With the season turning from spring to summer, I'll bet you have a lot of family portrait sessions scheduled. But the one thing that I was nervous about as I was getting started in family photography was how to pose my clients.
One photographer and teacher who helped me in that regard is Laura Siebert. I initially bought her excellent workbooks, but when she made plans to be in Connecticut to conduct a live workshop, I signed up right away.
Given the timing, I figured it was appropriate to interview Laura about her background in family photography, her workbooks and her workshops.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you based, how did you get your start in family portraits? Why is it important for you to photograph?
I started my business in 2005. I had begun hand painting black and white portraits as a small side business while I was a nurse. I had been photographing my own child with a film camera to have portraits to practice on and gradually my hand coloring clients began requesting me to also photograph their children for their hand colored portraits. By September of 2005, I had switched entirely over to portrait photography with only an occasional hand painting commission. I am currently based in Denver, CO but maintain about a 50/50 client base in Denver and St. Louis, MO where I started my business.
1) As a family portrait photographer what challenges you the most and what techniques do you use to overcome them?
Family portrait photography used to scare me. A LOT! I have always been comfortable with kids, transitioning into photography from a pediatric ICU nurse. But I used to actually refer out that proverbial “family photo”. I think the most challenging thing for me is the grumpy dads or the frazzled moms. I overcome both by explaining in a pre-session consultation and also at the beginning of the session that we are here to have FUN and it will be quick and painless. By getting the full family images out of the way first, it reassures mom that we have THE shot that she was most stressed about. I then move on to dad and kids so that dad is finished quickly.
2) What is it about photographing families jazzes you the most?
I think it's really, really awesome when you can get the whole family together and interacting with each other for an evening. No texting, no sport practices or conference calls. Just THEM. Just them actually being with each other and having fun. I enjoy capturing these interactions and knowing that when they look at the photos, it will bring back actual memories of this evening of family time.
3) What tools do you typically gravitate to the most when photographing families?
I use Canon 5d Mark 3 with an L85 1.2 about 80% of the time. With Canon 70-200mm and Canon 24-70mm making up the other 20%. I use reflectors occasionally indoors but not outdoors. Mostly I like to keep it as simple as possible by finding the correct light to begin with.
4) Tell us about the books you have written. Get Real and Get Real 2 – what is your intent with both of them?
When I was about 2 years into my business, I realized that I couldn't be afraid of family images if I wanted to stay viable as a business. I can't say exactly how or when it dawned on me except for that one Fall busy season, something just clicked and I started treating every family session with a formula of game playing. I found that by making everything a game and having a pattern/plan for every session helped me be more confident. It also resulted in much more natural smiles and allowed for many more beautiful “in between moments” to be captured.
Over the past 9 years, I've really perfected this concept and wanted to share the method with other photographers. Get Real teaches how to approach a family session from pre-session forward that allows everyone to be relaxed and have a lot of fun at their session by playing my proven games. My style of “posing” is guided but loose. I teach photographers some good base poses to start your clients in before playing games that are time tested to result in amazing, connected family portraits.
Get Real has all of that information: pre-session client education, how clothing can make or break a session and how to communicate that to your clients, base poses and lots of games. It also has a section on difficult situations and how to overcome them. Get Real 2 is a supplement containing 27 more games that I've come up with and been using at family sessions since publishing Get Real.
5) After Get Real was launched, what kind of a response did you receive? What were photographers saying to you?
Get Real was an instant hit, especially with seasoned photographers who were looking to really take the emotion in their family work to a new level. There aren't a lot of educational materials out there for established, experienced photographers and they have been so verbal in their appreciation. From newer photographers, I am told over and over how they now look forward to family sessions rather than being afraid. I also get “love letters” about how this method has finally allowed photographers to photograph their OWN children and husbands without resistance and with fabulous results.
6) In their essence, what do your workbooks Get Real and Get Real 2 achieve?
If I were to sum them up as a pair: Learn the systematic, reproducible “secret formula” to family sessions that results in truly connected, emotional portraits that leave everyone feeling happy, refreshed and willing to come back year after year!
7) Why are games so much more successful than “posing” people?
I think people get really nervous and self-conscious when they think they are supposed to “smile”. Or they think THEY have to spontaneously do cute things with their kids. They feel put-on-the-spot. When you make the whole session a series of games, the clients can relax and let you run the show because they can feel that they are being adorable and photogenic while they play your games.
8) When a photographer starts to learn from these workbooks (workshops in a book, essentially right?) what strategy do you suggest works best?
Yes, I've been teaching workshops since about 2008. And all of the information I cover in my 2 day workshop is contained in the 4-book set. I decided to break the books into smaller, digestible bits for those people who can't attend a workshop or for those who may only be interested in one or two aspects of the workshop. I think the strategy really depends on where the photographer is in his/her journey. Do they really understand their camera and it's settings? If not, they should start there (my workbooks and workshops are based on the premise that the photographer understands camera exposure and settings). The next question should be if they understand light in it's most basic form. Seeing where it's coming from, whether it's harsh or soft, whether it's drastic or feathered, etc.
If they don't feel like their images have consistent lighting, then Lighten Up would be a great place to start for outdoor portrait photographers. Lighten Up also covers my editing process in detail. Two of the things I'm most often complimented on are the emotions in my portraits (Get Real & Get Real 2) and consistent, natural, even skin tones (covered in Lighten Up).
For photographers who live in areas where shooting indoors for some or most of the year is necessary, I recommend Step Inside. It contains information on utilizing natural light inside client homes (or a natural light studio) including intimate, small space games and posing, lighting and post processing.
9) How is the Get Real series different from your other book, Lighten Up and Step Inside?
I think the Get Real series is more practical information that anyone can utilize at any skill level. It's the human side of photography. Lighten Up and Step Inside dig more deeply into the technical side of things with lighting and post-processing.
10) Your workshops on location are just as popular as your books. When are you coming back to the Northeast?
That's a great question! I was in Connecticut in 2014 and New Jersey in 2013. I really enjoyed both locations. My workshop schedule is really dependent on my family schedule and whether I can “get away”. I don't have any workshops planned at this time (subject to change at any time).
11) Using the techniques in your Get Real books, what has been the client response to the games you prescribe for photographers?
They love them! I know I keep harping on this, but … especially dads! Here is a quote from an actual dad client:
“There is almost nothing that I can think of that I'd rather not do than family portraits. But I was pleasantly surprised that Laura made the session fun, easy and best of all-fast! When we saw the photographs, it was so incredibly worth it.” – John from St Louis who, in full disclosure, was bribed by his wife to provide feedback for me. He was not told WHAT to say though. Ha!
Kids also really love the games. Believe it or not, the tweens and teens are some of my biggest fans. I think because I make them ALL feel silly and let loose, they don't feel self-conscious. It's important for the photographer to be silly too and laugh along with them.
Here is a quote from a mom about her tween/teen trio: “I'll never forget the first time I took them to meet Laura for pictures. I was stressed, yelling, not a great start… They were dreading it. After pictures we got in the car to leave and one of the kids said, ‘That was really fun!' in a surprised voice. The other two chimed in in agreement. They never worry about photos now. They always turn out great and it's never stressful. ~Kerri
12) In your opinion, why are family portraits important?
Oh gosh, why AREN'T they? Yes, we have a million and one ways to “document” our lives now. Snapchat and Instagram and Youtube and … But professional portraiture is still the best way to capture the whole family for generations to come. Having professionally printed and framed portraits in a home sends a message to the children that “Our family is important. We take time out of our lives to remember who we are TODAY as a family, because we are never promised tomorrow and because we will always be changing.”
There is a wonderful song by Johannes Stankowski that sums up my feelings about this in a couple sentences: “The years are flashing by and everything will change. But way down deep inside, we all just stay the same. Old memories come alive and then we know.” Video of the song below for your listening pleasure!
Workshops In A Book
Interested in buying Laura's “workshops in a book”? Click this link or click on the graphic below! Thank you!