For me, family photos are so much more than everyone looking and smiling at the camera. I want to go beyond those traditional family photos and capture more. I want to capture the joy, the giggles, the closeness. As a photographer, it's not just about taking these photos but learning how to create a safe space and an environment where the moments I want to capture can happen. I've learned the differences between posing and prompting, and how having a little toolbox of prompts helps create a session experience where I can capture the moments & the memories that I love to capture.
Let's say there's 3 types of family photography - traditional, lifestyle, and documentary. Traditional family photography is made up of more posed or staged photos, usually where everyone is smiling, looking at the camera. On the opposite end of the spectrum is documentary style photography, where there's little to no direction and you're just photographing what the raw moments happening in front of you. Lifestyle photography falls somewhere in the middle and is what I have grown to love and focus on in the last couple of years. Lifestyle photography is centred around using prompts and gentle direction to create moments in front of your lens. Often times no one is looking at the camera and a lot of times real candid moments naturally unfold as a prompt grows into something more. I will always make sure to get that "money shot" where everyone is smiling, looking at the camera. As well, I'm always looking to snatch a picture of little moments that might be happening behind me while I'm shooting one thing, or as we're walking to our next spot. But really my creativity comes alive when I can use different prompts to direct my subjects and let things unfold in front of my lens.
How a photographer runs a session can have a huge influence on how the photos turn out. I like to think of myself as not just a photographer, but also a creative director at sessions. This is where prompts start to come in. I use prompts to give my clients little things to do, rather than trying to nitpick everyone into a perfect posed set up. I find posing can feel stiff or unnatural, especially for people who aren't used to being in front of the camera. When you're not very comfortable in front of the camera, standing still and trying to maintain that perfect photo stance and smile can feel like a lot. I want my subjects to think as little as possible about the fact that they're being photographed, and instead just be in the moment with the people they love.
Generally I start every single session with having a family walk together holding hands. Even when I photograph people and their horses, I start with walking shots. It's easy to get a bit anxious coming into a photoshoot, so I love starting with movement so everyone can walk the jitters out and start to feel a bit more comfortable. When my families are walking together, I'm giving them little prompts like where to look - everyone at each other, just mom & dad look at each other, or everyone look at me. Even when we get into shots where I have everyone standing still, I'm almost constantly giving gentle direction. We'll do a few shots where everyone looks at me smiling, but then I'll have everyone look at each other and smile/talk/laugh.
When we get into variations that are just mom or dad with the kids, or even each kid individually, I have a few different prompts I love - big bear hugs, belly to belly hugs, piggyback rides, spinning someone around. I love finding something that really brings out the unique relationships within a family. Every individual in a family has their own connection and relationship to everyone else in the family. Sometimes I find that a kid is extra cuddly with mom, or that the kids are really playful with dad. A beautiful thing about family photography is seeing how this can shift and change as kids get older. When I'm lucky enough to photograph families every year, I can see how some things are always exactly the same, but also that one year maybe one kid seems extra close and snuggly to mom or dad in a way they weren't the year before. I also get to see the growth spurts, when someone's taller than mom or dad for the first time. I'll always give a couple different prompts to whatever duo or group within the family I might be photographing, and I'm able to snap the most pictures of whatever seems to bring that pairing to life - whether it's cuddles or something silly.
Once I started to rely more on prompts at sessions, I started to love my galleries a million times more. To me, there's a clear difference when you focus on the moments in front of you rather than the aesthetic of the images. With this approach, my hope is that my subjects are able to relax and let go, so they can just appreciate the moment. My galleries feel fuller now, like they capture more. Not just the beautiful smiles, but also the joy & belly laughs, the more quiet, intimate feeling moments. I love seeing variety in my galleries and I hope that I'm able to capture everyone in a family for who they are. Families are complex and multifaceted, and I feel that if family photography is going to be art, then my galleries should reflect this depth and complexity.
As a photographer and an artist, I think it's important to know what I want to be creating and how to create it. I know that my heart really lies in images that go beyond traditional family photography, in photos that are more artistic and lifestyle based. I want to be able to be creative at my sessions and to capture families in a way that is intentional and meaningful. I want to see families have fun at my sessions and know that they can trust me to capture stunning photos of their family. Using prompts helps me create the moments I want to photograph, and ultimately helps me deliver a gallery that is a collection of art for a family to cherish forever <3