I feel so lucky to be a family photographer and take the photos that people hang up on their walls or share with the world on Instagram and Facebook. Considering how busy everyone is and how crazy life can get, when families find time to come together for a photo with all the special people in their life, you can't help but feel a little bit privileged to help make it happen.
I often get asked what makes a good family photo. The answer is... there is no right or wrong way to do it… whatever says 'love' in a family.
The classic family portrait is always lovely, but my favourite type of photographs are the ones that reflect exactly who your family is, in all its weird and wonderful ways. I know a photo will be cherished forever when people see it for the first time and say "that is so US".
Your family is unlike any other - even the weird, wonderful or embarrassing things you wish were more 'normal' are unlike every other family. You should absolutely celebrate the things that are special in your family. Why should your photos be cliché or 'the norm' when you family is anything but? I'm always guided by what the family wants - from the classic/formal to the somewhat unconventional and then the way, way out there requests (but within reason). My advice is: just be yourselves.
Don't be limited by convention for your next family photo. Here are my 10 top unconventional family photo ideas to give you some inspiration.
1. Unusual pets
Do you have a pet who is part of the family? Why not include them in the photo too? I know the saying that goes 'never work with children or animals' but a family photographer believes the opposite is true - that's how to get the best photos! When it comes to pets, the weirder or quirkier the better! I have been known to photograph a family with their pet python. I have also found giraffes and other exotic zoo animals in the background of children's portraits (with a bit post-production). You might think unusual pets like turtles, lizards, snakes or birds are not the most photogenic of creatures, but they certainly make the image interesting and, if they're part of the family, I reckon they should definitely be part of the family photo.
2. Quirky Furniture, Interesting Objects and Hobbies
Is your home filled with quirky furniture or unusual items that are special to you? Are you a collector or have a favourite object? What about a favourite seat or spot in your home or garden? Having a piece of decorative furniture or unique feature as the inspiration for a portrait or group photo can create the most inspired photos. One of my award-winning family photographs centred on a stripy, black-and-white zebra-print armchair; Mum and Dad told me zebras were a bit of a theme for them and their baby, and so this chair became the ideal backdrop for the "dreaming of zebras" photo.
3. Hobbies or Unique Interests
Hobbies that are special to you as a family - like a beloved sporting team, or passion you all share - can be part of the story too. I believe a photo shoot should be fun and playful, so I always try to have a mix of silly and serious to capture something for everyone. Grabbing a few props to immortalise a family's "that's so us" moment is often the best part of the shoot.
4. Antique Cars, Motorcycles or Trucks
For many people, planes, trains and automobiles are more than just modes of transport - it's a serious passion. A boat, motorcycle or antique car can be a big part of a family's life and leisure time. It also makes a brilliant backdrop. Recently, a family asked me to photograph them at home, and we couldn't go past the enormous truck parked in the driveway. (pictured)
5. Grungy locations or interesting architecture
You don't have to have photos in a classic portrait location like a garden or beach! If you hate sand, or suffer hay fever, or are simply an urbanite who feels at home far away from nature, it doesn't make sense to be photographed at a beach or garden. There are many other amazing location you could choose in the heart of any city. A grungy city streetscape with bright graffiti or edgy architecture is my top pick for striking backdrop. A character-filled, heritage building is also an impressive location and you can play with the building's rustic imperfections, shadows and architectural features. I have a series of black and white portraits in what looks like a decommissioned bus shelter - weird, unremarkable places are often perfect for portraits. (pictured)
6. Sentimental places, objects and themes
We all have memories and stories that are special to us. One idea for a family photo is to incorporate or re-create a meaningful moment by including a sentimental element. It could be the place Mum and Dad first met, a favourite picnic spot or a childhood haunt. You could recreate an old photo to compare how everyone has changed (or not changed one bit) or include a sentimental object such as a chair or relative's possession passed on to you.
7. Capture 'the randomness' moment
We all have photos of us looking at the camera, but a candid, 'in the moment' photo tells the real story about our families and how people connect with each other. A haphazard 'looking in every other direction' shot is often quite interesting, and shows people in a genuine, non-contrived or posed way. Action shots are loads of fun to shoot too: Kids swinging through the air in their parent's arms or flying past on scooters, skateboards or bikes! Whatever your family does, you want to capture it!
8. Tattoos or individual style
A tattoo is something most people want to show off, so make sure it's on show in your photos. You could even make it the feature of the frame. If you've got prominent tattoos or piercings, wear colours that create a contrast and define them clearly. I don't believe in everyone wearing matching crisp white shirts - unless that's your style. You need to feel comfortable. Wear whatever reflects your individual personality and style - favourite jewellery, hats, scarves or other items that you would normally wear, even if these are not your 'Sunday best' attire.
9. Unconventional poses, perspectives or dramatic scale
When you picture in your mind what your family photo will look like, you may imagine everyone standing in a row, possibly two rows with shortest in front, smiling. While the classic family photo is perfectly ok, there are many ways you can pose and many angles the camera can be positioned if you're looking for something a bit different. You don't need to all be standing front-on in a row. Just by changing the position of the camera - placing it high or above for a bird's eye view (I might need a big ladder for this one) or down low (lying on the ground), close up or some distance away - you can get a completely different style of photo and a totally new story about your family. Playing with scale and perspectives can also create a striking image. Tall trees or buildings make dramatic backgrounds that appear to tower over you. Mirrors and reflective surfaces add a new dimension and draw your eye to the optical illusion of depth. Poses don't need to be conventional either, and should be just whatever you find is relaxed and natural - sitting, standing, crouching, leaning, upside-down, leaping in the air; the possibilities are endless.
10. And lastly…take the weather with you
If it's raining on the day of the shoot (not ideal, I know) we could all find some puddles or colourful umbrellas and have some fun. An approaching thunderstorm or howling wind can cause havoc for long hair and flowing dresses, but these challenges can be seriously cool and artistic for the family willing to go where the wind blows. Feeling inspired? Why not get in touch to talk about your next family photo.
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