5 Steps to the Best Family Pictures EVER!

Wonderful family pictures are an investment in time and money.  If you are going to do it, do it right!  Here are a few tips I have gathered through ten plus years of photographing families.  I hope they help!

Step #1:     Decide Where You Want to Display Your Images

  • Take note of the room’s color scheme and style.  Your images will look best if they match.  If you have soft pastel colors and an elegant decor then bright colored clothing and a gritty urban setting isn’t the best choice and vice versa.
  • How much space do you have to fill?  Are you looking for a single wall portrait or a grouping of several images together?  Does your main image need to be horizontal or vertical?  These are all questions to think of before you take your images whether you are doing it yourself or hiring a professional.
  • What style of finished product are you looking for, a traditional framed print or a more modern gallery wrap etc.?  With gallery wraps there needs to be more empty space around the family to allow for the image to wrap around the edges.  Wording or blank space can be used but it’s nice to know going into a shoot what you have in mind.

Step #2:     Decide Where and When to Take Your Images

  • Once you have decided where you want to display your images you can choose a location where the color and style will match your room.  If you have pastel decor perhaps you would like a meadow with wildflowers.  If you are traditional perhaps a studio setting with a basic background would do best.  Do you like more modern looks?  Then an urban location may be perfect for you.  Keep in mind you can also go black and white or sepia (like black and white but with a old-fashioned brownish cast) with your images.
  • Choose a location that means something to you.  Do you love the beach or the mountains?  Do you have horses or vintage cars or all love soccer.  Bring your personalities into your pictures, you will like them more!
  • Do you have young children.  Choose a time when they won’t be tired.
  • As a general rule late afternoon/evening has the prettiest light.  Depending on the location I try to schedule shoots to start about one half hour before the sun sets.  A half hour before sun rise works too but most people don’t want to get up that early.

Step #3:   What Should You Wear?

  • Having a color scheme works better than a single color.  It is much easier to say “fall colors” than “everyone wear brown”.  You would be surprised how many different shades of brown there are and sometimes they just don’t mesh together.  Some ideas that I like are fall colors, spring colors, bright primary colors, black and white, denim and white, white and khaki,  Americana, nautical (khaki, white, and blues), or black and white with an extra accent color.  If you have a large extended family and can’t get together to check outfits try gathering paint chips from a local Home Improvement Store so that everyone has a clear idea of what you are visualizing.
  • You want the viewer’s focus to be on the faces so as a general rule think longer sleeves and pants.  Knees are especially unattractive.
  • Watch the shoes.  Now it depends on the look you are going for but I’ve had it happen before that there is a wonderful semi-formal family portrait  and because your eye tends to be drawn to the brightest spot all you can see is the kid’s big white sneakers.  Meh!
  • Little girls are so cute in skirts but bear in mind that if you are wanting really playful images of them in a fun location that you will struggle with keeping everything covered that needs to be covered.
  • Stay away from trendy or matchy-matchy.  We all remember the matching plaid shirts of the 90’s.  Family portraits are an investment so it’s nice if they can stand the test of time and that you won’t cringe when you look at them in ten years.
  • Solid colors are safest!  Stay away from loud patterns.  Once again we want the viewers to focus on the faces.  Also, stripes+plaids+florals+polka dots= a big ‘ol mess.  Final thought for you ladies…patterns make you look larger.  That being said you need to match the look you are going for so if you want to break the rules, by all means do so, but know why.  I love little girls in crazy mismatched bright colors, the colors hold the outfit together and the look is super fun and playful.  Also I personally wanted a gritty urban look for my last family pictures so we did black and white and I purposely put two of my kids in black and white stripes.
  • Lighter looks bigger, darker looks smaller.  So if you want either your top or bottom to appear slimmer, wear a darker color there.
  • Wear something that you are comfortable in and that makes you feel attractive.  It will show in the image…it’s like magic.

Step #4:  Have a Plan for the Big Day.

  • Write down a list of all the breakdowns that you want i.e. boys together, girls together, grandparents with grandkids,  siblings together.  IF YOU DON”T YOU WILL FORGET SOMETHING AND THEN YOU WILL BE SAD!
  • Decide what the most important image is and take it first!  If the whole family together is the most important start with that and then take whatever images involve the smallest children next so that they can be done.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to get ready so that you are not rushed and stressed.
  • Keep things as positive as possible.  If you have a miserable experience then that is what you will remember every time you look at your images.  Definitely NOT what you want.
  • Bribery is awesome but be careful what you are bribing with.  Gooey chocolate is just asking for trouble.  To be honest I always start weeks ahead telling my kids (and husband) how important taking our pictures is to me and how if we can all have good attitudes and cooperate we will be done faster and then go to somewhere like McDonald’s after.  We also practice our smiling off and on in the weeks leading up to our shoot.
  • Bring a bag of necessities.  Hairspray, combs, band aids, mosquito repellent (from experience), water, snacks, anything in the world you can think of that may be needed.
  • Know when to say when.

Step #5:  Get Your images Up on the Wall!!

  • The photographs of your beloved family will bring you so much joy, don’t drop the ball and leave them on a disc in a box that may or may not be in a drawer somewhere, get them printed and on display!
  • You can use ready made frames or have your images professionally framed for you.
  • When hanging my images I cut out pieces of paper the same size as my finished images and gently tape them to the wall.  I adjust the papers until I get everything just right then hammer a nail through the paper in the right spot, peel off the paper and hang my photographs.  I do this EVERY time.  It works great!
  • Finally sit back with a beverage and a snack and enjoy all of your hard work, you deserve it!

Tips for a Show-Stoppin’ Headshot

I recently ran a Headshot special for all my theatrically-minded friends and I got a lot of questions on hair, make-up, and apparel so here is  a post on headshot info/tips with the hope of being helpful to those who have questions in the future as I intend to make this special a yearly event.

What to Wear?

When we look at a picture our eyes tend to be drawn to the lightest spot or the area with the greatest light/dark contrast (usually the same thing).  What we want in a headshot is for the viewers eyes to be drawn first to the subject’s eyes.  Ideally the whites of the eyes against the pupils/lashes/eyebrows will create the greatest contrast and make our eyes want to look directly there first with our secondary area of attention being the persons mouth.  I tell people to wear dark solid colors (never, never, NEVER loud patterns).  This insures that your face will be lighter and more attention grabbing than what you are wearing.

Black is my favorite color for people to wear as it looks especially nice when converted to black and white but any dark color will do.  In California people often give a color headshot but in Utah black and white is more common.  I also like to think in terms of how a headshot will look in a program and they are almost always printed in black and white (even on Broadway).  If you are taking your own or having a friend do it for you please remember to try to make your background be as plain as possible.  Having objects growing out of your head is distracting and frankly looks unprofessional.  I study programs every time I go to an event and I really feel that the best headshots have either plain white/light grey backgrounds or are cropped so that you don’t see any background behind the person at all.  If you are looking for press kit pictures then I do like to have more environment showing but be careful that it is not distracting.

I do like a little subtle detailing at the neck.  Just a little somethin’ somethin’  but not too much to be distracting.  For gentlemen I think either a collar or a sliver of white shirt under a darker overshirt or sweater looks best.  Never a T-shirt by itself.  Guys should look classy and masculine.

Ladies, for make-up think a little darker than normal day wear.  You want eyeliner and mascara to make your eyes pop and lipstick to draw attention to your smile.  Blush to define your cheekbones is also nice.  If you have only a light lip gloss your lips will look the same shade of grey as your skin when you convert the image to black and white so a darker lip color works best.  However you still want to look like yourself so don’t go too overboard with your make-up.  Remember we are just trying to pull the attention first to the eyes and secondly to the mouth.

Last of all be careful of how you convert your images from color to black and white.

This is me and I’m not the best example because I have dark hair and naturally pale skin but I was afraid I would hurt someone’s feelings if I used them.  Even here you can see from the middle picture that if you just take out the saturation you get a whole lot of boring grey and it’s much much worse for those who have say, sandy blond/ light brown hair and tan skin. The picture on the right has been altered through levels and curves in Photoshop. At the very least you can bump up your contrast which even the most basic in store or online printing services will let you do.  Of course ideally you will have a professional help you.  When walking into an audition it really is so important to put your best foot (or face) forward!

Photo Groupings {Utah Family Photography}

I recently had the opportunity to photograph the family of a good friend of mine from high school who now lives out of state. I was telling her about ideas for photo groupings for her family pictures and as she had to go back home and was unable to come to my house to see some of mine I told her I would send her some pictures…I figured a blog post would be even better so that more people could see what I was talking about.

See how lonely and sad this family picture looks, all by itself, above my couch? Now, this isn’t a small print. It’s a 20X30 inch Gallery wrap and I absolutely adore it. But even though it is a large print it just doesn’t look right all by itself. There is way too much empty space!

Doesn’t this grouping of pictures look a lot better? The space above the couch is nicely filled with plenty of room on the sides for reading tables and lamps or whatever you would choose to put there. FYI the smaller prints are 8X10 inch gallery wraps, but of course framed prints will work equally well.

My secret for hanging prints is to cut paper into the sizes that I think I might want and then carefully tape the paper on the wall, moving the “pictures” around until I get the arrangement that I am looking for. In the grouping above I didn’t have any idea of the sizes I would need until I saw how the papers looked on the wall. Another added benefit to this method is that once you have everything exactly where you want you can hammer the nails into the wall through the paper and then just pull the paper away. It works a lot better than trying to hang by eye and you have a lot less nail holes in your wall. I do this EVERY time I am working on a new wall in my home.

Another tip for hanging pictures is that they should be hung so that the middle of the picture is at the eye level of an average sized women. In the case of a grouping I would place the main center picture at eye level or in the case where you have rows put the middle row at eye level or the middle of the entire formation at eye level. It is very common for people to hang artwork too high, especially in homes with tall ceilings. Hopefully these tips can help.

I love to have art on my walls and I consider portraits of my family to be the best kind of art. I stare at them every single day and they bring me great joy. With just a little time and planning you can have beautiful groupings of family art on your walls. Much better than a few pretty 4X6’s shoved in a shoebox somewhere! Good luck and don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

Repost (with permission) of a great article about the cost of Professional Photography.

Why are Professional Photographers so expensive?
This article has been very well received by the photography community, and is published in the December 2009 edition of Professional Photographer Magazine.

In this digital age where everyone has cameras, scanners, and home “photo printers,” we hear this all the time: How do professional (or personal) photographers charge $X for an 8×10 when they cost just $1.50 at the drugstore? Simply put, the customer is not just paying for the actual photograph; they’re paying for time and expertise.

The average one-hour portrait session

First, let’s look at the actual work involved:

  • Travel to the session
  • Setup, preparation, talking to the client, etc.
  • Shoot the photos
  • Travel from the session
  • Load images onto a computer
  • Back up the files on an external drive
  • 2 – 4 hours of Adobe® Photoshop® time, including cropping, contrast, color, sharpening, and backing up edited photographs. Proof photos are also ordered.
  • 2 – 3 hours to talk to the client, answer questions, receive order and payment, order their prints, receive and verify prints, package prints, schedule shipment, and ship.
  • Possibly meet clients at the studio to review photos and place order. Meeting and travel time average 2 hours.

You can see how a one-hour session easily turns into an eight-hour day or more from start to finish. So when you see a personal photographer charging a $200 session fee for a one-hour photo shoot, the client is NOT paying them $200 per hour.

The eight-hour wedding

A wedding photographer typically meets with the bride and groom several times before and after the wedding. And it’s not uncommon to end up with 1,000 – 2,000 photos, much more than a portrait session. Many photographers spend 40-60 hours working on one eight-hour wedding if you look at the time that is truly involved. Again, when a wedding photographer charges $4,000 for eight hours of coverage, clients are NOT paying them $500 an hour!

(Don’t forget that the photographer runs the wedding day to some extent. A comfortable, confident wedding photographer can make a wedding day go more smoothly.)

The expertise and cost of doing business

Shooting professional photography is a skill acquired through years of experience. Even though a DSLR now costs under $1,000, taking professional portraits involves much more than a nice camera.

Most personal photographers take years to go from buying their first camera to making money with photography. In addition to learning how to use the camera, there is a mountain of other equipment and software programs used to edit and print photographs, run a website, etc. And don’t forget backdrops, props, rent, utilities, insurance, etc!

In addition to the financial investment, photographers actually have to have people skills to make subjects comfortable in front of the camera. Posing people to look their best is a skill by itself. You could argue that posing is a more important skill than actually knowing how to use the camera. A poorly exposed photo can be saved, but a badly posed photo cannot.

The chain store photo studio

Chain stores do have their place. For a very cheap price you can run in, shoot some quick photos, and be done with it. But you get what you pay for.

Consider the time and effort that a personal photographer puts into photographs, compared to a chain store. Store sessions last just a few minutes, while a personal photographer takes the time to get to know the people, makes them comfortable, makes them laugh. If a baby is crying at a chain store, they often don’t have the time (or the patience) to wait because everyone is in a hurry.

The truth is that many chain store studios lose money. In fact, Wal-Mart closed 500 of their portrait studios in 2007 because of the financial drain. What the chain stores bank on is a client coming in for quick, cheap photos…and while there, spending $200 on other items. They are there to get you in the door.

The real deal

Professional, personal photographers are just that—professionals. No different than a mechanic, dentist, doctor, or electrician. But a personal photographer often becomes a friend, someone who documents a family for generations with professional, personal photographs of cherished memories.

Maybe we need to help clients look at it this way: A pair of scissors costs $1.50 at the drugstore. Still, most people will gladly pay a lot more to hire a professional hair dresser to cut their hair.

The added attention and quality that a personal photographer gives is worth every penny.


We hope that those who have taken the time to read this page will have a better understanding of why professional photographs, created by a Personal Photographer are so expensive.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Shawn, Pamela and Gavin Richter – cofphoto@aol.com

Our website – Caught on Film Photography

Our photography fourm – Learning Digital Photography Together