Since I just had the privilege of photographing the Dynh family’s newest adorable addition this morning, I thought I would do a little blog featuring their amazing golden-hour, backlit, sun-filled family session. This was one of my favorite family sessions ever. I just got just too bogged down in my busy fall season to keep up. Blogging and social media business, I’,m sure you understand. But, I am thrilled to be able to share this with you now!
So… let’s talk about what made this family photo session so awesome. And what we can learn from it so you can get your own incredible family photos this year:
Photography literally means “light drawing” and there is no other component more important than LIGHT in creating amazing images. The light during this session is what photographer dreams are made of. The golden hour (an hour or so before sunset) provides the most flattering light for portraits. It’s because the sunbeams are long and soft. And the sun is low enough to not cast harsh, dark shadows on your faces (or make you squint). Golden hour light also has a warm, glowy quality that colors images beautifully. Rather than the harsh, overly bright white sun of midday. Even if your kids are cranky, or you’re tired from dealing with them all day, or it’s typically dinnertime … do yourself a favor and trust your photographer when she suggests a golden hour session. (If you listen to nothing else on this list…please just do this ONE thing!)
Related to light is location – and how and when the light falls in a particular setting. I prefer locations where I can shoot into the setting sun so I need to face west. Trees also, help cut the sun a bit during the early parts of the golden hour. I love glistening, grassy fields, or spring flowers whose petals glow in the sunlight. Love the deeply rich, thick textures, such as rustic fences, doorways, or colorful urban brick walls. I love environmental portraits so my images often include lots of the surroundings as well as my main subject.
For this session, I scouted Marian Bear Park the week before. I knew exactly how many minutes before sunset we would lose the sun behind the mountain in the distance. I found that tree during my scouting session and paid careful attention to how the light played out in its leaves. How I could use its placement along the trail and its curving branches to frame my subjects. Photographers spend countless hours scouting out new locations and re-scouting our tried-and-true favorites. We make sure we know exactly how the sun shines at a given location in a given month. Or little details like which flowers are in bloom that week. The location adds so much to your images! So don’t be afraid to venture out a little farther off the beaten track. It’s usually worth it.
If there ever was a family who totally nailed “What to Wear for your Family Photos” it is this one, folks! Take notes. I will be writing an entire blog post on this topic soon. (And you can also check out my “What to wear” page too) but for now some short and simple tips.
Do not get too fancy. We’ll be out in nature on trails or maybe at the beach. Pick something that is a step above what you might normally wear, but won’t look weird in a casual environment. Navy and grey contrast beautifully with the greens, browns, and oranges found in fall’s nature.
Solids work best, with only one of you in a pattern. Layer it up! Chunky knit cardigans, cute hats, and textured scarves add dimension and depth to your outfits. (Don’t go crazy with the accessories though – one or two is enough). Footwear matters – immensely! Pointy heels look weird and sink into a dirt trail. So think boots/booties or flats for her, and cute sneakers (not running shoes) or loafers for him. This fashion-forward family hit it out of the park with these spot-on ensembles:
This is a personal style choice of mine, so feel free to disagree, but if you really want timeless photos that focus on your family. Skip the cutesy setups. All those props are going to be featured in a dozen family photos this year. Besides, are the props the focus of the image, or are you and your adorable family? In my opinion, cluttered setups do not feel organic. In fact, they will detract from the authenticity of your story, unless of course, they have personal meaning to you.
Does your family really enjoy picnics in the park? Ok, let’s document that! Are checkers your Friday night ritual? Awesome – bring it on! But to set up a bunch of random props “as-if” just feels forced. I do encourage truly personal touches that have sentimentality and add to your story. So if Grandma sewed that gorgeous quilt by hand let’s make sure we get a shot with all of you wrapped up inside. I also love to use the natural surroundings as props. Kids love playing with sticks and leaves. The image of little Hunter peeking through a hole in a leaf the size of his head is one of my favorites to date! Such organic curiosity and playfulness – no artificial setup required.
Remember earlier when I said if you only listen to ONE thing on this list – let it be LIGHT? Well, I lied. The single most important part of an awesome family session is really…an awesome family! So BE awesome! Leave those forced smiles and stiff, awkward poses at home. Come prepared to really engage with, love on, and play with each other during your photoshoot.
My goal for every session is for it to be a time for you all to forget about work. Forget the growing pile of laundry, or even raising well-mannered children!
Trust me, I have seen it all. I am a Mom myself. I am not judging your parenting skills by how your children behave during our session. So just let that all go, and enjoy your 60 minutes of family time. We’re out in a beautiful nature-filled location, with the soft sun kissing our shoulders, and the ones we love most by our sides. What more could you ask for? Is little Johnny being cranky? Well, what’s the easiest way to fix that? His favorite song? A tickle fight? A fart joke? Your children want nothing more than for you to play with them. So if you want them smiling and happy, if you want images that capture the love you all share, then just play together. That goes for the adults too! When was the last time you really flirted with your spouse? Have some fun with them!
The images where you all are laughing and engaged with each other will carry so much more meaning than images where you all have the “perfect” smile plastered on and are looking straight into the camera. So don’t try to “fake” happiness. Just BE happy. And if your kids aren’t happy – that’s ok too. I adore images where a shy child seeks solace in his loving mother’s protective embrace. Or where a sassy “terrible twos” toddler has the most perfect pout! A crying child is a genuine child. These photos are meant to capture this moment in time…so embrace it all. Images where your love is palpable, or where your unique personalities shine through, are the images that you will cherish most in the years to come.