The Impossible Family Portrait
As a global working family for 18 years, with four children we have needed a respectable family photo at regular intervals. Even though we prefer a friend taking an informal photo over a stuffy studio portrait, it can still be a stressful, divisive time. From our experience as “veteran” family picture takers here are a few suggestions:
Timing—Plan ahead for your photo shoot, allowing enough time. Recently we tried to take a picture before a big church event. People were milling around distracting the kids and we were tense about getting it done quickly. Needless to say, we wasted our time and film. Our teenagers also deserve fair warning of day and time.
Setting—Consider a backdrop that says something about your family. Since we live in South America, we once took our picture in front of an adobe house with red roof tiles. Another global working family wanted to communicate that they were city global workers so took a picture with tall buildings in the background.
Props—Added equipment speaks volumes about your family. Friends took their photo on the motorcycle they rode through Central America. A teacher could surround herself with a blackboard, desk and books.
Wardrobe—The suits and ties of my childhood family portraits have given way to more everyday clothing. We’ve found it best to discuss with each child what he will wear, coming to a bi-generational agreement. I set these clothes aside so they are clean and ready on the big day.
Blocking—Ever have a picture where Billy’s feet look like they belong to a giant and Mom looks positively withered on that low stool? Take a good look at how you position people. Try to use various levels and depths. Get a friend with an artistic eye to arrange you. Mom and/or Dad should step out of the arrangement to take a look, too. A chair or two, a jungle gym, or a gnarled tree can help break up rigid lines.
The Bribe—We admit it, we bribe our kids to cooperate. Usually it is an ice cream sundae. When cheek muscles start to constrict and tempers wear thin, we just murmur through frozen smiles, “Remember, ice cream!”
Film—Use lots. We generally go through two rolls and even then come up with only a couple pictures we can use. (The outtakes can be used for Great Aunt Matilda and others.)
Don’t stress. It’s only a picture. If it’s really bad, you can take another set another day. Besides, my mom claims that her favorite from my childhood is the one where my little brother stealthily combed his hair like Hitler.