I AM A FAMILY PORTRAIT (26.09.2012)
We have all been the victim of a bad family portrait, which is still proudly and prominently displayed in our family home. Considering how important these pictures are, we need to like the final result.
Families have always featured heavily in our photos. Although the subject might not have changed, the styles of our family shots have definitely evolved and there are lots of different styles to experiment with.
Nikon has worked with expert family photographer, Robert Simpson, to identify the most popular family portrait trends of today – from the celebrity-influenced “red carpet” and magazine inspired shots to the more traditional studio and reportage images.
Sparing you from the agony of a bad family portrait on your mantelpiece for years to come, Robert has also provided helpful advice on how you can create your own beautiful family photography with Nikon’s entry-level DSLR camera, the D3200.
Red Carpet Family
The “Red Carpet Family” style has evolved as more celebrity families, like the Beckhams and Will Smith and his children, attend VIP events with the aim of conveying family unity through the photos.
The elements of successful ‘red carpet’ portraits can be applied to families arriving at a wedding, christening or birthday party, for example, and the style is easy to achieve:
- Shoot against an uncluttered or fairly neutral background that makes your family the centre of attention
- A common dress theme, whether smart or casual and a physical connection, such as arms wrapped around bodies or hands on shoulders, help to unify and bring together the composition
- Use the Nikon D3200’s built-in flash to add sparkle to the shot and to gently lift shadows under the eyes
- Encourage each family member to engage with the camera. A warm or animated smile always helps to make these pictures come alive
La Grande Famille
Even if you all live in the same town it can be difficult to get families together, so when you do, it is a great opportunity to record the moment. However, it is easier said than done. In your mind you might see an image of your family having fun and looking natural, yet the reality turns out looking formal or poorly structured, with your brother and sister squinting in the sunlight.
Thankfully there are some key principles in achieving a great result:
- Try to avoid the football team composition – use chairs, benches, stools and steps to generate differing poses, body angles and space between your family members to create interest in the shot
- If props are unavailable, try arranging your group into a triangular shape in height order – with either the tallest or the shortest in the middle. Position those on the outside slightly closer to the camera than those in the centre
- When outdoors on a sunny day, try to compose your group in open shade and not in direct sunlight which causes harsh shadows and squinting faces
- If all of the group can see the camera, then all of their faces should clearly be in the shot. It is worth scanning the whole group first though, to check this is the case
- Ideally, attach the camera to a tripod to give you the peace of mind that all of your shots are beautifully framed so that you can concentrate on capturing expressions. If you want to be in the shot too it is possible to operate the Nikon D3200 remotely via your Android device
- British Royal photographer, Patrick Lichfield, had a great trick, which he used during the wedding of The Prince and Princess of Wales. He kept a whistle in his pocket and when he blew it, he captured the surprised looks of guests in the big group portraits followed by their laughter
Reportage photography has never been more popular than it is today. As new cameras like the Nikon D3200 are light and compact, you are more likely to have it on you to capture everyday moments.
To create your own reportage shots:
- Always take your camera with you when you go out and have it nearby at home to capture those all important moments. Over time, the more you use a camera around the family the less aware they are of having their picture taken
- Take advantage of different situations – holidays and excursions often bring out fun and spontaneity providing many picture opportunities
- If you do not want your family to be so aware that you are taking a picture, the Quiet mode on the Nikon D3200 can be very useful. This also sets the camera’s audible beep sound to ‘off’ so that it is not a distraction, if you are trying to photograph your family more discreetly
- Always keep a spare charged camera battery and memory card to hand as it is very annoying if either run out
- Try varying the camera’s viewpoints. Shots from eye level, waist level (kneeling down), lying on the ground and shooting from an elevated position all produce a different look, feel, perspective and dynamic to the photographs
Celebrity Magazine Family
Celebrity ‘at home’ picture stories, which heavily feature in lifestyle magazines depict posed scenes of family intimacy. These pictures have a unique style. On the one hand the images are relaxed, casual and often animated in expression. The celebrities are clearly interacting with the lens and the photographer and thereby engaging the reader too, pulling them into their world albeit for fleeting moments. On the other hand these casual looking pictures mask what is often a carefully styled and directed production. To achieve your own magazine style shot:
- Suggest poses that closely link your family together creating one complete form and shape, such as children and parents huddled together while lying outstretched on the bed or on a beach
- Celebrities usually wear outfits that blend in with the surroundings or make a bold statement that contrasts with the location in design and colour, so encourage your family to do the same
- Try to have as much separation as possible between your subjects and the background for a more dynamic feel to the shot
- Choose the right furnishings and room settings – magazine set-ups and styling typically add flavour to the photographs but do not detract from the subject
- Use props to create an artistic pose. A camera viewpoint looking slightly down towards your family can help produce flattering results, so seated pictures often work well. Soft deep sofas are not as good as this encourages your subjects to sink and slouch back away from the camera, instead of engaging with the lens
Over the past decades we have become a much more relaxed society and this is reflected in our huge appetite for animated family pictures that are full of life and personality. Often poses for such pictures are discussed and choreographed, but within each set-up more spontaneity and movement is encouraged and developed than would have occurred with the more traditional static studio poses. The end result is more natural and fun. Typically a white lit background and studio floor is used which works particularly well for the following reasons:
- The final images look very strong whether in colour or black and white
- Darker clothing against the white background provides a pleasing contrast in the pictures. Lighter clothing for half-length or floor shots melts away into the white background placing all the emphasis on the subject’s face and expressions
- The white floor offers better lighting for a fresh and natural look
If you want to create your own studio-like shot, try the following:
- Have fun being more creative when positioning your family members while also looking for shape and composition
- Have an animated conversation with your family to bring out their laughter and expression
- Choose an uncluttered or uniformed background. If available, a conservatory is a fabulous place to create a studio. A large white bed sheet or black velvet material could be hung behind the subjects to help get the background right and place the emphasis of the shot on your family
There are many different styles of family portraits so you should not be afraid to experiment and find the one that you and your family like the best. Advances in digital photography have made it even easier for us to try out different techniques and cameras like the Nikon D3200 now guide us through the process of getting the right shot that all the family will enjoy.
Robert Simpson Biography
Robert Simpson is a renowned family portrait and reportage photographer. He has photographed the British Royal Family on numerous occasions including HM The Queen of England’s 80th birthday party in 2006 and a Diamond Jubilee luncheon for Sovereign Monarchs in May 2012. He was also involved with the photography at the wedding of HRH Prince William and Kate Middleton at Buckingham Palace last year.
He has worked in various countries around the world where he has had the privilege of photographing, amongst many others, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Sir Michael Caine, Thandie Newton, Bryan Adams, Sir Elton John as well as members of the Brunei Royal Family.