The Tao of Family Photos...

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.

Then it was just a matter of combining all the elements in post.

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?