Like many other photographers, I’ve done my share of family portraits. I enjoyed it about 50% of the time and wondered why I was doing it the other 50%. When I was home in front of my computer processing the images I would forget that it was like pulling teeth trying to get everyone to look at the camera, never mind smile.
If I could get the kids laughing I knew it was going to be a fun shoot. I always had candy to give the kids as a reward for being good. The family dog always knew where to look, especially when their doggy treat was on my lens hood or on top of my head.
For family portraits, you can use an entry-level body and still get great results. The one thing you do need is a good-quality lens or two. Your 18-55mm kit lens isn’t comparable to the 2.8 zooms or 1.4 and 1.8 prime lenses.
It doesn’t need to be expensive when you are starting out. Buy a 50mm 1.8 lens for around $150 new, or used for $80 plus. They are excellent lenses and will give you super-sharp photos.
If your camera has a cropped sensor your ideal focal length is 50mm (50 x 1.6 = 80). For full-frame cameras 85mm is perfect.
If you want a zoom lens, then the 24-70mm 2.8 is perfect, but they are expensive. Don’t rule out the 70-200mm 2.8 as a portrait lens, they give amazing results.
My daughter used a 60D Canon which has a cropped sensor. The lenses she had were 50mm 1.8 and 24mm 2.8. She paid $80 for the 50mm and $160 for the 24mm. The 50mm was her main lens, but for large groups, she needed the 24mm.
Consider using a tripod for static posed photos. Your images will be nice and sharp. When the kids are running around go back to hand-holding.
As a portrait photographer, you need a website that lets potential customers see your portfolio and contact you.
You also need to be listed in “Google my Business” for your area. It’s free and puts you at the top of Google search results. To do this just do a Google search for “Google my Business”, then fill in the form.
Facebook is your next place to visit. As a portrait photographer, you need to set up a page for your business. Then you are going to join all the local Facebook Groups related to anything in your area. Make sure you join the conversations on a daily basis. Don’t do any selling at first, just make sure people know you are a photographer. Then after a few weeks post some photos from a shoot and ask which one they prefer. Keep it simple and ask them for help. You’ll get lots of feedback and potential customers.
Oh, make sure you have permission from your customer before posting their images. You’ll need a model release form to be signed. I have some examples you can download in the member’s area. It’s free to sign up.
Posing people gets easier the more you do it. I started off like most photographers, lining a family up in a straight line and capturing a boring image.
Try to stagger heads, both by height and distance from the camera.
If your subjects are standing, get them to bend their legs and arms. Putting a thumb through a belt loop or into a pocket works well.
Instead of standing straight onto the camera, get them to turn their hips 45 degrees. Also, avoid taking photos of the soles of the subject’s shoes.
If your subjects have body issues use poses that flatter them. Shooting from a slightly elevated position can help hide double chins and large noses. Tummies can be hidden behind strategically placed arms.
I posted a video in the Facebook Group of a girl that shows you some simple poses to use. It’s only 3 minutes long but it will definitely improve your posing.
Shooting outdoors can be difficult at times. Direct sunlight can cause lots of problems with shadows. You can lighten the shadows on faces in photoshop but it can be tedious work. When the sky is overcast you have your best opportunity to shoot outside and not be plagued with shadows. The cloud cover acts like a giant softbox and creates even light.
To get rid of the shadows on a sunny day you need to use flash. Off-camera flash is best because you can position it on the side where the shadows are. You’ll be amazed at how good your photos look when you use a flash for an outdoor shoot. The other plus of using flash is you get catchlights in your subject’s eyes.
Try to book your outdoor sessions so that the end of the shoot is at sunset. Shooting a portrait with a sunset backdrop, lit with a flash is a surefire way to impress your customers.
Pricing & Sales
Like with every other photography business you need to offer some free sessions to get images for your portfolio. Once you have a couple of sessions under your belt start charging a small amount. Keep increasing your prices every month until you become profitable. I did a podcast episode on pricing and also a blog post. There is a pricing spreadsheet in the member’s area to help you find your break-even point. Membership is free.
When you are starting out offer digital files. You want to change to offering products, like framed prints, canvases, albums, and books, when you are maybe 3 months in. Always charge a session fee. If they don’t buy your products, you still have some income.
Selling products instead of just the files is the way to go if you want to be profitable.
Now you might have heard of In-Person Sales (IPS). In-Person Sales means you meet with your customers a week or so after the shoot, show them the photos, and sell them products. This isn’t for everyone, I tried it and I felt uncomfortable doing it, and it takes a lot of time and effort to do.
I used to sell through my website using watermarked images in password-protected galleries. They could browse, choose, and pay online. I would always deliver the order myself.
This way of pricing and selling reduces your hours worked and allows you to charge a little less.
Whichever way you decide to go, you need to make sure that you show what you sell on your website. Don’t just post the images, always show the prints framed, on a canvas, or whatever products you sell. Let the customers know what the starting price is for each product on your website.
Doing this will weed out people that just want to pay $100 and get all the image files.
Oh, and keep the prices for the files high. Maybe offer them free if they spend over a certain amount, just don’t offer them at a low price. Your work is valuable.
Family portraits are probably going to be your first step on the photography ladder. It doesn’t mean you have to stop doing it once you try another type of photography. If you enjoy shooting portraits then go for it, there’s lots of money to be made.
Once you start shooting family portraits don’t be surprised when your customers start asking you if you do weddings. Your family portrait skills will be a good fit for weddings, and you will be tempted. Just remember that weddings are like a family portrait session on steroids. Instead of a one-hour shoot, you’re looking at 8-12 hours. Family sessions can be a lot of fun, and once you have developed a framework they can be easy and profitable. So don’t think you have to add another type of photography, family portraits are a great way to make a living.