Ah...the traditional family portrait Mom wants to hang in the living room. What a wonderful gesture it is to give Mom what she wants. Here are a few tips to help lock-in a family portrait everyone will enjoy making and viewing for years to come.
1. Beyond the 8 x 10: While most people are familiar with this format from years of ordering school photos, the fact is there are so many more print options today. From large prints of 16 x 20 or larger, to canvases to "float mounted" metals, wood and bamboo, there are a world of display options. Research the kind of display you want first, before you settle on a photographer. This will not only make your portrait more fun, but there will probably be more "buy in" from less than excited family members.
2. Think Future: No one likes to think about loss or change. But the fact is, your family members are together now (hopefully). This may not always be the case. Even if several of your family are "not really into pictures", images are the kind of thing people are very glad to have when members have passed. Have a family portrait made even if you do not particularly want to. Trust me. You will be so glad you did in 5, 10 and 20 years from now.
3. Decide on clothes: Each family is different. I have taken some great images of family's dressed almost identically (usually small families). But I have also taken great portraits of families who dressed differently within a certain set of rules. I am quite particular about the kinds of clothes I will photograph people in. (No stripes, plaids, graphics, short sleeves etc.) Have an idea about what you want before you search for photographers. Let them know what you are thinking so they can advise.
4. Be Proactive about Behavior During the Photography Session
In my time as a photographer, I would say the the single most factor that inhibits a the making of a "keeper" family portrait is the behavior of kids and teens. Kids can become overly excited since they are working in a studio, or on location, experiencing something new. Teens can be sullen and defiant and refuse to follow any direction from the photographer. Of course, a professional photographer has tricks up their sleeve to overcome this (I know I use a lot from my toolkit as a retired teacher). But it makes creating a great image a lot easier if the photographer can focus on the image, and not managing behavior issues.
Talk to your disgruntled family members well in advance. Explain why you want this portrait, emphasize that it is not only about them, and bribe if you have to. Promise X in return for excellent behavior. Be sure to include them in the decision process. For example, when I am shooting "difficult" portraits, I always allow kids and teens to select 2 or 3 pictures they want (silly, goofy, serious, whatever). Of course I and the parents know this will likely never be printed, but we can give the digital image to them for their enjoyment.
5. It's Just a Picture
So many times I feel the stress and anxiety from clients about being photographed. They are concerned they do not "look" good, or they are worried about their hair, or hat, or some such thing. Remember that things like flyaway hairs, blemishes, bags under the eyes etc will be retouched by your photographer. Although it is a platitude, it really is true that you are beautiful as you are. Let the photographer bring out your beauty. That is their job. Really, it is just a photo after all. And you are much more beautiful than you probably give yourself credit for.