In 1888, George Eastman released the Kodak #1 camera and gave ordinary people the ability to immortalize life’s most important moments. Family photo albums have been a part of our culture ever since.
More than 130 years after that fateful invention, countless family photos are available to us with the click of a button; you can find millions of them on Instagram alone under popular hashtags like #DocumentYourDays, #LetThemBeLittle, and #ChildhoodUnplugged.
Still, in a world filled with images, we continue to long for family photographs that remind us of the importance of slowing down and spending time with those we love. Trends come and go, but family never goes out of style.
We spoke with Winnie Bruce, a top Licensing Contributor based in Maryland, to get her best tips for creating modern yet timeless images. Read on to learn how she captures priceless pictures that resonate with users around the world.
“I only work with real families.”
Working with families rather than professional models has a few perks. First, it allows you to capture the genuine connections between parents and their children. Beyond that, having the whole family on set helps young kids feel at ease.
“Kids are very in tune with who they’re with, and I know they’re more comfortable and relaxed being with their own family,” Winnie tells us. “To prepare a family for a session, I send them a PDF that they can read through beforehand. In there, I have tips and tricks and a guide of what to expect.”
“I normally don’t do sessions that are less than an hour long.”
When working with a new family, schedule more time than you think you’ll need. Especially when working with children, it’s important to spend a few minutes chatting without the camera present.
“I like getting down to the child’s level and looking at them eye-to-eye,” Winnie says. “I ask them questions like how their day is, what their favorite food is, if they’re doing anything after, etc.”
“For smaller children (18 months and younger), I get silly with them! I ask parents if they have favorites songs, and I play peekaboo with them too. I’m a firm believer that babies can sense if a person likes babies, and they will reciprocate with giggles and smiles.”
“Play is crucial in a successful family session.”
When working with children, follow their lead. Some kids might warm up to you quickly, and others might take time. Let them set the pace, and invite them to teach you their favorite games or introduce you to the family pet. Give them space and freedom to do what they enjoy. “To make it fun, I merely guide them into good light and let them play,” Winnie tells us.
“I encourage clients to have their homes photographed during our sessions.”
Families feel most comfortable in their own homes, especially the little ones. “I feel like children are always so excited to meet new people and show off their own space,” Winnie adds. “They love showing off and goofing off. They bring their own toys out, and as an ice breaker, I ask them to tell me any info they’d like to share about their toys.”
As a bonus, shooting in beautiful interiors can add variety to your portfolio. If you want to submit your photos for Licensing, remember to get a signed property release in addition to your model releases.
“I actually prefer to photograph families when they’re not looking at me.”
Asking adults to smile on the count of three rarely works, let alone children. Instead, take a step back and give the family room to interact. “It feels contrived if all I’m getting are stiff poses,” Winnie continues. “I always aim for authenticity, so I let parents know my goal is to capture the kids’ personality. In particular, I love photographing all the fun faces kids make. It’s honestly part of their persona, and I’d rather capture that than a forced smile. Even with my own kids, I prefer when they don’t look at the camera.”
“There are definitely stages in childhood that don’t last forever, and great photographs freeze those moments.”
Childhood is fleeting. That’s part of what makes family photos so important. Ask your clients to tell you about the unique things their kids are doing at this age. “For example, if in this stage of life they’re making goofy faces, I’d love to capture that,” Winnie tells us.
A child’s day-to-day habits and mannerisms might seem insignificant in the moment, but they’ll be gone in the blink of an eye. Don’t forget to incorporate them into your work. The best pictures are the ones we can look back on and ask ourselves, “Remember when…?”
“Dark and moody lighting is definitely becoming a trend.”
Just because you’re photographing children doesn’t necessarily mean the images have to be bright and cheery. Tap into a child’s imagination and sense of play by using shadows wisely. Experiment with different styles of light to evoke different atmospheres. “I tend to edit somewhere between moody and light and airy,” Winnie explains.
“Close-ups of details (for example, parents holding hands with their children) are also popular.”
When it comes to families, the small things can be just as meaningful as the big picture. Tiny gestures tell universal stories. Notice the way a child grips a parent’s shoulder or how an expectant mother holds her bump. Document everything from morning routines to bedtime rituals, and hone in on the everyday details others might miss.
“Don’t aim for your images to go viral. Share them because you love them.”
If a photo moves you, chances are it will move other people too. Winnie tells us, “What I’ve learned is that the best images, and most shared ones, are the ones that just felt true in the moment, rather than those that were overly planned out.”
Be patient, go with the flow, and stay ready at all times. The perfect opportunity might present itself when you least expect it. Winnie concludes. “If an image is shot with sincerity, that’s what it will convey. I think my images have sold because they’re sincere.”