How to choose a family photographer

If you're looking for a family portrait photographer then you’ve probably found it hard to choose between one service and another.

I’ll help you understand:

  • The traps and pitfalls you’ll want to avoid

  • The right questions to ask a portrait photographer before booking

  • What a portrait photographer should and should not be doing

  • How to ensure your family portraits turn out more beautiful than you’d ever dared hope.

So, let’s look at the 10 most important things to consider when planning your portrait photography.

1. Where should your photos be taken?

There are three options to choose from, so ask your photographer which service they offer. You can either have the photos taken in your own home, in a studio, or outside. Some photographers will only do one of these locations so it’s well worth asking what they are able to do because there are distinct advantages and drawbacks to all three options.

Photos in a studio: Here the photographer will be able to offer a wider variety of lighting and background set-ups and will also have more space to work with and therefore include more people and more substantial props in the photos. The downside is that your family may not feel as relaxed in a studio, particularly if you have children or pets. A studio is great if you like studio style images and you have a large family group you'd like photographed all at once.

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Family photos in your home

Some photographers are willing to bring their lighting and backdrops to your home where you’ll feel more comfortable. This is what I do (as well as taking photos on location). Children are noticeably more relaxed in their own home and of course you have your whole wardrobe and all your possessions to include in the photos, too.

Having your portraits created at home also means we could forget the backdrops altogether and use your home as the backdrop, which has far more emotional meaning for you than a coloured backdrop.

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Family photos outside

If you like really natural photos, then having your portraits created outside is a wise choice. Ask if the photographer would be happy to go for a walk with you somewhere that’s meaningful to you.

Having your photos outside can sometimes make them more special and unique than studio style photos. The natural world is often more beautiful than any studio set up could ever be. Again, if the location is emotionally important to you then it will add an extra dimension to the image. I’m happy to offer this option at no extra cost – even if you want photos in your home as well!

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2. Is size important?

When you compare a large and a small version of the same photograph there’s no comparison. The detail you can see in a larger photo is mesmerising. Take the photos on this page as an example. Little thumbnails like this don’t convey the texture, vibrancy and detail like an impressive wall portrait.

Displaying your photos at an adequate size can transform a room!

Do you see how in the photograph below the family photographs have enhanced the room. It has become the centrepiece and adds to the decor like a piece of art. 

The trouble with small photographs is that they aren’t large enough for you to enjoy as you go about your day. This is because you’re not able to see the eyes and face clearly and the eyes are the window to the soul. That’s where the spirit of the photo is and if it’s printed too small then the value is lost. It just becomes another thing to dust!

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3. Photoshop or not?

Ask your photographer if they will use Photoshop on your photos. Even if you want natural looking photos, it’s still an important question to ask. This is because even natural looking photos need to have their contrast, colours and sharpening enhanced. 

In fact, even the simple enhancements to your photos can take several hours and if you like some of the creative effects that can be achieved in Photoshop, then that can become extremely time-consuming. When you invest in having family portraits taken, it’s this time, talent, dedication and attention to detail that you’re actually paying for. If you’re quoted a bargain price then it’s often these details that are being skimped on. On larger wall portraits the smallest issue with the image will be magnified greatly, which is why you really need someone who specialises in wall portraiture like I do. 

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4. Is there a time limit?

Look out for how long your portrait session will be. Many photographers will put a time limit on it. It’s hard to guarantee stunning photographs if the clock is ticking. This is because it takes a while for you to relax into the session. If children or animals are involved it can slow things down even more. Imagine if you only have half an hour and your child needs their nappy changing or decides to have a grump for a while… …you’re not left with much leeway for clothing changes or different family groupings either.

I don’t have a time limit on my portrait sessions. I only finish when you’re happy we have captured photos that you’ll love.

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5. Can you take photographs like this…?

Before you speak to a photographer it’s worth searching the internet for some inspiration for the kind of photos you like. You may find that some photographers aren’t able to achieve your desired style. Alternatively you may find that the style you like isn’t on their website, but when you ask them about it they can send you some examples of similar work they have done previously. 

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6. Should you just choose digital files?

The first thing you need to ask yourself is why you want them on a CD. Sometimes it makes perfect sense to have them on CD and other times it’s not the best option.

The pitfalls of only having digital files: If you want to print and frame the photos yourself then you need to consider the following issues. What a lot of people forget when investing in a CD is that the job is only half done. You still need to get the photos printed and if you get them printed on the high street then I’m afraid the quality will be very poor and will deteriorate quickly over the next few years because the inks fade.

Secondly you still need to invest in the photo frames. Once again the high street selection is rather poor and generally not of a high enough quality to grace the photos you’ve had created. Of course the additional cost of printing and framing the photos means that it’s often not cost effective either. And don’t forget the hassle factor of doing everything yourself!

Most people like to have one or two larger framed photos for their lounge and then some smaller ones for gifts and the office. So that’s maybe five framed photos. However, if you have all your photos on CD then you’ll be paying for lots of extra photos that you’re unlikely to ever print or frame. And if they remain stuck on a CD then my experience is that they rarely get looked at and you won’t get the enjoyment from them that you should. I'd rather you invested in one beautiful wall portrait you'll enjoy every day for a lifetime, than 20 images on a CD that will be shut in a draw forever until the CD corrupts.

When should you order digital files? If you’d like to share your photos with friends and family on Facebook then having a low resolution digital file is essential. 

Personally I’m happy to provide digital files, but I always warn my clients of the pitfalls I’ve mentioned.

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7. What should you wear?

Avoid bright colours and dazzling patterns or logos. Everyone in the family group should be coordinated. So if you've decided to wear light, dark or mid-tones then everyone in the photo should have the same tone. If one person is light than everyone else they'll stand out like a cat in a dog kennel.

The texture of denim works well, but if you like something more formal it’s nice to dress up in your ‘going out clothes’, dresses, suits etc. Make sure that the colours you’re going to use will match the spaces in your home where the photos will hang.

V-necks are more flattering and frame the face nicely. I generally advise you wear long sleeves if there will be four or more people in the portrait. This is because we generally have light skin and all that white flesh distracts the eyes of the viewer away from the important parts of the photo - the faces.

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8. Can you meet the photographer first?

This is a biggy! You should always meet your photographer before you book them. Firstly, you need to make sure that the whole family is comfortable with them. Portrait photography is about capturing beautiful emotional moments, so you need to feel happy opening up and feeling relaxed around your chosen photographer. Meeting them first is the only way to be sure they’re right for you.

Meeting the photographer before the session also means you can see the frames and albums they use. It’s absolutely impossible to assess the quality of these products on the internet – you have to get your hands on them, otherwise you have no idea what you’re paying for. 

In addition, the photographer will get to learn more about you too and that will help them take better photos and in a style that you like. Building rapport with the photographer really helps create a successful portfolio, so any photographer who is prepared to take the time to meet you before the photography session clearly want to provide you with the best possible product.

You can also discuss your preferred style and your ideal locations.

Guess what – I always meet my clients first! Not only that but I'll scout the location for the portrait before the day of the session. That way I know where the light will be coming from and where the best compositions will be to help everyone look their very best.

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9. Are there any guarantees?

Buying family portraits is a significant investment, so you want to be sure you’re going to love the results. Ask the photographer if they offer a money-back guarantee. If so, you can be confident that you’re investment isn’t at risk. If they won’t guarantee their work then they’re obviously not confident in their ability.

I offer a no quibble guarantee on all my photography. If you don't LOVE your portraits then I don't deserve to be paid - it's as simple as that. I hear too many horror stories about photographers who get out of their depth and my guarantee is my way of standing out from the crowd.

10. Let kids be kids!

During the session, don’t try to force children and pets into doing anything. Very gentle coaxing is ok, but generally it’s best to leave the photographer to do it. This is because as soon as you start to talk, the child or pet will look at you and not the photographer. In addition, if you’re in the photo too then you won’t be ready for the photo either.

So, just relax and let things happen naturally. A good photographer who doesn’t work to strict time limits will be able to get beautiful photos in almost any situation.

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A final word

The most important thing in your life is your family. If you have a baby then your heart aches when they’re not with you. Kids also grow up very fast and memories fade. When your children leave for university or move out of the family home then having a beautiful collection of professional family photographs will be your most prized possession. 

For family photography I cover Cambridgeshire and some of the surrounding counties, so please contact me now on 0792 358 3658 or email to find out more.