I can't even plan dinner sometimes how am I going to be counted on to plan my own family portrait?) we drive to Kohls to look at coordinating shirts. Now they say not to get too "matchy matchy" but sometimes I DO think it could work.  I didn't see anything "cute" for all of us, my husband doesn't do "cute" but I grabbed some flannel shirts for the girls, in different colors, and thought hey! let's just do blue jeans, and flannel shirts.  My husband agreed, and we were off!  

It took about 30 minutes to braid the girls' hair, another 30 to get dressed, and another 30 to set the camera up on a tripod, get everyone outside, discuss the perfect location and get lined up.  Let's keep in mind:  this is my own family, and I can take certain liberties with them.  I am allowed to put a family photo together out of the blue with no planning.  If this were a client- I would recommend we take the time to plan everything out.  I will wait for later in the afternoon or evening- as the sun is close to setting- to shoot a family outdoors.  I did mine at high noon because the shade under our tree was perfect.  If I had scouted a location, or used it in the past and knew the area, knew that there was going to be nice even lighting, and knew where I was going to be posing a family-then I have no problem shooting at ANY time of day.  Even at 2 in the afternoon, I've had big families with their backs to the sun, and I'll use a flash to eliminate shadowing- so really there are things I can do at anytime, but it is a personal preference to shoot later in the day, especially during the summer when it can get extremely hot and sweaty.

So here we are, gathered outside, my youngest was 4 at the time, and I wasn't so sure she was going to be able to stare at a lens and smile.  We had never done it before.  I've always been behind the camera calling her name, telling her to smile, so this was going to be a big test for sure!  So after a few tests to make sure everyone was standing in the perfect spot, I set the camera on a timer, and BAM.  Shot number one:

I absolutely adore this photo.  Had it been a regular client, I might have eliminated this one.  But then again, I might have included it anyway.  At the same moment the camera clicked, Sammie sneezed.  It's a moment I will never get back, I couldn't recreate this if I tried.  I have this photo hung on my wall, because I just love it.  It's one of our best bloopers as a family.  Looking at the technical aspects of this photo, the way the sun is hitting my face is a no-no.  It is my job to position you so that this doesn't happen- you want the light to be even.  To change this, I had my husband stand in my spot, and I told him how to angle himself so that the sun wasn't in his face.  I hit the timer on the camera again, scrambled to my spot, and here is the final:

You might notice the girls had bigger smiles in the first photo, but really- I loved everything about THIS one.  The expressions were happy, but more genuine.  There is still some sun on my hair, but I'm ok with that.  Also, in the left part of the frame I caught the post to our chainlink fence but left it, when it goes to print, depending on what size you order, that won't show up.  In the canvas I ordered, it's not even there but the reasons for it being left there are this:  FIRST AND FOREMOST I knew how I wanted the photo printed.  I had a plan for it, I knew what I wanted to do with it.  It is extremely helpful for any photographer to know what you plan on doing with this photograph.  If you want a certain size canvas or print, the photographer will shoot differently for that size.  Yes, I could have edited the left part of the frame, but still, I knew what I was going to do with it, and taking that out was not necessary.  

If I were to crop it out, there is less picture for me to work with.  Our feet were already close to the bottom of the frame, I could have pulled back even more, but I did have a lot of space at the top of the photo to work with, so I still have many print options.  The glare in my husbands glasses is a little distracting so his chin should have been angled down slightly to eliminate that.  In all of my photos, I will get a total body shot like this, and then zoom in closer to get a tighter shot, from the waist up.    When I am taking a group photo like this, I will check the frames to see what can be adjusted- so in your photo, if I see glare in your glasses, I will help you fix that, if there is sun in your face, I will move you.  

I knew the kids were losing patience so after this shot, we were done.  This actually didn't take long, I only took 9 frames, including the blooper.  Actually standing in front of the camera and getting this shot really took less than 10 minutes.  Now many clients will opt for the photo with the bigger smiles, so I will have some head-swapping to do.  I really do understand how important it is to have a photo like this.  It's important for the parents to remember this moment with their kids at this age, it's important to remember this time in their lives.  When I see this photo, it reminds me of what my husband looked like in glasses (he's since had lasik), it reminds me of what my son looked like right before he started high school, and this was the last time we had a real Fall.  Last year we were kind of cheated on Fall, the colors were not this vibrant, summer ended and the leaves just kind of fell off.  I have a canvas print of this photo hanging on my wall and I get to look at it anytime I want- so this was a total success.  

Overall, I am very pleased with the final product.  Now this is different then what my clients might go through, because after getting a big group shot like this, they'll want some couples or individual shots, so a lot of shooting time is spent on that.  Here are some wardrobe tips for a successful photo:

-Clothing coordination makes for a pleasing photo, the object of the game is to pick 2-4 colors that go together, avoiding pieces that match exactly. So in my photo above, had my husband and I had solid colored shirts, like a solid dark blue for him, and maybe a solid dark purple for me, it would have worked, because it would have tied into what the kids were wearing.   

Here is a great example, this was from a family shoot 3-4 years ago:

See how pops of red show up throughout the family unit?  The grays and reds from the shirt the boy is wearing on the right, tie into the red from mom, and the gray from dad.  I'm sure I broke rules with my own photo, but you know what?  I was happy with it, and that is all that matters.  In my next family photo, I will definitely break the colors up, plus the girls are older and I doubt they'll want to match too much with each other.  

More tips:

- Pick outfits that will flatter you and not draw too much attention.  You want the people in the photo to be the main focus, not your clothing.  

-Keep jewelry to a minimum.  Again, the focus is on you, it shouldn't be on the huge accessory pieces.  

-Any haircuts should be done at least 2 weeks prior to the shoot.  On that same note, wear your hair in a way you have worn it before.  Something new that you aren't used to might be uncomfortable, and who wants to smile when you are not comfortable?

-Choose tops with sleeves, at least to the elbows.  Sometimes the ladies put their hand on a hip and rock it.  Depending on the way the shirt is cut, I might see deodorant, or razor burn.  

So I guess based on these tips, I broke most if not all of the rules.  lol  Again, I was not only the client, but the photographer at the same time, and darn it, I'll say it again and again.  I love my family photo.    I hope this helps you and makes picking out your wardrobe and coordinating it a little easier.  I want to be as involved with your shoot as possible, I want you to love your photos and be proud of them!

Until next week,

 

~Leia

Leia Smethurst

Leia Smethurst Photography, PO Box 18694 , Oklahoma City, OK 73154, United States