A Perfect Family Portrait

You Don’t Need A Perfect Family For A Perfect Family Portrait

Any idea how many pictures you have on your phone or on your computer? How often do you look at them? Most of us have hundreds of photographs of our family that chart growth on development, but how many can qualify as a perfect family portrait?

It’s great to snap away while your kids are small; once mine got bigger they stopped being quite so co-operative. Now I tell myself that one day I’ll sort through the folders and folders of photos lurking in every corner and crevice of my computer’s hard-drives. If not during the long winter nights then I’ll do it when I retire. Of course going through old pictures of your family is a sheer delight, a luxuriant bathe in nostalgia. “Oh look at this picture.” I’ll say to my daughter. “That’s a picture of you when you were nice.” And she’ll reply; “You should remember who’ll be choosing your nursing home in a few years!” If we take enough, we’re bound to get some good pictures. Surely?
Just occasionally it’s worth investing a little more time to get a really special portrait of your family. It can be a lovely present for grandparents, or a picture of the kids with the grandparents for mum on Mother’s Day or dad on Father’s day can make great presents for your partner. They’ll all love it, they have to!

So how to get that special picture? It’s got to be more than just clicking away for longer. Firstly, make everyone aware that it’s important to you and get their co-operation. Bribery, blackmail and coercion are the most useful tools. Plan it for some time ahead so no one has to change a plan they’ve made to go to the skate-park or out with a boyfriend. Remind everyone of how much the picture will be appreciated by mum/dad/grandparents. Think carefully about where and when to stage the portrait. Do it in the daytime to take advantage of natural light. 

Beware that direct sunlight will look horrible with strong contrast and shadows. Positioning people in or near a north or east facing window will give a lovely soft light that still shows the shapes and textures. Try to include things like photographs of late relatives, souvenirs from holidays, odd bits of sports or hobby equipment or anything that represents your lives. These are the touches that will make the picture much more meaningful and poignant as the years pass.

If you’re to be in the picture yourself, you’ll need a camera with a shutter time delay or a remote control. A tripod is useful but you can balance the camera on a chair, table or even a stepladder. You could set up the shot and then get your daughter’s boyfriend to press the button; it’s a good excuse to leave him out of the picture! Compose the picture with care so that everyone can be seen and be in focus. The more natural the shot looks the better, and you can overcome some of the awkwardness by getting everyone to play the family’s favourite board game. Keep everyone in position for as long as possible; as they get bored they’ll stop posing for the camera, then as conversations start and niggles begin to reveal themselves you’ll get photographs that look much more real. The portrait will show everyone interacting with each other and being a family. Of course small children won’t keep still for very long, so best to just let them move around, they’ll add some spontaneity and help distract everyone from the camera. The important thing is to keep shooting so you’ve got lots of shots to choose from, and save the bad shots for blackmail next time!

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