Family homes provide a multitude of possible backgrounds and framing opportunities for wonderful photographs. But it’s easy to end up with cluttered-looking shots if you get the background wrong. Choosing your location carefully can make all the difference.
Here are my top tips for different shooting scenarios.
Posed group portrait
For a formal studio feel, look for a wall near a window for the family to stand against. Bear in mind that families will usually be happy to take pictures down to create a blank canvas, and you can easily Photoshop out picture hooks.
Consider showing more of the family home – by using the architecture and decor to frame the family, you can give a sense of their home environment which is very emotive. This can be a great way to make the portraits individual to each family, and to show clients feel you’ve really thought about them and their home.
The garden offers a good spot for a gently posed family portrait too. There’ll be more light, so if you’re using natural light this will mean not having to use such a high ISO. Being outdoors can also give a more relaxed feel to the photographs, and might well offer more natural spots for children to sit for a group portrait. Look for foliage to use as a simple backdrop, or if the space is tight, use the architecture of the garden as part of the composition (as with the fences in the photograph below).
Family interacting naturally
Look for activities that they can all engage in and find locations to suit them. The sofa gives the opportunity for a family to gather together, or train sets work well to have everyone leaning in playing with the same toy. Ask clients before you arrive which activities they enjoy doing as a family, so you can have these ideas in mind as you look around their home for potential locations.
The garden or roof terrace can be a great spot for photographing children enjoying being high up on their parents’ shoulders, or being swung in the air.
Being outdoors can also help parents relax, so it can be great way to photograph parents interacting with children without them feeling awkward – look around their garden to see what toys or activities are already to hand, and suggest a game!
Individual child portraits
Children’s bedrooms: children will love showing you their room and their toys, so this can be a wonderful place to photograph them at their most relaxed and excitable. Look for viewpoints at their eye level – shooting through their toys can be very effective and make for surprising portraits.
The parents’ bed works well as a place to photograph siblings together. There’s always something irresistibly exciting about jumping on your parents’ bed, so you’ll be able to capture wonderfully cheeky expressions.
Having somewhere for siblings to sit together can help to keep them in the same place without them feeling plonked down for a photograph: look for a garden bench or a step. Armchairs make a great spot for sitting children, as the chair will frame them and also give a sense of scale – making the children look even smaller and cuter!
The parents’ bed gives you a large area to work within that is comfortable and safe. Using a few different blankets gives variety, or just use the bedding for that lovely family feeling of lazy mornings in bed together. Position the baby so the light from a window will fall on them, and make sure the room is nice and warm. You may want to pre-warn the family as new parents might not see having ultra clean sheets as their number one priority in the first ten days!
Before the shoot, it’s a good idea to look up the location to see what’s nearby in terms of parks and open spaces, and also to think about where the best light will be.
Having a quick scout around the house soon after arriving will help you to get a sense of the most promising rooms – but be guided by the family as they’ll know their house best, and which locations will be most evocative for them in years to come. While eclectic or highly personalized decor can present some challenges, it can usually enhance, rather than detract from, the eventual images and make them really personal to that family.
About the author: Louise Downham is an award-winning photographer based in London who specializes in newborn and family portraits. You can find more of her work on her website, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.