Tuesday, August 15, 2017


In Part-1 I talked a lot about the ideal outdoor location. I said, “Know Your Locations!” You must know how to use them and when to use them. Knowing this helps you be not only creative, but efficient on your session because when you’re doing portraits of families with children the clock is ticking.  I’ve found that about an hour is all I’ve got to do the complete family portrait before the kids melt down!

So, here’s my procedure for a complete family session in an hour…or less…
  1. Always start with the largest group set-up especially if there are small children involved.
  2. Do the largest group set-up in at least one other spot within your location.  Make it look different—a change of background and a different pose. If you give them a choice sales are usually better.
  3. Show them the results of each set-up. The back of your camera is step one in the sales process. If your camera can’t produce a gorgeous jpeg image on its back screen—get a camera that will and/or get control of your exposure and white balance.
  4. Always do a Custom White Balance! I’ve placed them in the shade, so the color temperature is very cool there compared to the background with its warm, setting sun, back light.  I use the Last-o-Lite, 20”, collapsable unit. Its grey with a white target (so your auto-focus will lock on to it) and in a pinch it can be a gobo.
  5. With Kathi, my wife, as my assistant we are usually doing two things at once to speed-up the portrait process.  eg. While Kathi is setting up the pose( seating people on our posing rocks or what ever the location provides) I’m doing the custom white balance. I usually have one of the kids hold the Last-o-Lite (getting them involved!) in front of their face saying, “Now for this photo you don’t have to smile!”
  6. I’m also placing my tripod at this time (always use a tripod on group portraits!) deciding on my focal length and f-stop.  
  7. While Kathi is fine tuning the group pose I focus on the face of the nearest person to my camera. I use auto-focus and then switch to Manual Focus Mode on the lens to Lock Focus. Then I do a test exposure of the group—zooming in on my camera’s rear screen to check the closest and farthest face for sharpness. I also turn the image stabilizer OFF on the lens while on the tripod. 
Here’s a nice pose using two of our posing rocks to make a nice pyramid of this family group…

f7.1 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 400; Lens at 112mm
This was taken at one of my ideal locations where the sun is setting behind them and there are several trees at camera left blocking the sky light (acting as a Gobo—using Subtractive Lighting)  At camera right I have a nice Large piece of sky (the sky is my soft box!) as the Key Light.
Two things are needed to make this work: 

  1. When I use the location; this was done two-hours before sunset.  Usually I’m doing portraits closer to one-hour before sunset, but in this location there is a mountain behind them that totally blocks the sun—killing my backlight—at my usual start time.  This is why you must know your location.
  2. Where I place my group; This is absolutely critical!  Remember the maxim taught by the great Leon Kennamer, “TheLight is at the Edge of the Forrest.” (see Part-1) With that always in my mind I know that I can’t place a group directly under the tree’s canopy (I’m not wanting total shade—that just gives me Flat Light, Yuck!). So, I place them at the front edge of the canopy so that I can see the sky light on All their faces creating nice directional lighting—with shadows! This is True Natural Light Portraiture.

NOTE:  Being locked down on a tripod fixes my distance thus keeping the perspective the same because my focal length is now, fixed as well.  This makes it really easy for Kathi when she does the inevitable head swaps later.  Here’s my portrait rig….

  My workhorse Canon 5D MKII with the best portrait lens made, the 70-200mm f2.8, on my Bogen tripod with grip-arm and flag over the lens to block lens flare. The Last-o-Lite—white balance and gobo is always with me.

Back to my procedures List…

    8) Before I start doing any photography I walk up to the family and say, “Please, I want all adults here to keep your eyes at my camera.  Yeah, you’re thinking what’s so hard about that? No, what you’re going to do like all parents is look down to check on the kids—this is a nearly irresistible urge that all parents have! And that urge ruins more photos than whatever your kids are doing. So, during my set of exposures I’m watching your kids faces—not yours.  So, no matter what horrible things you imagine your kids are doing—keep your eyes looking at me!”
    9) Meanwhile, as I go back to the camera, Kathi usually finesses their pose; doing final hand placements and keeping heads apart so no two heads are stacked over each other; maybe adjusting one of the gals hair.  Then she gets out our squeaker toy and gets silly while I start my exposures.
  10) After we’ve done this in a couple or three spots I do a group portrait of just the kids. 
Important: I have the parents stand back by me, at the camera, for these images and ask for their assistance. Otherwise, if I allow the parents to stand off to the side usually closer to their kids than I am, the kids will look at them, as they take pictures with their cameras, instead of looking at me.  With the parents at my camera position, which is usually farther away (I like to use my lens at 135-150mm for group portraits) their kids are looking at MY camera and the images the parents may get with their cameras wide angle lens are of a tiny, little, group far away!

A nice children’s group portrait….
 f8.0 @ 1/180 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 126mm

This is a great example of a parent following our clothing consultation guidelines (see Part-2). Because she had them in SOLID Colors (no stripes or patterns)—in this case shades of blue—the colors translated nicely into sheds of grey for my B&W conversion. This way your eyes go to their faces in the portrait. And, hats off to Kathi for this marvelous pose!  Its really hard to get kids to even touch—and with all their heads close together. They have really nice hand placement as well; Nice.
   11) Finally, I do individual portraits of the kids. These are always money makers because I make these images look totally different than the group portraits. That’s because now I can use the best feature of my Zoom Lens—Max-Telephoto at 200mm. This is where (with a nice wide aperture) I blur out that back-lit, warm, background, creating some nice bokeh and really isolate my subject.

Like this…
 f4.5@ 1/400 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
Look at that gorgeous lighting on this boy. It’s all about subject placement and the right time of day. Why would any photographer think they could improve on true natural lighting by adding a reflector or worse flash, into a scene like this!  This is why Subtractive Natural Light will always look better than any type of additive lighting when outdoors. At this point in the session I’m hand holding my camera, which is easy because I’ve opened up the aperture allowing me to use a higher shutter speed at either my usual ISO 400 or ISO 800 in this image. This lens has an excellent stabilizer as well, so I can go slower than 1/200 sec., at 200mm if I want to.
   12) We’re done, usually within an hour on location, so now we reward all the kids with my favorite candy, Tootsie Pops (Please remember to ask parents if it’s OK in advance). I always bring lots of flavor choices and let them pick their own.  Sometimes Mom and Dad partake as well.  While I’m doing the candy handout Kathi is talking to the parents and consulting each others calendars to set-up their family portrait premier and ordering appointment.

I hope this guide will help those of you who really want to improve your professional technique, produce outstanding family portraits, and make better sales!

’Til next week….

Author:  Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman
Training site: http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com
Client site:  http://www.TheStorytellersUsa.com

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