Tips & Tricks for Photographing families in their Homes
It can be a daunting task to photograph a family inside their home. More often than not, you have no idea what you are walking into. Will the home have good light? How will it be decorated? Is it small or large? Will I have the perfect set up for that amazing family shot I know they’re after?
Thinking too much about it can become paralyzing. Instead of focusing on the “what if’s”, remind yourself that no matter what a home looks like on the inside, every family has their own individual and authentic rituals and it is your job to uncover those moments and capture them as best you can. To do this, all you need is a window and your beautiful personality.
Breaking the Ice
Upon arrival, make sure to take your time getting to know the family before you whip out your camera and start shooting. It is important to talk to the children in a way that makes them feel as though you are on their level. To do this, treat them like you would a grown up. Ask them questions and tell them about yourself or your own kids (if you have any). Make comparisons and take notice of things you see right when you walk in. For example, if you see a pair of cleats, ask the boy if he plays soccer and if so what position he plays or likes the best. How long has he played and how is his team doing this year? If there is more than one child, the others tend to want to chime in once they see you are conversing with their sibling.
Find the child that you feel the most connected to and ask mom and dad if it would be ok if little Johnny takes you on a tour of the house so you can get the lay of the land and find the rooms with the best light. You can ask him to show you his room first or to save it for last. Mom and Dad are not going to mind, though they might follow you from room to room turning on lights. This is the best time to talk to them about light!!
I usually say something along the lines of, “Thank you so much for turning those on, but to be honest, I prefer to shoot with natural light only and your home has such lovely light! If you don’t mind you can keep all the overheads off.”
Getting everyone comfortable
The parents are probably more nervous than the kids. They are anxious that they might act up, that they may not cooperate, or that they wont get the shots they want. It is YOUR job to calm them down by being yourself! Tell them that the kids are your responsibility and that it is your job to get the best out of them for the camera. I usually say something like “ Listen, before I start, I want you to put any and all concerns out of your mind. This is going to be fun for everyone, I promise. Just try and relax and I assure you I will get amazing shots for you. Don’t worry about getting your children to look at me or listen to me. That’s my job. So sit back and enjoy the show!”
Don’t say Cheese
Parents mean no harm but having a mother say to their child “say cheese!” or “look at the camera” tends to make the kids embarrassed, nervous or distracted. I usually ask the parent if they are comfortable with me spending a few minutes one on one with each kid and this is usually when they shine their brightest.
I am not looking for that typical “say cheese” smile. From the moment I begin to photograph a family for a Bedtime Story or a lifestyle shoot until the moment I leave, I am looking to capture the most authentic moments possible. I am looking to find and freeze the moments that exude raw happiness and honesty, and illuminate nostalgia.
In order to get families to open up and show you the extraordinary details in the conventional part of their lives, they need to be comfortable with you. The more comfortable and happy the kids are, the more at ease the parents will be. Just be yourself and be PATIENT. Some kids take a while to warm up. Just let them do their own thing and the perfect moment will present itself if you just give it time.
Some Tips for awkward moments!
We have all been there… trying to get a shot of everyone in the family while one kid is running in circles, dad looks like he would rather be mowing the lawn, the baby is pulling the dog’s ear and the mom looks like she might need a cocktail. If you find yourself in this moment, take a deep breath and take back the control.
Make it a game. “Who can get to the couch and sit next to mommy the fastest!? I am going to count to three and whoever gets there first will get a prize at the end of the shoot!” I do these types of things often with my most assertive and coach like voice.
I make little goodie bags for the children prior to the shoot or I bring something small for each child. The $1 sections at Toys R Us or Target are fantastic for this type of thing! Even if it’s a tiny toy car or a whoopee cushion, kids DO NOT CARE. They just want a prize.
If you can take the wild and capture it, the parents will be happy! After all, these are the real moments! At the end of the day, even if the living room is as loud as can be, the photos are always quiet.