21 Ways to Be A Pro Photographer for Your Own Family

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After six adventurous years, I retired from shooting professionally last year–a decision that has brought me great happiness 🙂

As I transitioned to being the “Pro” photographer for my family, instead of the Pro for the rest of the world, I became increasingly grateful for all the experience I had gained during those business years.

I still use every single bit of gear, knowledge, skill, and creativity in documenting my home life as I did while having a business, but now I have even more fun and get to use the time to strengthen the relationships in my own family and tell my own story.

Countless times I would return from shooting another family and gaze over their images with envy–wishing that someone would come and document my life the way I had just documented theirs. Now I have the time and mental space to do exactly that, and I LOVE IT.

I tend to treat photographing my family just as I said, like a “profession”.

If you want to be a pro for your family, it’s not just in the quality of images you take.

21 WAYS TO BE THE PRO PHOTOGRAPHER FOR YOUR OWN FAMILY:

1. Be your best happy self while photographing. It’s sometimes easier to put on a happy face and have endless amounts of patience when it’s not your own family. We tend to have too much comfort in issuing orders, corrections or expressing our own frustration when we’re in the presence of those that we live with 🙂 . When we treat our own family with extra doses of playfulness and happy patience, the images are always better, not to mention the experience itself.

2. Have an eye for clean composition. I know there is a balance between “real life messes” and staged images. In photographing real life, you don’t need to deep clean your house in order to get out the camera, BUT…there are great perspectives and angles you can shoot from that are cleaner that will create stronger composition and it really is worth the five seconds it takes moving the spare socks on the floor out of the picture frame.

3. Edit your images. Just like you think you look better with a little make-up on, your images look better with a little enhancement. A little bit goes a long way. I still think Adobe Lightroom is the most affordable and brilliant editing program on the planet. It should be the second purchase right after your camera itself.

4. Back them up somewhere safe. I use smugmug.com for my back-up. It’s so easy and built right into my workfow: 1. shoot. 2. download and edit in Lightroom. 3. Publish to smugmug (takes about 5 seconds since it is now a plugin feature built right into Lightroom itself. There’s no resizing or exporting or anything to it. Five seconds and your full size images are backed up online and ready to share and print at any time.)

5. Organize your images. This is super easy to do if you use smugmug. My family images are organized by year and whatever the event was that I shot.

6. Be timely in your workflow. Download and edit/publish your images within a few days of shooting. Don’t wait. (We’re being pro about this right?!)

7. Cull like crazy. Not every shot is a keeper. Just as you’d only present the best images in a business, only keep the best shots of your family. You don’t need a million shots of your cute kid that look exactly the same. What are you going to do with them anyway? Only keep the best ones.

8. Make albums and order prints. I use blurb.com for my yearly family photo album. I usually end up with 200+ pages in a yearly album and they are the best quality for the price. I also use Project Life to use up my physical prints once I’m done with them. I order my prints from smugmug.com. (Super easy since they’re already online and backed up there all in one place.)

9. Display them in your home. A few times a year I order a batch of all my favorite shots from smugmug.com and display them on bulletin boards, the fridge, and change out framed images. I’m leaning more and more to smaller sized prints for ease of changing them out. When I change them out I take the previous printed images and put them in my Project Life album.

10. Not every image needs to be looking at the camera. In my work only about 5-10% of my images from any shoot are actually looking right at the camera. People will tire out 10x faster if they have to pay attention to the camera.

11. Be nice to yourself and get in your own images. I gave plenty a pep talk to mom’s who didn’t want to be in front of the camera and just wanted images of their kids. They always were more attractive and beutiful than they thought they were and we all know how important those images are for your family. I have to give myself my own pep talk and make sure that I get in those images as well. I’m part of this story and my family needs to visually see it in the photographs.

12. Don’t expect perfection, but perfect the process. Your images will not usually be perfect. That’s okay. But always learn from what could have made it better and perfect the process for next time.

13. Be creative. You’re creating art.

14. Execute great technical skill. It is the foundation of great work. If you shoot in auto, you’re not shooting like a pro. Take the time to learn the basics of your camera.

15. Interact for great emotion. Great emotion doesn’t come from directions (“Stand here. Smile. Look here.”). Great emotion comes from interacting. Ask questions, play games, have a conversation, share funny memories, think silly thoughts…

16. Always shoot to be flattering. No one likes an image that makes them look worse than they do in real life! Learn the most flattering angles, perspectives, and lenses that always make everyone look their best.

17. Don’t direct everything. True “moments” are most often captured because you didn’t interrupt something that was already happening.

18. Don’t overshoot. Don’t take too many shots. It makes you not want to do #3, 5, 6.

19. Don’t overshoot. Not every event needs photographing. Sometimes you need to live without the camera or you’ll burn out (or your family will.)

20. Shoot lifestyle. If you treat every shoot like a portrait shoot your family will hate it. Lifestyle photography blends real life into beautifully documented and moving images. Chances are, you’re going to get some incredible portraits out of those lifestyle shoots anyway, but the more relaxed approach will be more fun for everyone.

21. Emotion trumps technic. (another reason why #1 is so important.) Real emotion in a photograph comes from real emotion happening when you take the shot. It’s better to have real laughter and a technical flaw to the photo, than the technically perfect shot with a forced camera smile. After all, this is your family who you love and interact with every day. Get the shots that show the real them.

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3 Responses to 21 Ways to Be A Pro Photographer for Your Own Family

  1. Great tips! I’ll be sure to share them with the mamas I know and my photo group.

    P.S. would love a Facebook share button 🙂

  2. Aubrey says:

    I love this! Your words are always as inspiring as your photographs, thank you for sharing them with the world! I love being a “pro” for my family, and only do a very very few sessions on the side to pay for the equipment and resources to be a “pro” for my family– it is oh, so rewarding and I love the bonding that comes just as you said. Thanks for your encouragement to get in the photos more often- that’s definitely my next step!

  3. […] no longer shoot professionally for hire, but I am a Professional Photographer for my own family.   I hold the same standard of excellence to both professions, but secretly believe that one is […]

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