Every year, between November and the end of January, our mailbox is stuffed with dozens of cards sent from people we may or may not know. You probably get them too. Usually a 4×6 inch glossy postcard with a family portrait with some sort of seasonal greeting plastered across it. All of these cards effectively have the same family portrait on them and the quality varies a lot. Some are taken at arms length in selfie-mode, others had a timer set up in front of the couch or fireplace, maybe one family figured out how to run their family portrait photograph through VSCO
What was interesting to notice is how after most of these families saw the one card with the family portrait photography that was shot by a professional, the next year it is obvious how many other families make the jump to hiring a professional portrait photographer – some of them even using the same photographer! It goes to show that with the right amount of planning and forethought, taking on family portrait photography as a line of business can be lucrative for you for decades.
Keep it pro and be amazing, these networks are endless.
Developing an eye for family portraiture can be a personally, and lucratively, rewarding experience if you are willing to put the right kind of effort into your craft. Getting connected to the right communities could mean an endless list of client leads. Parent-Teacher associations, church groups, school fairs, neighborhood meetings and parenting groups are all full of people who would potentially want great looking portrait photos of their families to show off to their friends and families.
Imagine having a new shoot with your entire client book every single year. Or for each of the kid’s birthdays. Or whenever extended family moves in and out of the picture, graduations, or the eventual weddings. Not many industries these days offer that kind of reliable clientele. If you’re developing your photography practice for the long-haul, it would be worth your while to start building a client book around shooting family portraits.
However, the jump can be difficult if you are coming from another discipline. Used to shooting just food or products? Now you have to deal with personalities. Just coming from shooting models or doing individual portrait photography? Now you have three, four, or ten models and all of their corresponding personalities to deal with at once.
Here’s a few things to keep in mind when approaching your first potential families.
- Managing Expectations
The best way to create tension with a client is to deliver something completely different than what the client had in their mind. Solution? Simply take the time to have the conversation of what they would like their portraits to look like. Ask more questions than you think could ever be necessary. How many prints are they ultimately looking to have? Do they want any individual portraits of their family? Is this portrait shoot for any particular reason – like a holiday card or something to send to extended family? The more information you are able to arm yourself with up front the better you can prepare for the actual photo shoot. You will appear more professional and put together, they will be more excited and give off a great energy for you to capture, and a happy client is more likely to speak positively.
- Learn to Work With Everyone.
The late, great comic Mitch Hedberg had this observation “we’ve all seen the family photo on top of the VCR where everyone is looking slightly to the left. The camera is right in front of you. But something happened slightly to the left that made everyone happy! The only one looking right at the camera is that one aunt with the lazy eye. She was right on!”
Point being: when shooting with groups or families, your job is to essentially take numerous individual portraits and blend them into a hybrid group shot that is the family portrait. Listen to what the individuals are telling you – with words or body language – and work that into the shoot. It may take a while to get to a place where everyone is comfortable.
- Be amazing with kids of all ages.
When it comes to kids, you’re the new adult. In most cases children are more open to instruction from other adults than they might be with their parents. After all, why would they suddenly start saying “yes’ to the parents they first learned to say “no” to long ago.
When it comes to family portraits, the children in them can make or break the mood and energy. We have all likely seen the big group portrait hanging on a wall somewhere where the whole family is present but it is the children’s faces that are directing all of the attitude in the photo. Mom will never hate these kinds of pictures. Go for those.
- Think in themes.
This goes back to managing those expectations. Is this a family portrait for the holiday season? Are these going out as mailers to friends and family? Will this hang up in someone’s office or main entryway to their home?
What did their family portrait look like last year? Is there a complimentary color pallet you can strive for or a different pattern in the clothing? Same location? Same idea of the location in a different place? As it was mentioned in the first point, this is a great opportunity to develop a consistent base of business within the family
Any small business owner can easily get stuck in the mindset of focusing on what is in front of them right then and there. But in order to ensure success with developing a family portrait business it is essential to think years down the road with whomever happens to be in front of your camera right then and there.