A lot of clients anxiously ask me, before a photoshoot, what they should or shouldn't wear.  It's important to feel that the photos reflect your family at their best, so I totally get why people want some tips on how to style the family.  I have found that there are a few things that you can do to ensure you all look your very best and there aren't distracting elements in the photos.

1. Coordinate, don't match

Very closely matching outfits can look dated.  It's a great idea to choose a colour palette and use that as a starting point.  Pick 3 or 4 complementary colours which are tonally similar, perhaps with one 'highlight' colour in the accessories.  For example, grey, navy, light blue and white look crisp and stylish together.  Or pale pink, tan and cream.  Starting with neutral or paler colours, then accessorising with some brights works really well. 

This family chose a base palette of soft blues and greys, with a teal skirt adding a subtle pop of colour.

This family chose a base palette of soft blues and greys, with a teal skirt adding a subtle pop of colour.

The base colours of darker greys and navy blues mean the pink in the little girl's leggings and the mum's floral shirt pack a punch.

The base colours of darker greys and navy blues mean the pink in the little girl's leggings and the mum's floral shirt pack a punch.

2. Layers and textures

Layers are flattering and supremely practical (and who doesn't love that combination?!).  They can add personality to an outfit and can be added or taken away according to the look you are after. Texture adds visual interest, particularly in black and white photos and can help make images pop.

Her textured dress and his tweed jacket add a nice bit of visual interest

Her textured dress and his tweed jacket add a nice bit of visual interest

The layer of netting in the foreground draws your eye into the image and the contrasting textures ensure the children's faces are the focal point.

The layer of netting in the foreground draws your eye into the image and the contrasting textures ensure the children's faces are the focal point.

3. Avoid very bright colours

Very bright colours in large blocks can be visually distracting and cast a colour pall on someone's face that is unflattering.  For example, lime green tops will give the wearer a green cast to their chin and neck.  If you want to wear a brightly coloured top, go for warmer tones and break it up near the face with a more neutral coloured scarf or collar.

This little girl looks beautiful in a mustard yellow cardigan, but bright colours can be unflattering.  The block of yellow here works because it is broken up with a sweet, scalloped collar.

This little girl looks beautiful in a mustard yellow cardigan, but bright colours can be unflattering.  The block of yellow here works because it is broken up with a sweet, scalloped collar.

4. Be practical

Everyone being photographed should wear clothes that are comfortable and that they feel good in.  If a jumper is itchy or a jacket is uncomfortable, it'll show in the photos.  A good tip is to dress as if you are going out for a nice dinner with some great friends - relaxed, comfortable but looking your best!  If it's cold or rainy, remember coats, scarves, hats and boots will feature in the photos too, so think about how to coordinate those if possible.  If any of the shoot is going to be in a local park or outdoor space, there will probably be a bit of walking involved so wear shoes that aren't agonising (wedges work well if you want to wear heels but can't walk far in stilettos). 

Often, you will only have one coat for each family member, but you can still be practical and stylish.  This family have tonally similar coats, except for the baby's fuchsia snowsuit.  The mum's dark pink scarf and the pink on the little girl's boots balance out the colours and bring the look together.

Often, you will only have one coat for each family member, but you can still be practical and stylish.  This family have tonally similar coats, except for the baby's fuchsia snowsuit.  The mum's dark pink scarf and the pink on the little girl's boots balance out the colours and bring the look together.

This couple chose a comfortable, smart / casual look which works well.  If in doubt, a button-down shirt and a bit of sparkle can't go wrong!

This couple chose a comfortable, smart / casual look which works well.  If in doubt, a button-down shirt and a bit of sparkle can't go wrong!

5. Go for classic over high fashion

Beautiful, classic dresses and shirts passed down from grandma, simple skirts, well-cut trousers... There's a timeless appeal to the classic look that means your photos won't date.  Plus, if you have fabulous, heirloom clothes for your children (or yourself!), how often do you get an opportunity to get them out?  If you're anything like me, you and your children wear jeans, leggings and sweaters EVERY DAY and the beautiful dresses and bloomers are saved for 'special occasions' that somehow never materialise! I'm aware that this is quite contrasting advice to point number 4.  Oops! Heirloom clothes are almost always impractical (dry clean only, anyone?!), so I would always advise having at least one change of clothes up your sleeve (no pun intended.  Sort of.).

A simple, dusky pink dress, with sweet gathered sleeves gives this photo a classic look that won't date.

A simple, dusky pink dress, with sweet gathered sleeves gives this photo a classic look that won't date.

5. Accessorise

Whilst it works well to have a neutral base to your outfits, you don't have to suppress your natural flair!  Statement jewellery, scarves and hats work really well to show more personality without being overly distracting.  Also, carefully chosen 'props' can add to an image - flowers, an inherited toy, a meaningful object.  These can all lift an image and tell a bit of your family story.

Can you guess the profession of this baby's mother?!  Adult sized accessories give a sense of scale and the choice of glasses and a stethoscope tell a bit of the family's story.

Can you guess the profession of this baby's mother?!  Adult sized accessories give a sense of scale and the choice of glasses and a stethoscope tell a bit of the family's story.

While this mum has kept her and her baby's outfits very simple, the statement necklace adds personality and style.

While this mum has kept her and her baby's outfits very simple, the statement necklace adds personality and style.

6. Don't forget the details

Portraits carry a lot of detail and small things that you wouldn't ordinarily notice show up in close-up photos.  Wear socks that don't have holes, trim your nose hair (that's mostly one for the guys!), clean your shoes!  Keep hairstyles simple so if they do get blown about by the wind it doesn't matter.  During the shoot, keep a tissue in your pocket to wipe a child's snotty nose. 

This mother's simple, unfussy hairstyle has been cleverly blow-dried so it is pulled back from her face.  If the wind blows it around a bit, it doesn't matter but it still looks gorgeous!

This mother's simple, unfussy hairstyle has been cleverly blow-dried so it is pulled back from her face.  If the wind blows it around a bit, it doesn't matter but it still looks gorgeous!

7. (For newborn shoots only) Black, grey and navy

Newborn shoots are a little different as you want the baby to be the centre of attention and for there to be as few visual distractions as possible.  The best way to do this is to keep parents' clothes very simple and darker than the baby's.  Black, grey or navy blue are the best colours for parents' clothes, with the baby wearing a plain, light colour.

The mums wearing a simple black top in these two photos allows the tiny newborn to take centre stage.

The mums wearing a simple black top in these two photos allows the tiny newborn to take centre stage.

8.  Be yourself!

If the suggestions in this style guide don't suit you and your family, ignore them!  If you want to wear clashing colours and loud patterns, go ahead!  Photoshoots are supposed to be fun and a reflection of your family's character, so wear whatever makes you feel your best!

I hope this style guide has been helpful. If you are another photographer, please feel free to share this link with your clients. 

Posted
AuthorRosie Wedderburn

In a new blog series, I'm going to be doing a number of 'How to...' posts, answering some of the most frequent questions I get asked. 

Virtually every time I mention I'm a family photographer and I work mainly with children, I get the inevitable comments about how difficult it is to take good photos of children.  Most parents tell me, before a photoshoot, that their child hates having their photo taken and will probably play up.

The thing is, I LOVE working with children!  Before I was a photographer, I was a primary school teacher and I have spent almost all of my adult working life hanging out with and having fun with children.  All that experience means I'm a bit of a pro when it comes to getting the most natural, beautiful pictures of children.  But I have a few tricks up my sleeve that mean anyone can do the same.

So, how can you get great, natural photos of children?  Here are my top tips:

1. Get down with the kids

No, I don't mean, 'Try and be cool' (whenever I've tried that I've failed spectacularly and humiliatingly, but that's stories for another blog!).  I mean it literally.  Get down to the child's level.  Firstly, because that engages the child and lets them know that you are ready to play with them.  And secondly, because most of the best portraits are at eye level.  The child is more likely to look directly at the camera if it's on their level and more likely to smile at you if you have shown them that you are interested in what they are doing / saying / showing you.

Getting down on a level with this beautiful girl allowed me to capture her fabulous eyes straight on. 

Getting down on a level with this beautiful girl allowed me to capture her fabulous eyes straight on. 

 You need to spend a lot of time lying on the floor in order to capture babies at eye level, but it's worth it!

 You need to spend a lot of time lying on the floor in order to capture babies at eye level, but it's worth it!

2. Work fast and be ready in advance.

I never expect children to sit still in one place and wait for me to get my camera equipment organised.  Before taking any photos, make sure your camera settings are right (always best to set the shutter speed as fast as possible when photographing children) and then you won't miss that second when they catch sight of something funny and smile or pull a hilarious face!  Once you are ready, get snapping!  The average attention span of a baby / child is about 10 seconds (that's a fact, from the RWP Science lab), so you don't have long to capture that expression!

Always have your camera ready in advance so you don't miss spontaneous moments like this gorgeous girl swinging around a lamppost with a cheeky smile!

Always have your camera ready in advance so you don't miss spontaneous moments like this gorgeous girl swinging around a lamppost with a cheeky smile!

The intense concentration as a child blows bubbles doesn't last long so you don't have time to be faffing about with camera settings.

The intense concentration as a child blows bubbles doesn't last long so you don't have time to be faffing about with camera settings.

3.  Don't try and get a 'perfect' shot

I absolutely love the shots that are not traditionally 'perfect'.  The baby crying or eating a toy, the kid pulling a face, the hair blowing the wrong way, everyone laughing at a kid farting!  These pictures are much better at telling the story of a family than the ones where everyone is smiling stiffly.

But, with the advent of social media sites like Instagram and Pinterest, there is a real pressure to get The Perfect Shot. It's a totally addictive pastime (speaking from A LOT of experience!) to trawl through other people's photos and think about how you could set up a shot just like that one.  But the amazing thing about each time I take photos is I NEVER get the same photo twice!  Each family and each child has their own ways of playing, their personal expressions, their own twinkle in the eye and if you try too hard to get 'The Shot' that is just like the one you saw on Instagram (check out these attempts!), you'll miss the moment that is truly Instagrammable: your child's joyful smile or cheeky giggle.  Not to mention the fact that if you try and tell a 2 year old to do ANYTHING... well, they just won't!  So you'll both get frustrated and the photos will show it! 

Classic family photos are great, but I also love the ones that show a family having fun and being a bit silly together!

Classic family photos are great, but I also love the ones that show a family having fun and being a bit silly together!

This teething baby can't get that soft toy into her mouth quickly enough!  Not a 'perfect' photo, but one that is a reminder of a particular time (plus, it's funny!).

This teething baby can't get that soft toy into her mouth quickly enough!  Not a 'perfect' photo, but one that is a reminder of a particular time (plus, it's funny!).

4.  Include them

Even the smallest children love seeing pictures of themselves.  A great way to 'break the ice' at the start of a photoshoot is to take a few snaps (it doesn't really matter what these look like) and then show the child.  For older children, explain what you are going to do and how a camera works, let them look through the viewfinder and take a few shots themselves.  They lose interest quite quickly but they are no longer wondering what on earth you are doing!

He had already had a good look at the photos I had taken of him, so he wasn't wondering what I was doing anymore and we could concentrate on exchanging terrible jokes.

He had already had a good look at the photos I had taken of him, so he wasn't wondering what I was doing anymore and we could concentrate on exchanging terrible jokes.

5. Engage your inner child!

Take a genuine interest in what the child is doing, ask questions, play with him / her and enjoy their company. In-depth conversations can lead to the most arresting portraits, as children look at you thoughtfully and intensely when you are really listening to what they have to say.  Equally, playing a game that they are enjoying pays dividends in cheeky smiles or joyful expressions of surprise and delight.  Hide-and-seek is a particular favourite of mine for older children, peek-a-boo for the younger ones and a bubble machine is worth its weight in gold!  It's best to allow the child to take the lead rather than trying to get them to do what you want.  You have to run around a bit more to get the best angles and light but you also avoid the self-conscious grimace children have learned to do when they are faced with a camera.

Playing hide-and-seek with this cheeky chap paid off with this 'I found you!' photo!

Playing hide-and-seek with this cheeky chap paid off with this 'I found you!' photo!

The moment he spied his dad, hiding behind a tree produced a sweet, joyful smile!

The moment he spied his dad, hiding behind a tree produced a sweet, joyful smile!

6. Wear them out!

Most children, at some point, need a moment of rest (however brief)!  If you’ve been playing with them, chasing them around and focusing on them for some time, they will probably need a bit of time out. For babies, this often involves sleep and for older children, a little time to themselves (which almost always involves a snack!).  This is a lovely opportunity to get those more peaceful, quieter photos, showing a different side to the child’s personality.  You’ll be feeling tired by now as well, but don’t miss this chance to take some final shots.

A quiet moment with a snack at the end of an exhausting morning of jumping in puddles.

A quiet moment with a snack at the end of an exhausting morning of jumping in puddles.

This little fella needed a quick lie-down after all the fun we had already had.  A perfect moment for a more peaceful picture.

This little fella needed a quick lie-down after all the fun we had already had.  A perfect moment for a more peaceful picture.

I really hope this has been helpful. Please get in touch and let me know how your next portrait session goes!

For those of you who are aspiring to get your DSLR onto manual mode (why bother?  Have a look at this post) and have more control over your photography options, I've been trying to help with some photography tips for very beginners.  Have a look at this post on aperture if you haven't read it already.  

Today, I'm going to be talking about shutter speed.  This is a bit more intuitive than aperture (or, at least, I think so!).  So, here are the basics:

1. What is shutter speed?  Shutter speed tells you how long the shutter in your camera will be open.  If it is open for a short time, it will let less light in.  If it is open for a longer time, it will let more light in.  

DSC_0544.jpg

2. Fast shutter speed.  If you have a short shutter speed, your image will be sharper as you are only capturing that incredibly short moment in time.  This is great for taking pictures of moving objects (or, in my case, children!).  The picture above is Elliott who, essentially, is never still!  He was running after a ball and I wanted to capture that sweet, excited expression without any blur, so my camera shutter speed was set to 1/2000th of a second.  That means my shutter was only open for a small fraction of a second and only captured 1/2000th of a second in time, so there wasn't much room for blur.  This works brilliantly if you are outside or have a lot of natural light, as 1/2000th of a second doesn't leave much time to let a lot of light into your camera.  If there isn't enough natural light, your photo will be under-exposed (too dark) and it'll be difficult to see details and will feel sort of gloomy.  The disadvantage of a shorter shutter speed is that photos can work out looking quite static as there is no movement at all in them.

3. Slow shutter speed.  The advantage of a slow shutter speed is that it lets in lots of light. If you are working in low light conditions, you want to let in as much light as possible.  This is great if your subject is very still, like a dreamy, sleeping newborn.  This was an indoor shoot on a cold, wintery day so there was some natural light, but not very much.  I put my aperture up to f1.8 (low f/stop number = large aperture hole, remember?!) and shutter speed down to 1/160th of a second.  I then had to have a very steady hand to make sure the camera didn't wobble so I could still get a nice crisp image.  

4. Balance. Sometimes, if you are working with natural light, you have to make choices about how to balance the shutter speed with the amount of light available.  This picture of Evie-Rose coming down the stairs required a faster shutter speed, as she was moving, but there wasn't a huge amount of natural light.  I set my shutter speed to 1/320th of a second (which sounds fast, but actually isn't ALL that quick) and then waited for her to be on a step, where she was likely to be slightly more still than when moving between steps.  Her slight trepidation about the 'big' stairs and childlike, pigeon-toed stance make for a great image but it wouldn't have been so successful if she had been moving more at the time.  There would have been a definite blur.

5. Blur isn't always bad. Sometimes you want a bit of movement in your image.  In this photo, I used a slow shutter speed (1/30th of a second) to my advantage to capture motion.  I was standing as still as I could (feet firmly planted, wide apart!) when the man on his bike cycled past. I kept my camera as steady as possible and tracked the man through my viewfinder so that he stayed in focus while the background blurred.  This technique takes a bit of practice and I don't use it very often, but it can be really effective.

I hope that's helpful to those exploring your camera functions.  Let me know if you have any questions and good luck!

 
 

I must start today's photography tips post with a confession: I find the technical details of how a camera works incredibly boring.  I have learnt what I know through a combination of endless trial-and-error, painfully long-winded research, Googling and discussion with other photographers.  I would never claim that I know everything.  Or even anything very much.  But I know what I didn't know before.  If you know what I mean!  

When I started out in photography, terms such as aperture, f/stop, ISO and shutter speed were a mystery.  I got incredibly frustrated, trying to read photography blogs that I just didn't understand.  I'm hoping that these photography tips posts might help others in a similar situation by explaining the early basics of photography, the stuff you need to know in order to start experimenting with your DSLR manual mode.

Learning about aperture was a bit of a revelation, actually.  Knowing how to use it gives you a lot of control over the final appearance of your photos.  So, here are the basic things you need to know about aperture:

1. F/stop bigger, aperture smaller

The aperture is the hole in your camera lens that allows light in.  We talk about the size of an aperture in terms of f/stops.  The most confusing things about aperture is that, when talking about aperture size, the higher the numbers go, the smaller the hole!  So an aperture of, say, f/1.4 means that the hole letting light in is much bigger than if you set your aperture to something like f/16. Totally counter-intuitive! 

2. Depth of field - shallow

Photographers often talk about how to achieve the perfect 'depth of field' and the aperture helps to control this.  'Depth of field' means how much of your image is in focus.  If you have a shallow depth of field, only a small plane of your photo is focused and everything else around (both in front of and behind the focus point) gets increasingly less focused as it moves away from the focus point.  

When the aperture is large, the depth of field is very shallow.  In these two photos, above, the aperture was set to f/2.0.  Remember, this means that the hole is large (because the number is small.  Gaaaah!), allowing a lot of light into the camera.   In the image on the right, only Daniel's eyes are in focus, making them really stand out.  I chose a larger aperture for the one on the left as well because when the hand (or anything in the foreground) is out of focus, you get a better sense of the visual distance between the hand and the face, giving the image a bit more depth.  

However, having a very shallow depth of field can make an image look a bit distorted, by enhancing one feature. If Daniel had a very big nose, the image on the right would make it stand out even more by increasing the sense of visual distance between his eyes and the end of his nose!  Luckily, he doesn't have a very big nose!

I like to do portrait photography with a larger aperture (anything from f/1.8-f/3.0 and I mainly use a prime 50mm lens, for those who are interested!).  It means that backgrounds are nicely blurred (that's the bokeh I was talking about in my last Photography tips post), features are softened and key elements such as beautiful eyes really stand out.  In the photos below, the first two are taken at f1.8 and the third one is f2.8.  

3. Depth of field - deep

If you are taking a group photo, you need to have a deeper depth of field, so that everyone is in focus.  For this family photo, below, I wanted everyone in focus but they are all sitting at different 'depths', so I upped my aperture size to f/4.8 (making the hole smaller and the depth of field deeper...is it starting to make sense, yet?!).  This is still quite a large aperture as I didn't want the background to be in perfect focus.  I would use a much smaller aperture (say, f/18) if I was photographing a landscape and wanted all the details in focus. 

DSC_0169.jpg

In this photo, below, my aperture size was f/3.5, but it would have been better if it was smaller (like an f/5-f/6) as the baby in the foreground is out of focus.  Had my depth of field been deeper, the baby would also have been in focus.  I still like this photo for the sweet, shared moment between the two women but if I had been quicker to change my aperture size, it would have been even better!

4. Balance

Photography is all about balancing how much light gets into your camera.  If you have a lot of light coming in through a large aperture (such as f/2.0), you will need to balance that with a quicker shutter speed, so less light comes in during the moment the photo is taken (shutter speed will be my next 'Photography tips' post).  If you are taking photos somewhere with not much natural light and you don't want to use a flash, you might want to use a wider aperture so that more light is allowed in that way.  Or you might make the shutter speed longer.  Both of these things have advantages and disadvantages, so you have to balance them to work out the best fit for the situation you're in.  

Summary

  • Aperture is the hole through which light gets into your camera (larger hole --> smaller f/stop number).  
  • A large aperture size (smaller f/stop number) will create a shallow depth of field and vice versa.  
  • You need to balance aperture size with shutter speed and ISO.

I hope that gives you a starting point.  Now, go experiment with manual mode!

The best photography course I've ever done was a long weekend in Goa when we were told to put our camera in manual mode at the start of the weekend and keep it there!  I had experimented with manual mode before but, to be honest, it had always seemed a bit too complicated and time consuming.  Auto always felt so much easier.  

I can honestly say that since that weekend in India, I have had my camera in manual mode almost constantly and I love it!  It was the start, for me, of going from being a 'hobby' photographer to really wanting to do it as a profession.  

So, why is manual so much better?   Here are three reasons (as I've been dreaming of spring recently, I'll use this beautiful bunch of tulips as my teaching aid!):

1. No flash!

The photograph on the left is taken in auto mode.  Auto almost always reverts to using a flash when the light is not super bright (so, basically, for at least 8 months of the year in Britain!) so you get a flat, washed-out foreground and a dull background.  Also, the reflection from the flash often shows up and is visually very distracting.  You can see it here, reflecting in the window behind the tulips.  On the right, there's no flash.  The light is completely natural and so the colours are more natural too. The light is more uniform across the subject, so you don't get one part (like the yellow tulip in the left-hand image) dominating the foreground.

2. Control

In manual mode, you are in control.  I wanted to capture the light just skating the tops of the flowers.  My camera's auto mode didn't know that.  It just did what it is best at: got a clear, bright image of what's in front of me.  No subtlety.  For the image on the right, I turned down the shutter speed a touch to darken the shadows and make the light areas pop (I'll do posts about shutter speed, ISO and aperture in the near future, I promise!).  In manual mode, you also get a lot more control over the focus, so I homed in on those two middle flowers that are particularly catching the light.  The photo becomes about light and colour rather than just about the flowers.

3. Background blur / 'bokeh', call it what you will.

Bokeh is one of those words that photographers love using because it makes you feel you are 'in the club' and know what you are talking about!  It comes from the Japanese word for 'blur' and essentially means a combination of the quality of the background blur and the background light.  When bokeh is good, it gives a soft, smooth background that enhances the photo rather than distracts from the subject.  Good bokeh is not actually produced by the camera, but by the aperture of the lens (again, I promise I'll do a post about apertures in the future), so it's not entirely to do with manual / auto mode, but if you want a nice, soft background blur, you need to be in manual so you have control over how much light you let into the camera.

I hope this post has encouraged you to switch your DSLR to manual mode and start experimenting! It doesn't come naturally at first and requires a lot of trial and error.  But, if you're anything like me, that's the best way to learn! 

Posted
AuthorRosie Wedderburn