Loosening the Family Portrait

With kids, you never know what you're going to get. When we try too hard to pose them in the traditional manner - they often resist, or look uncomfortable at best. I love to capture kids and families just the way they are - having fun, acting silly, making their unique and funny faces. Some of my favorite photos of my own kids are the ones where they are making the silly faces that make me laugh or smile everyday. 


Sometimes, the biggest challenge in a family portrait session is convincing the parents to just relax and enjoy themselves - and not be overly concerned with "picture perfect" kids. Fortunately, this family was relaxed and easy going - and the kids full of personality and silliness. I love it! It was cutely coincidental too that I had photographed this couple's engagement session many years ago and we did a picnic theme back then. I have not done another picnic theme for a portrait since then and it didn't even occur to me until I was on the way to this shoot (and we had already planned the picnic party) that we had done a picnic for their engagement! Now here we were, years and kids later, doing a new picnic with their growing family. Sniff sniff.


Nothing ever goes quite as planned on a photo shoot - at least not at mine. This spot by the river is usually green and lush - and after our recent rains I expected nothing less. Upon arriving though, it was obviously drier than I'd ever seen it before! Instead of laying in thick, green grass, we had….well, hay. We had to make the most of it, and laid out our picnic. Fortunately, we had a great blue sky with cotton ball clouds and the kids were in a good mood! You can't ask for much more than that :-) Looking at the images now, I love the contrast and unusual feel of the dry grass and it doesn't bother me that it wasn't green. 


This session will be just one of over a hundred featured in my "The Lighting Notebook" project - which is a book/iApp/DVD coming out this summer. The project is a collaborative effort between Benjamin Edwards and myself and chronicles and explains 101 photo sessions and the techniques, equipment, and inspiration behind them. I used two basic lighting setups for this session. For the images from further away, with the bridge in the background, I used 2 large Photoflex diffusion panels side-by-side with two Alien Bee B800 heads shooting through them. The Bee's were powered by the Vagabond portable power packs. The latest lithium pack is incredibly small and light. This provided enough fill for the relatively harsh direct sun. I shot these with a D3s and the 70-200mm f2.8 lens at f4.0 to soften the background. A neutral density filter was needed to lower my shutter speed to 1/250th to be able to sync with the studio strobes.


When I moved in closer, I used my 17-35mm f2.8 lens and moved the same panels to my left to diffuse the direct sun. We placed a large Photoflex silver reflector behind them and to the right to pop an edge light/hair light back on them. The larger size is essential to it looking natural and covering the entire group. A smaller disc reflector would have covered only one person and would appear much more obvious. 


All the images were processed with my Lightroom Vintage Delish presets, then the icing was put on in Photoshop with my Dashboard tools and Borders & Textures (Bor-Tex). Using textures on the background subtly helps to create richness and depth in the images - especially when the texture is minimized or reduced on the subject. It has an impressionistic feel without affecting skin smoothness and detail. This is easy to accomplish with the automation of Bor-Tex




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