I was asked by friends of ours if I would make a family photo for their daughter who has just gone off to university in Scotland. Of course I said yes (even though this type of photography is not something I'm really into). So I told them that there was just one condition. If I'm going to bother making a photo, it's got to be done all the way. So I planned something more than just a nice snapshot. I decided to create a composite. Like the one I made of a group of bartenders here...
I started by setting up a general lighting situation for the room. I needed to light the space in a way that remained consistent throughout the process (which took about 2 hours) beginning at around 4:30pm. That meant the ambient light level was already low and would be dropping the whole time.
I managed to get that sufficiently set up with three 500 watt heads and a speedlight. I really should have used at least 4 heads but I don't... so I made it work with what I have.
Then I brought in the
talent family. First was mom and dad. Since I know the people so well I was able to put everyone in a very natural situation that truly represents who they are. I took them through a series of fake interactions with the imaginary people around them until I was happy with the range of expressions I had available and then moved on to the son and daughter separately.
I lit all the people with a speedlight in a small soft box boomed in by my
voice-activated light stand partner Trish.
Everyone had a blast stepping into the frame for their turn and watching the others act out their own parts.
A funny thing happened at the end... There had been no actual experience of a "family photo". What they experienced was an exercise whereby everyone participated individually. And I explained that when I was done, it would be way better than if I had everyone get together and smile for the camera. I did it this way so it wouldn't look forced and fake.
But they still wanted to take a family snap. So I got everyone together and did what the client wanted. The customer is always right.
It's kinda interesting... This moment wouldn't have been possible at the beginning. If I had gotten everyone to stand together and smile, that's how it would have looked... No matter how funny or engaging I could have been.
One would have begrudgingly put down the phone for a moment; the other would have basically looked up after staring into a computer monitor for hours; one had been frantically cleaning the kitchen just before...
But they had just finished playing with me and watching/ heckling each other. The main photo was a group experience even though it wasn't perceived as such. So when it was time to stand together, they were doing it as a group of people who just had a good time together. By this point they all wanted to get together.
I think that really shows through in this shot. I like it a lot. Maybe even more than the portfolio piece I made out of the original concept.
What do you think? How can a family be best portrayed? Which is your favorite?