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How To Approach Documentary Family Portraits

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Today’s feature is from .

Kirsten says:

“Kari contacted me about doing a Day in the Life session with her girls in Maine this past winter and I couldn’t have been more excited. For one, Kari is a photographer herself and I really admire her work.

Secondly, Maine is one of my favorite states in the US and I was really looking forward to photographing a session there.

Our day began around 6:30am and the girls did not end up going to be until around 7:30, so it was a long day to say the least.

That being said, there wasn’t a dull moment the entire day. From making breakfast to visiting the dairy farm, arts and crafts to bath time it was a full day with countless moments, laughs, and tears alike.”

Kirsten’s Photography Tip:

Day in the Life sessions can be extremely rewarding – but at the same time challenging and exhausting and sometimes even frustrating. To do a good job, you have to constantly be making decisions visually, socially and physically.

You have to find a balance between being a photographer and being a part of the family. You have to hold a camera up to your face as long as 14 hours a day and get up and down and up and down more times than you could ever keep track of.

Here are a few tips for Day in the Life sessions:

1. Be Present At All Times.
It is your job to document the entire day, which means if the family goes to the grocery store, you go to the grocery store. Family goes swimming in the pool? Get your suit on!

The idea is to be brave and remember that you need to photograph everything.

2. Integrate Yourself.
A documentary photographer develops a strong relationship with their subjects with honesty, empathy, and humility.

This requires you to balance your socialization with your photography and know when it’s appropriate to talk and when to shoot. The most important thing is that your desire to connect with your families is genuine.

Building trust and gaining access is the foundation to photojournalism. You must approach these types of sessions as that of a photojournalist and completely immerse yourself into the family.

This means engaging in meaningful conversation with your subjects, relating to their life, and basically becoming a member of their family for a day.

3. Go In Without Expectation.
I tell each of my students not to expect anything the day of the shoot other than there will probably be some sort of melt down throughout the day, most likely in the later afternoon before dinner.

Other than that, go in embracing the unexpected. Because of this, you have to be constantly thinking, watching, anticipating and reacting.

I don’t even like to know anything about schedules or family plans ahead of time because I really enjoy just moving through the day naturally.

This being said, I do ask a lot of questions during the shoot so that I can try to stay 3 steps ahead and prepare for activities as well as transitional moments throughout the day.

The more information you have, the higher your chances are to succeed in regards to being in the right place at the right time. i.e., “What time does the bus pick up the kids for school?”

4. Remember That These Shoots Are Visual Documentaries.
A Day in the Life session is totally different than a portrait shoot. It should be completely organic, not directed, and the environment should not be changed in any way.

This means you do not move or touch anything during the shoot, including turning lights on or off, opening or closing shades or blinds or using a flash.

While it is necessary to communicate with the family throughout the day, it is not your job to influence the moments or actives. Let them happen totally on their own.

By remembering the following tips, you will find Day in the Life session to be the most honest reflection of the family you are photographing. You will walk away with pictures you would never be able to capture in a one- or even two-hour session with them.

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Kirsten used a Nikon D3 and Nikon D3s with a Nikkor 85mm 1.8 lens and a Nikkor 35mm 2.0 lens to capture these images.

Kirsten Lewis is a Denver, Colorado Documentary Wedding, Family, and Business photographer, but also photographs families all over the U.S. and internationally.

Click here to see more tips on In-Home Sessions.


Need help composing the perfect image on-the-go? Let’s face it, these kinds of sessions are pretty face-paced.

You won’t have an opportunity to pose your subjects as you want, so you’ll have to be picking up on the natural composition of your surroundings pretty quick. To help better train your eye to see the perfectly-composed piece, check out this awesome guide all about photography composition!

 

 

*Please note: some of the links in this post are affiliate links, and don’t affect you as the buyer but do help support us and keep this site free for everyone.

Directing Children in In-Home Sessions

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Today’s feature is from .

Roxanne says:

“Last year I took photos of this family of four when they welcomed a new baby. This year, that little boy turned one and we did a session at their home right before the holidays. The session was held in the middle of the day, and we had nice strong midday winter light.”

Roxanne’s Photography Tip:

My main goal during an in-home session is to let families unfold naturally, with their chemistry and groove leading the way. But there is no denying that directing them to the right light is crucial for visually rich photos.

In the beginning of this session, we let the children play in their playroom, roam outside, listen to stories, and jump on their bed – allowing for many playful, unstructured moments.

But before calling the session, I took one last roam around the house and found a pocket of strong light streaming in the dining room window.

I had passed this room on my first round of the house because it felt too formal to let two very small children feel at ease. But on second sighting, I trusted my hunch and we turned one of their big overstuffed chairs into the light for some portraits.

The pocket of light was quite strong, even with gauzy curtains giving us some shield. I wanted to honor the light and let it illuminate their faces, but needed to balance it against the deep shadows it was also creating.

By keeping my ISO between 800 and 1000, I was able to still shoot wide open at 1.4 and get a good range between the glowing pocket and detail in the shadows. Next, I switched to manual focus, which I love to do after taking a few shots on auto.

Doing this gives me greater control while forcing my eye to slow down and be more experimental and selective – resulting in moodier, softer shots – which I love.

For the final photos in this light, we took the chair and put it across the room to get the light facing the window. This light was predictably flatter and more even, and felt like a good way to finish up the series.

I don’t usually set families into poses, yet the images here from the last 10 minutes of session ended up being my favorite. By trying something new and taking a small risk with the stronger light, I was able to offer this family some classic portraits with a bit of a modern twist.

It was a good reminder to take creative risks, even with clients.

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Roxanne used a Nikon D700 (affiliate link) with a Nikon 35mm 1.4 lens (affiliate link) to capture these images.

Roxanne Bryant is a Rhose Island Family, Children, and Newborn photographer.

Click here to see more tips on Camera Settings, Client Direction, or In-Home Sessions.


If you’re new to in-home sessions (or want to get started), take a few lessons from a pro like Kirsten Lewis to help get the ball rolling.

 

When the session doesn’t go perfectly the first time

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Today’s feature is from .

Bobbi-Jo says:

“Baby Max is one of my “Baby plan” babies, meaning he gets photographed 4 times over his first year. I took photos of Mom when she was pregnant with him, so it was exciting to finally meet Max!”

Bobbi-Jo’s Photography Tip:

This session was a tough one! It took place over two different dates, which is unusual – but sometimes necessary.

The first session was early evening. It was dark and about to rain and Baby Max was not feeling too happy, but we went ahead with the session anyway. You can see from the first few images with Mom and Dad that I had to place them close to the only window that was letting in any light.

Luckily for me, my style is often light filled and moody, so it worked! I had them sitting on the edge of the master bed facing the window, which did not leave a lot of room for myself and even though I was using a 35mm at that point, it was still a tight fit.

As I do with most lifestyle newborn sessions, I had Mom and Dad interact with the baby and walked around the room in a quiet manner, taking shots from different angles. I love that feeling of “peeking in” on a new family so I always try to get into a hallway or even behind a bathroom or closet door to create that feeling for a few shots.

As you can see, Baby Max was awake for most of the session with Mom and Dad and although he looks content, he often was not! We decided after an hour or so that I would come back another day to get more shots of just Max alone. He did not want to be put down and I could tell the parents were getting frustrated!

I don’t usually come back another day; however, these clients lived only 5 minutes away from me so I was able to pop by one morning when my kids went to school.

The second half of the session, Max was much more content! Grandma was also there to help calm and soothe the baby – in that way that only Grandmas can!

During lifestyle sessions I always try to use the “props” the family already has. For this session, Mom and Grandma actually owned a vintage shop so there were plenty of beautiful quilts and blankets to lay the baby on. His nursery was beautiful and we captured some images in there to show off the books and little deer details.

Overall this session was a success, although it took a little longer than usual. I never want a client to feel disappointed in their finished product so I will always do what I can to make them happy. The baby’s moods cannot be controlled so sometimes it takes that extra effort to make a session work!

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Bobbi-Jo used a Canon 6D (affiliate link) with a Canon 35mm lens and a Canon 85mm lens to capture these images.

Bobbi-Jo Stuart is a Toronto, Barrie, and Newmarket, Ontario Lifestyle Wedding and Portrait photographer.

Click here to see more tips on in-home sessions.


If you’re thinking about getting into newborn photography, skill is only have the battle. Make sure you have all of your legal ducks in a row as well to make sure both you and your client are protected (affiliate link).

2014 Tips for In-Home Sessions

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Lifestyle sessions are a lot of fun, but can seem a bit daunting if you’re just starting to get into them – especially if the client has asked you to do them in their home.

We’ve had some very experienced lifestyle photographers contribute some of their best tips on how to handle that situation, as well as ideas for what to photograph once you’re in the home.

But first —

Preparing for the Session: You and Your Client

First off, keep in mind that you’ll be doing the session in your client’s home – ok, it sounds obvious. But my point is that you won’t have access to everything you have at your studio.

Props, lighting, etc. – you can probably bring some reflectors with you, but ideally you won’t want to bring much more than that, your camera bodies, and your lenses.

You can try to bring all of your props and backdrops with you – but that can be a bit cumbersome and time-consuming.

Instead, plan your session ahead of time and think forward on what sort of props or backdrops you’d like to bring (if any). This will drastically cut down on packing/unpacking and time spent setting up gear.

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Even simple newborn wraps are a great, simple, easily-transportable prop you can use.

Not only do you want to prepare for an in-home session, but you also want to make sure your clients are prepared as well.

Doing a pre-session consultation is a great way to go over information the family will need to know about the session before it happens (and is great for establishing a client relationship).

This will help clients to trust you and get to know you, which will help them be more relaxed in front of the camera on the day of the session. It’ll also give you a chance to go over how the session will run from the time you arrive at their home until you leave.

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One of our featured family portrait photographers, Emily Lapish, puts it this way:

Since every family has their own unique dynamics and quirks, there is no way that pulling out the same tricks and trying the same poses and shots on each session can capture a family authentically – so this pre-session consult is vital.

Another one of our family portrait photographers, Maegan Hall, suggests telling the family to prep any activities at the home that they like doing together before you arrive.

This will insure that you capture some of the family’s favorite memories together instead of leaving it up to chance.

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Once You Arrive

When you get to your client’s home, you’ll want to take note of a few things. First, make note of what time of day it is and what direction the light is coming into the house from in the various rooms. This can help you plan what rooms to shoot in at what time of day.

Secondly, take note of the paint on the walls. Dark walls will make your images look darker, walls with solid, vibrant colors will give your client’s skin a color cast, and of course, white walls will give the cleanest light and skin tones.

And of course, as you do your walkthrough, take note of the light quality and intensity in each room – ‘great natural light’ usually means something completely different to your clients as it does to you.

Perfect example of a well-lit in-home portrait.

Perfect example of a well-lit in-home portrait.

Ideas for In-Home Sessions

There are multiple ways you can approach an in-home session too. You can do a Lifestyle-type session, a session that’s more posed, newborn sessions, whole family sessions, etc. etc. – the list goes on.

For newborn and toddler sessions, a great way to approach it is to use your client’s home and things in the home to document the growth of the baby.

If you’ve done a newborn session of your client’s child in their home before, photograph them as a toddler next to or near places or items that you used in the newborn session to document how they’ve grown in their family home.

Or, if you’re planning a newborn session and hope to photograph their child again as a toddler, try to plan for areas like that in the home that you can use for future.

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A picture of a toddler in their newborn crib is a great way to document the child’s growth.

If you’re doing a family + newborn session, doing the session in the home is a great idea because the parents will be more comfortable in their own space – which will rub off and affect the mood of the newborn.

Since parents will be holding their newborn for the majority of the session, you want to minimize the amount of moving around you do so as to keep the baby calm and relaxed.

Don’t worry though – this doesn’t necessarily mean that this limits your variety of photos, especially if you remember to work your angles and distances from your subject.

Michael Kormos, an experienced in-home newborn photographer, uses principles of cinematography to accomplish the same goal.

Many times, he will start out with a wide shot (like peeking around a doorway) that sets the tone for the rest of the session, and gives the sense of “peaking” in on the clients’ lives and tender moments with their newborn.

Once that’s established, he’ll start closing the distance between himself and his clients for the closeup shots, which are a great way to capture the emotion and attachment the parents feel with their newborn.

Both of these shots can be done while the client is seated in the same position, but it still provides a variety of images that can be included in a final collection.

If you’d like to forego posing altogether, Kirsten Lewis, suggests capturing the day naturally as it unfolds and taking a documentary-style approach.

She suggests making yourself (more or less) a member of the family for the day – whether the family is going grocery shopping, cleaning, swimming, playing outside, reading books, etc.

She even goes so far as not even bringing any additional lighting equipment, since her goal is to capture a family’s life and interactions exactly how they are – down to every detail.

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Working With Multiple Ages

When you’re doing an in-home session (and even when you’re not), working with multiple age groups can be challenging. The older kids want to run around, but if there’s an infant or toddler in the picture, that’s not always an option if you want to get pictures of everyone.

That can be ok though – if your active children want to be active, let them burn off some energy! Capture some shots with mom or dad and baby in the meantime while one of the other parents supervises.

Or direct their energy a different way and have mom or dad play games with them while you capture their interactions – it will help hold their attention but still allow you to get in some good shots.

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What are some of your best in-home session tips?

We’ve told you ours, now it’s your turn! Post some of your best tips for in-home sessions below!

Preparing for In-Home Newborn Sessions

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Today’s feature is from .

Leah says:

“This was a recent newborn session of an 8-day-old little boy with TONS of hair! I shot this session in the family’s home.”

Leah’s Photography Tip:

I am a newborn photographer who mostly shoots the “posed” style with newborns. I shoot mainly in my client’s homes, and I used to take everything I own with me to a session (so many backdrops and props!).

Now, I plan each session ahead of time so that I don’t need to take every single thing I own with me and spend time sorting through a bunch of stuff during the session. I usually only bring a few blankets and a couple of props with me, which really simplifies my workflow and reduces my packing/unpacking time.

When I am shooting a session in my client’s home, I love to spend a little bit of time at the end of their session getting some “lifestyle” images of the family, such as images on mom and dad’s bed, baby in his crib, and baby sleeping peacefully in a simple swaddling blanket, etc.

Lifestyle images are loved because they show more ‘real’ moments between a family and their baby. For this session and this family, the baby really does sleep in the crib, and the family really does snuggle up together on their couch or bed and show their new baby to his big sister, so I wanted to make sure I grabbed images of those interactions.

Some of the last shots from this session were the most simple to capture. As I was preparing to wrap up the session, he baby was swaddled in a simple white blanket, and he was sleeping very soundly.

I had already taken a few frames of him in his crib, and I pulled out a simple off-white blanket and laid him on it on the floor near the window in his room. Those simple close-ups of his face, his hands, and his little tiny toes are my favorites from the session.

Of course you can’t foresee every scenario that may happen, but cutting down on what you take with you and having a flexible “session plan” in mind before you go can save you a lot of time and trunk space!

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Leah used a Nikon D700 with a Nikon 50mm f/1.4 lens, a Nikon 35mm f/1.4 lens, and a Nikon 105mm f/2.8 macro lens to capture these images.

Leah Jent is a Dayton, Ohio Birth, Baby, and Family Portraits photographer.

Click here to read more tips on In-Home Sessions.

 

 

*Please note: some of the links in this post are affiliate links, and don’t affect you as the buyer but do help support us and keep this site free for everyone.

Documenting Baby’s Growth by Doing In-Home Sessions

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Today’s feature is from .

Stefanie says:

“I used to be pretty intimated when I had to photograph a family session inside a client’s home, but those sessions have actually become some of my favorite, especially for sessions during baby’s first year.

With young babies and children, I like to keep things really simple and often find it easier to play with them in their own space, where we have quick access to favorite toys, lovies and snacks and can document their first home.

I love the creative challenge of figuring out where in the home I want to shoot, and what I want to incorporate from their home to make the session unique and personal to each client.”

Stefanie’s Photography Tip:

In-home sessions for baby’s first year are a wonderful way to capture natural interactions and document baby’s growth in a unique way in their first home.

My main goal for in-home sessions during baby’s first year is to keep things simple and relaxed. I want my photos to show my client’s true personalities and capture them interacting naturally.

For baby’s first year sessions, one of my favorite things is to incorporate places or things that I’ve used with them at previous sessions to document baby’s growth – in this particular session, I was able to use the baby crib again with one of the newborn portraits hanging above the crib.

I think it’s such a sweet visual reminder for the parents to see just how quickly their sleepy newborn has grown into a moving and curious baby/toddler.

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Stefanie used a Nikon D700 with a Sigma 35mm lens to capture these images.

Stefanie Harrington is a Washington, DC metro Birth, Newborn, and Family portrait photographer.

Click here to see more tips on In-Home Sessions.

 

 

*Please note: some of the links in this post are affiliate links, and don’t affect you as the buyer but do help support us and keep this site free for everyone.

Working with Mixed Ages During a Session

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Today’s feature is from .

Rachel says:

“This is a newborn/family session done on-location at my client’s home. There is something so magical about a new child being born into a family and I really wanted to capture this time in a way that showed the beauty of having a new life added to a family.

Rachel’s Photography Tip:

We started this session in the master bedroom for the first setting. It was fun to watch the father and son interact as they held little sister, and I was able to capture that candid moment where the father was helping his son hold the baby.

We also used the nursery as one of our settings since the mother really wanted to remember that space as it was. Their dog wanted to hang out with us and was being cooperative so it was a nice touch to have her in the scene as well.

In order to get my young kids to sit in their parent’s lap I will often have the parent play with their child to distract them from the fact that they are being made to hold still.

I will have them toss the little one into the air and as soon as the child lands I tell the parent to look at me and smile. Sometimes I will just take the shot of the parent laughing as they interact with their child since that is genuine.

As this particular session wore on, the older son started to get a little energetic and started bouncing all over the place, which started to stress the parents out.

If and when that happens, I have everyone take a break or let them have a break and play while I photograph someone else. I always say “the two-year-old is in charge!”

If you’re mindful of the attitudes (and attention spans!) of all the members of the family and do your best to cater to each one in turn, you’ll be more likely to have a stress-free and fun session, giving you natural and authentic images.

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Rachel used a Nikon D800 with a Nikkor 2.8 70-200mm lens and a Nikkor 85mm 1.8 lens to capture these images.

Rachel Paulus is a West Central Wisconsin On-Location Portrait photographer.

See more tips on In-Home Sessions and Working with Children.

 

*Please note: some of the links in this post are affiliate links, and don’t affect you as the buyer but do help support us and keep this site free for everyone.

Capturing Genuine Moments Between Parents and Newborn

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Today’s feature is from .

Michael says:

“We have a lifestyle approach to newborn photography. Although we still take the time and effort to capture a few posed portraits, we spend most of our session capturing genuine moments between parents and their brand-new bundle of joy.

These are the portraits that have the most meaning to us, and allow us to preserve the “story” of this special time.

For anyone else who’s been thinking of dabbling in a lifestyle approach to newborn photography, we thought it might be nice to share some of our personal insight.”

Michael’s Photography Tip:

We’ve found that the comfort level of our clients tends to be much more relaxed in their own environment (such as their home), which really shows in the final images.

Not to mention, parents have spent so much time and effort perfecting their home decor, and it’s a pity not to feature all of the adorable details. I enjoy finding creative ways to incorporate décor, nursery accents, and family memorabilia to really personalize the portraits.

We allow the session to unfold naturally, which yields images full of raw, intense emotion. We may help Mom and Dad get comfortable on the sofa, and get them into a position that allows me to shoot from a variety of angles, but once they’re set, we don’t interfere.

As in cinematography, I always start out with a wide establishing shot that sets the tone of the story.

Sometimes I shoot through a door, or closet, to create a sense of undisturbed observance (fancy word for a simple concept). Few shots include direct eye contact, and the images flow like a story.

I love to capture the same moment from different angles. With unique crops and perspectives, the possibilities are endless.

For example, if the baby is lying in the crib, I have the option to capture the infant a few different ways, including:

  • At eye-level trough the bars
  • From the top-down through the crib mobile
  • Or even a wide-angle portrait through the chandelier.

Or if Mom is feeding the baby in the nursery, for example, I’ll shoot wide-angle to include the setting, and close-up to capture the emotions.

If parents are having an intimate moment of cuddling their baby on the sofa, I love to have a bouquet of flowers or cute home accent in the foreground to add depth.

I also like to shoot over the shoulder to capture the parents’ view of their sweet newborn.

Yet another favorite technique is shooting a mirrored reflection of an intimate moment. This often works beautifully for portraits in Mom and Dad’s bedroom.

It’s almost as if we’re “peeking” into our clients’ lives to capture those natural, candid moments that hold so much meaning.

Years from now, Mom and Dad will look at these photos, and be reminded of the sweetness of their newborn baby, those first cuddles, and their tender emotions.

It may just be a short story of one lovely afternoon, but it’s a story that will be treasured for a lifetime.

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Michael used a Nikon D4 with a 58mm f/1.4g lens to capture these images.

Michael Kormos is a NYC & San Diego Maternity, Newborn, and Family portrait photographer.

See more tips on Evoking Emotion and In-Home Sessions.

 

 

*Please note: some of the links in this post are affiliate links, and don’t affect you as the buyer but do help support us and keep this site free for everyone.

How to Prep a Family for a Lifestyle Session

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Today’s feature is from .

Emily says:

“True lifestyle photography is what moves my heart – real families being real with each other. My business tagline is “Life is beautiful. Life is art,” and I believe that with all that I am.

I was so thrilled when the mother of this beautiful family wanted to do a lifestyle session with me. In our pre-session consultation, we planned some activities that were typical for their family to really enjoy together.

Since the kids were young, we kept the activities simple and engaging. The day of their session, we started with some family cuddle time, reading a favorite book.

Then on to cookie making (producing a lot of mess and fun). Then we headed to downtown Chattanooga (one of my favorite shooting locations) to explore the gorgeous Riverwalk area, and finished with some gelato at our favorite local dive.”

Emily’s Photography Tip:

For me, with the type of customized lifestyle photography I do, a pre-session consultation is an absolute must. I love meeting with clients in my cozy studio over coffee and just getting to know them – it’s vital to establish that relationship so that they:

  • Trust me to capture great photographs without the urge to micromanage me during a shoot
  • Relax in front of the camera
  • Have awesome portraits that really show who they are as a family
  • Know exactly what to expect at every stage of their experience.

Since every family has their own unique dynamics and quirks, there is no way that pulling out the same tricks and trying the same poses and shots on each session can capture a family authentically – so this pre-session consult is vital.

Emily Lapish Photography - authentic lifestyle session
Emily Lapish Photography - authentic lifestyle session
Emily Lapish Photography - authentic lifestyle session
Emily Lapish Photography - authentic lifestyle session

Emily used a Canon 6D with a Canon 24-70 2.8L lens to capture these images.

Emily Lapish is a Chattanooga, TN Family and Beauty Portraits photographer.

See more tips on Client Direction, Client Personality, and In-Home Sessions.

 

 

*Please note: some of the links in this post are affiliate links, and don’t affect you as the buyer but do help support us and keep this site free for everyone.

Authentic Family Portraits by Amy Kolodziej

A new photographer is born.

Today’s feature is from .

Amy says:

“This session was a natural light lifestyle session to celebrate the 6 month milestone of my littlest client featured in the images. I spent an hour in their home playing and laughing and documenting the joy that their new baby girl has brought to their family.

It was extra special when the older daughter asked her mom if she could take pictures too, and brought out her little camera. I was in the right place at the right time to document her mimicking my interactions with her baby sister…and it was simply adorable.”

Amy’s Photography Tip:

Sometimes it can be stressful going into a client’s home without the certainty that you would normally have in a location of your choice (or studio if you have one). Often times your definition of “great natural light” and the client’s definition can differ, leading to the dreaded panic attack when you walk into the unknown and it isn’t as described.

Once I have booked an in-home session I like to give the family a heads up that once I arrive I will quickly walk through their home to choose the best location for our session, or at least where to start.

I make sure that when I arrive I make note of the time of day and which way the sun will be moving so that as the session progresses I can have an idea of where the light will be in relation to the different rooms of their home.

Another thing to take into consideration when you are in a client’s home is the paint color on their walls. A dark color is always going to make your images seem darker, while a nice white wall is a pleasant surprise!

If you get the details out of the way first (such as light/location) you will be free to spend your time really enjoying the session and your clients. The more relaxed you are, the easier it will be for your clients to relax, leading to more genuine images.

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So engaging for only 6 months!
Cuddling with her lovey
A happy family moment
So very happy, and full of light.

Amy used a Nikon D600 with a Sigma 35mm 1.4 Art Series lens to capture these images.

Amy Kolodziej is a Charlotte, NC Wedding and Lifestyle photographer.

See more tips on In-Home Sessions, Lighting, and Location.

 

*Please note: some of the links in this post are affiliate links, and don’t affect you as the buyer but do help support us and keep this site free for everyone.