Portrait of a Family
Most photographers in the early stages of their career start off with subjects that don’t talk back. Interiors, food, and the occasional passive beast who may or may not be amenable to bossing. Up until my recent encounter with a family in Weybridge Surrey, I’d pretty much stuck to inflicting myself on my own kids when it came to family portraits. Thanks to a lovely day with three impressive teenagers, however, I’m now ready to practice a little further afield.
It began with shooting a house that was up for sale, familiar territory which wasn’t posing any particular challenges. I was then asked whether I took family pictures, and without pausing to consider the implications of leaping into the great unknown, I replied that I did. Before long, I was on my way home with an agreement to come back for a session of family portraits.
I returned on a cloudy day and when the rain began, the couch we had hauled outside had to be unceremoniously dragged back in and an alternative venue was chosen. There was a beautifully soft light falling on an easy chair near the window, and that’s where I began to take some formally posed shots.
The difficulty with photographing teenagers is that they tend to be wildly self-conscious. It can be difficult to capture the essence of who they really are when you’re asking them to adopt unfamiliar poses while entreating them to relax. I was somewhat pleased with the images we’d captured, but wanted to try something different.
Moving to the kitchen, I discovered that the sofa beneath a collage of memories was where the family most liked to relax. By asking the teenagers to sit where they habitually felt comfortable, I was able to capture some candid portraits that seemed to reveal far more of their true natures. I also took advantage of the relaxed setting to take individual portrait images, snapped as they chatted or listened to their mum leaning against the kitchen counter. I was particularly taken with the photo of mum and dad, clearly delighted and rightfully proud of their three terrific kids.
I learned a lot that day. Like there’s no point in having a plan unless you have at least one alternative up your sleeve. And the fact that older children, unlike the little ones, aren’t just going to run around happily as you snap their picture. Most importantly, I learned to pay attention to what the subjects themselves can tell a photographer about how best to capture their likeness. If you’re patient, they’ll naturally gravitate to their comfort zone - and that’s where you’ll get the most honest portrait.
I’ll be thinking of that photo-shoot as I grow more confident in family portraiture, lucky to have cut my professional teeth on such a receptive group. I hope that in the years to follow, three young adults will look back on their photos of adolescence and see a spark of who they have become.