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Capturing Authentic Photos of Children & Families

Lesson 9 of 19

How to Direct and Connect with Families

Chris Orwig

Capturing Authentic Photos of Children & Families

Chris Orwig

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Lesson Info

9. How to Direct and Connect with Families

Lesson Info

How to Direct and Connect with Families

So, the next thing, is as we get into working with the family, some things I consider, is connecting and directing. And again, referencing this guide, there's some material in there, and it's at the site, Savor Every Second. And when it comes to direction... The thing, to keep in mind, is that... Without reading all the details, you can read it later, but great portraits, it's a collaboration, between two people. And it's always, partially, a gift from them, and it's like meeting halfway, right? And so, when you're photographing a family, you have to remember, that no one's gonna be dressed up nice, on a beach, and just randomly pick up their kid, and spin 'em in circles. This only happens, because you're having fun, and said hey, could you pick up your daughter, and then could you spin her around? And so, that's a direction, right? You're giving them some ideas. Hey, can you do a cartwheel? Oh yeah, I love doing cartwheels! (chuckles) And then, she has fun. Or, to the little guy here,...

Miles, I love Miles, he really wasn't into the shoot at all. I was like, Miles, do you think you can jump off that rock? Never mind, that's way too high. He's like, no I can do that! And then, he starts flyin' off that. Hey Miles, I bet if you stood on that sand pile, you'd be taller than your sister. Yeah, and Miles is really into Bear Grylls. I don't know if you know, that adventure guy, and we're walkin' by this, on the beach, there's this drainage thing. I was like, I bet Bear Grylls would totally come right out of that thing. He's like, oh, could I do that? I'm like, totally. And so, then he climbed outta there. And this shot, the family actually loves this shot, because it captures this age, and this kid so well, which is kind of ironic, and funny. It's not like the beautiful beach shot. But, more important than that, was he and I were connected. So then, later, when I said, hey, go stand next to Mom and Dad, he's with me, because I've gotten, I spoke in his language. Or, the daughter, there was this funny, little thing, and she put it on. The parent shot. These often happen... They can't happen, if you say, hey, you two parents, why don't you stand like you did, at senior prom, and I'll take a picture of you? Parents usually don't wanna be in the photographs. A lot of holiday cards, or just the kids, or different things, so you have to make it really organic, as far as the direction, and here's how they happen, all the time for me. I'm actually photographing the kids. They're looking over my shoulder, like, wow, those are our kids. They are cute, aren't they? Even though they're messy, and it's tough, I love 'em. And then, what I usually do, is I have a kid, come over with me, and push the shutter, and that's how I get that shot. Or, I say hey, they're standing there. Hey, will you hug both, real quick, and then they'll do that. And then, just asking the family to get close. Family apart isn't as good as close. And so, looking at different ways to do that. When it comes to directing, or connecting with little kids, that the communication's different, like this, it's going through steps. So, I plopped her down, and then you can see here, she's connected to me, not the camera. She's not putting this on, for the camera. And so, I can't remember what I was saying, but I'm sure it was something like... (Chris babbling) Whatever her language was, at the time, and then she did it! And then, I'm like, wow, look at this! And so, I'm... I'm making that connection, as I'm directing. I knock the director's hat on, and okay little baby, you need to be cute, 'cause I want a shot of you. You know what I mean? Babies don't do that. Or, you're picking strawberries, and you work with your kid, and she would eat more than she would pick, and so I was like, hey Sophie, hold my basket for a second, then she holds it, and I get the shot, right? So sometimes, let's call it a prop, or let's call it having a little insight, into directing. That can happen as well. These are unprocessed here, the first ones, but this is this artist I was going to photograph, on the right, amazing artist, his wife's really talented as well, and their son here, and he was just not in the family photographs, at all. He was wiggly, squiggly, so he's doing that thing. I'm just kinda shooting through it. And eventually, he leaves. I let him take a picture of Mom and Dad, and then I kinda take a picture, and arrange myself, right here. So, I see, this is a cool shot, 'cause she actually installed this floor, he's a painter, they're both surfers, she's a filmmaker. Really nice, neat people. So, I have a little bit of living space, ask her to take her socks off, I get the kid in the frame, kinda encourage him to come back, and say, whatever you do, don't look at the camera, and so, you and your dad, look opposite directions, and then get this kind of a shot, which is, for their family, it's exactly that, and that's part of what you have to think about. Are you a screenwriter? Or, what was the word I used? Journalist, artisan, and... Playwright, thank you, playwright. Playwright says, I'm controlling this. I'm more of an artisan. I'm like, I wanna work with what I have, and make something that's relevant to them. The other reason, why this stuff is really valuable, and they love this shot, is I was actually there, on assignment, to photograph Andy, in his studio. But, if ever I can also photograph people with a family member, by the time I start doing my other work, it's that much better. So, anytime you can do something with family, you can ask, in a really deep way. Here's my daughter, on crazy hair day, at school. This is typical photographer kid. Her dad's a photographer, right? Annie, can I take a photo of your crazy hair? No, Dad! I'm like, well fine. What if you just make a disgusting face? Love that shot. Let her do it. That's what you do with kids, you let them go there, and then of course, you try to bring them back a little bit. Or, little Elsie, at brother-and-law's wedding. Can I take a picture of you? No, Dad. Pillow in the face. But then, I got one, and I got it, 'cause I said, well stick your tongue out. Do somethin' else. And then, I'm getting that other face. Also, you're seeing my shadows, right? It's a little overcast day, you're thinkin' about light, I gotta get her to look up, but I can't say, Elsie, I'm a photographer. I need more light in your eyes, I need you to look up. I just kind of am standing up here, and talking to her, and engaging in that way. This one, which we've already seen, the predictive stuff, just to reiterate, she gets her apple, and then how do I get the shot? I'm like, can I have a slice? And she's like, sure Dad, and she hands me one, doesn't even know I take a picture, I get it, and then she goes back to eating hers, and then we move on. Here's another situation, of on-assignment, and I'm integrating this in too, 'cause family and kids isn't just traditional family, like we all think, it's much bigger, and broader than that. And families take many different shapes and forms, and it also helps in different types of work. Here I am, photographing Jack O'Neill, the guy who invented the wetsuit. I'm a surfer, wetsuits keep me warm, this guy's a legend! And I'm in his home, and this is the first shot I get, and it isn't very good. It's super cluttered. Let me show the next one. He's not into it, right? And then, his daughter shows up. Get this shot. You see how he changed? Same way, if you, or I would change, if one of our siblings, or daughters, or somethin'. And then, I can do my work. And then, I can get some really meaningful portraits of him. And the quick side story, I always like to tell this one, is... So he, his company is O'Neill Wetsuits. He's one of the guy, who invented wetsuits. And so, of course, I had to say, like a smart person, Jack, I noticed your eye patch is made out of wetsuit material. Why is that? And he was like, "How else would I keep my eye socket warm, "when I'm surfing?" And I was like, oh, right! (chuckles) Anyway, another shoot I'm on, to photograph, the woman here, in the Shakespearean clothes, and her daughter, came to the shoot. So, of course I gotta get some of those shots, and then we had buried this ladder in the sand, so of course, I gotta let her climb up on the ladder, and then that leads to something, like this. But, who is she looking at? Her daughter, right? So, kids help, we help form these connections, in this way. This is the, Costa Rica one down. My buddy, Martin... On the lawn, right by the beach. He's dragging kids around. We're just having a lotta goofy fun. And whenever you have goofy fun with kids, they get a little bit exhausted, or I think in this next one, Dylan flew off the boogie board, and that's a great place to be, with kids, because it lets 'em relax, lets all of us relax. Then, they sat down, to recover, lookin' at the waves. And then, of course, I had to arrange them, 'cause this shot just doesn't meet anyone's needs, right? It just isn't there. Dylan, what if you go to this side? Let's do a photograph. You guys don't need to smile. And then, they give me this type of a thing. So, with all of this stuff, what we wanna do, is we're thinkin' about directing families. Sometimes, it has to do, going back to more little family stuff here, is just the touch, walk down the beach, and hold hands, or... Ask them to talk to each other. This shot I got, because I let the girl run. She ran a lap, and then she came back, and barrelled into her dad, and just did that naturally. I couldn't have staged that. And then, other things as well, is getting them just connected, is really what I'm looking at. Here's the running shots of her. You get her spirit, right? This is what she wanted to do, and she wanted me to follow around the camera, like that, which is a lot of fun, but it got me to these places, and it got me to direct her, to connect with her big brother, who's in junior high. Now, assemblies don't do this, right? But, if you connect with them, they might. And so, that's really what I wanna do. As far as direction goes as well, I'm also thinking about, in this case, I'm putting the daughter in front of the mom, but this composition isn't really working, nor is that one. But, I wanted to have something, where she's blocking, just a little bit, so I'm arranging them, and trying to get a shot, where they're connected, and together, in that way. So, I'm assembling the different pieces in a natural way, and you can see a little bit of that evolution, on how that works. Couple more, to show you. Is this kinda interesting to see? The step by step? And we'll see it with the family, whether I did it, or not, is up in the air, but we'll see it in a second. This is like the mom and dad, and like I said, these are really creative, wonderful, deep people, right? Their kids are running. They're kinda like, what are we doing? I'm like, hey, you guys come together, the daughter isn't into it. She runs away once. Look at the mom. I don't know if you can see that. It's not in focus, but she's like, please, Isadora! And then, we get her in there, and trap her. That doesn't work, she escapes. Then, I am having to think about the family dynamic, but also light, so then I get 'em in the right light spot. I'm getting 'em to interact, and play a little bit. She starts to wanna kinda lean over, a little bit. You'll see, in a second. The daughter, in the middle isn't, she's kinda squashed. I want her to be connected with Mom a little bit. And all of this is happening in... 100th of a second, type of thing. What if you guys hold hands? She starts to lean over. They're like, Izzy, come on. I'm like, no, this is great! Lean over, all the way to your Mom's shoulder! And then, of course, we get to this. And then, this moment, which is the only moment they need to see, right? Because, the next one is that. The whole family kinda... (exclaims) And then, they kinda tumbled over. But, I still had the little one on their shoulders, so I can't let that escape. That's the moment, too. Because, I know I'm not gonna get many with her, before she wants to run again. So, with all of this, and directing, what we need to do, this is me, now we gotta turn it back to you, is define our directorial style. And what I mean by that, is it could be something like this. You could be a coach, like, alright guys, let's go, and blow in the whistle, and really drivin' the train, in getting people somewhere, where they need to be. That's a great way to do it. A catalyst is someone, who... I don't know, they do these little things, and it makes stuff happen. I'm tryin' to think of a right example. In surfing, when you fix your surfboard, what you do, is you take resin, which is just liquid plastic, basically, and you put catalyst in it, and it hardens it, and you can't fix it, without the catalyst. It's just gooey, ucky stuff. But, when you do that, it hardens, and then you can fix something. So, it's like, activate something. So, maybe you're more of an activator, as your directorial style. Or, maybe you're kind of a captain, like hey, welcome to the ship, we're gonna go on this journey, and this is gonna be nice, and you're a little bit more like that. Or, you could be a captain, like this guy, here too, right, and you could be a troublemaker. And that really works with kids, as long as the parents are into it. You rile the kids up, and task 'em to jump off the thing, or climb in the... Whatever it is, and you can get there. So, for your own directorial style, I want you to start thinkin' about what that might be. Are you one of these things, or use a different analogy, but you wanna define that, so when you get to that shoot, you're like, okay, this is... This is what I'm gonna channel. This is the hat I'm gonna wear. Alright. Directorial techniques, as far as how do we do this, in a practical way. Let me give you a few suggestions. You've already heard me say some of this. We wanna do things, like ask them to look at stuff. What typically, in composition, people will tell you, is they'll do things like, they'll hold their hands, for shoulders, and have 'em do that. That works. Or, other people will say, they kinda grab the face, and twist it, or different things, but I find, with family kids, that isn't as effective as it is, maybe with a model, 'cause they get that language. So, with family and kids, it's a little bit more about thinkin' their orientation's, say, like, hey, what if you sat, so you're facing that tree? And they'll just sit, kinda facing that tree, and then, what if you, oh, look at that wave, right there! And you kinda trick them, into looking at things. Looking away is always really good, because if, I'm gonna do it with you right now, if you and I stare at each other, for too long, the first moment is good, but then it kinda falls down, and she looked away, which was great. Normal conversation is, we look at each other, we look away, and then we look back. And so, giving them that break, just say, hey, why don't you look down the beach? Even if you don't want the shot, just give 'em a break, and say, oh yeah, now look back, towards the camera! And that's often where the magic takes place. Touching is important, holding hands is an easy one to do, asking kids not to smile, in an ironic way, they always like that, don't smile! That makes 'em, seriously, don't smile! And then, they give you the most wonderful smile. So... Asking them to throw things, is really good. And what I mean by that, is rocks at cars. No, I'm not! And I mean, if you're at a beach, and there's rocks, throw 'em in the water, or if you have a football. One family, one of those families I showed you, brought a rugby ball down, and they were tossin' it back and forth. It was never in any shots, but it just got the stiffness out, got 'em to move. And breathe is important, walking, moving, give your mom a kiss, hey, can you hug that person? And that's what the director does. That's where you're trying to get these people to go. You also wanna think about composition. And with composition, this is a really touch topic, because composition, typically in photography, rule of thirds, negative space, or different things, I wanna do it a little bit differently, but let's go to our journalist, artisan, and playwright, for a moment. And let's just try that on, and we'll try something else as well. But, the journalist, with the composition, really is about composing herself, rather than what's happening in the front. It's like, this is happening, I'm going to arrange myself. The artisan is about arranging theirself, like I would try to do, but also getting the family to that spot, so it has that. The playwright is like... This sounds egotistical, it's not. But, in their mind, this is about me, I know what I wanna do, this is my vision, I know exactly where we're goin'. You guys wanna do somethin' else... We're not doin' it, we're here. And that sounded a little negative, but there are, Shakespeare, he's a genius, so playwrights can be geniuses, if that's your mode, as far as how you compose. And the point is, that you have a choice, with composition. You can do this, where it's posed to perfection... Or maybe, your goal is connection, and affection. And that's really what it is, for me. I would rather have poor composition, and connection, any day. I would rather have affection, than good rule of thirds, any day. And so, I was thinkin' about, how do I communicate all of this, to you guys? And so, I had this idea. I went for a walk, on the beach, of course. It's like, how do I convey composition, in a way that makes sense? So, here's what it is. I'm gonna grab something, in my prop here, and... I'm gonna liken this, to driftwood, for a moment... And... I went for a walk, I saw this driftwood... And I thought, this is composition, this is how we do it, in family photography. And what I mean by that, is this. Let me just clear things off, a little bit. And then, my daughter helped me build that too, which is kinda cool. There are some people, who will see... A pile of driftwood, the journalist. Let's see our little pile here, and let us let it be. I'm a documentarian. I just wanna document it. I'll figure out the right way. There are other people, who, maybe the playwright, they'll take the driftwood, which was imperfect, and they'll cut the edges off, put it down, to perfect size, they'll pose, to perfection, and they'll say, I took driftwood, and I turned it into this, and now I have these things, which are... I mean, it just looks amazing! You've seen family photographs like this, and they can be profound, I mean, like really deep, but that's not me. I'm not good at this. I'm more, okay, yeah, I have some driftwood... Wouldn't it be kinda fun, if I took, and if you were to see the beach, like driftwood on the beach looks like a mess right now, 'cause we've had so many storms in California, so it really does, but I take that, and I say, I kinda have an idea. I could assemble these little, this family... And I could have this vision, where I'm still tryin' to use natural materials, but something that's adding structure, to my composition, so it's not, it's not like I'm completely lazy, or I... I'm just haphazard, haphazardly doing this. You can see, I set out the wood, and I didn't wanna build the whole thing in front of you, 'cause I knew it would take a long time, but I just set the wood out, the width, and... And then, there's other ways to do this too, but my daughter, Sophie, had this idea, so I had to do it. She was like, what if we took a starfish, and we just put a little hole in it, and I have my little tree, and I wanna arrange them, and even with this though, you have choices, right? You could have it all perfect... Or, you could say, okay family, one kid, Isadora, you're leanin' on your dad. Actually yeah, lean, lean a little bit more. That's kinda fun. I sorta like the imperfection of what we're doing here. I bet you've never heard composition, taught by a driftwood tree before, have you? Isn't that fun? Isn't that kinda cool? And this, of course, is more me. You may be like Chris, the starfish kills it. I had another piece of wood I can't find, but I could've put a wood up there, her shell, or something else. But, this is me. But, you gotta say, well what's you? Maybe you're a little bit more like this. Maybe you're like, yeah, I like some imperfection, but I also like the idea of a triangle, families in triangles. People have talked about that composition. Or no, I like this idea, or I like the pile of wood, that's just over there. And so, what I encourage you to do, to think about, how you, how you do all of this, is hopefully, this image will stick in your mind, and then say, well if I were to build the tree, how would I do it? And the part of the reason why this works too, is you have to remember... Families are bound together, not because they're the same. Not everyone in the family is gonna be beautiful, and good looking, right? Different heights, different interests. Different interest, in being there. And so, I like to say, well yeah, they're a bunch of imperfections, but if you assemble imperfections, in a connected way, it could kinda be cool! You with me on that? And so, part of this, is learning to see, and see the driftwood, but also learning to feel. And a lot of composition actually is that gut feeling. And what you'll see, with composition, as you do family photography more, and maybe think of some of my photographs, my daughter, at the aquarium, that one shot just didn't feel right, but the second one did. And so, you're trying to say, yes, I'm assembling this, but I'm also trying to learn to feel. Photography is much more about feeling, than most people realize. Because, literally, what we see, is based on who we are. If you're angry, and someone walks by you, and they look kinda frustrated, you think, maybe they're frustrated at you, but if you're on top of the world, and you just had the best day of your life, and you see someone angry, maybe you feel empathy for them. What you see, affects your own internal state. So, that's kinda what we have to do. So, with posing though, how do we actually do this? I like to think of, rather than posing direct, with groups, I think of rearranging a little bit, like these little pieces of driftwood, so it's not so much of like, I'm the captain, but more like, hey, let me rearrange, or let me put someone over here. Turning shoulders, that is something I will occasionally do, because if people are square, it can be just too square, the same way if you throw one shoulder closer to me, or turn and look towards something, and trying to use this really light touch, 'cause with families, that's what it is. I think, that's maybe why the driftwood thing works, too. It's not like I'm... I don't need a hammer, to do this. I don't need to be dominating, when I do that. When you are doing your composition, you wanna look at the family, or the person, and then travel around the frame. Because, the thing that destroys most photographs, is like a big pole, or something weird in the background, and so that's essential. Cleaning up that background is key. Consider your camera height. Most of my photographs, of my kids, that aren't good, my camera's too tall. So, I need to get a little bit lower. If you're gonna photograph someone standing up, you rarely do it at eye level. You actually drop the camera down, 'cause otherwise, they look a little squished. If they stand up, they look a little bit, just better, and more heroic, just by a touch, and then get close to them. Couple more things here, let the flaw make the frame, and what I mean by that, is that sometimes, affection is better than perfection. There's those classic stories, about the Navaho weavers, that would weave in one imperfect thread. They called it the soul thread. I don't know if that's really true or not, but I love that idea. And that, with families, if you try to make a family too perfect, it won't look like them. And so, I wanna show you a family shoot, where I tried to do that. And... Here is the shoot, where I'm starting off. The daughter, the little one there, said, can I climb on the fence? The mom wasn't into it, because she's like, you'll be too tall, and I said, no, that's fine. Let me just let the flaw make the flame. I'm iterative, right? Let's write a rough draft. And then... Next, I have them a little bit more with me, so I can compose. What I mean, by with me, is... Once I let the daughter do something, then she's more likely to respond to the next thing. And then, I get the photograph for the family. I like how the mom would lean into her daughters here, and I just love that, and then trying to capture them, by themselves, and then, their dad wasn't there, and I was like, oh yeah, where's Paul? And they said, oh, he's on a run. He didn't wanna do the family photos. And, I was like fine, I get that. Sometimes, some people aren't into it, but he showed up. He happened to be running, and he knew where we were photographing, at this park-type place. And so, I was like Paul, you gotta get in a photo! And he's sweaty, and he just went for a run! And her daughter was like, yeah, we'll do a silly face photo! And so, we did this photo. (chuckles) And I'm getting him in it, 'cause I'm like, I need Dad, in these pictures, 'cause while he doesn't wanna be in the photographs... His kids will want him there. They'll wanna look back, in 20 years, and see, that was me, with Dad, back then, when he had hair, or whatever, right? So then, I tried just Dad, with the daughter, and you can kinda see, he has a dirty shirt on, but he has this warm smile. And so, I need to block him a little bit, so I try putting the daughter in front, and I think actually kinda works. You don't actually know he just went for a run here, do you, like if I hadn't told you? And then, I have him give his daughter a cheek, and she's just glowing, right? She's about to leave for college this year. And then, I have her stand behind her dad. I need to do more blocking, so I have her pick up the daughter there, and then, of course, I have them all give their dad a kiss, so kinda bundles of kids around there, and then I get shot, with all of them there. Now, this isn't the most amazing photography you've ever seen in your life, but the point is, the flaw, right, bring it into the frame! It's okay, to do things like that, and sometimes, that can help us out. So, that's a little bit on... Directing and connecting. I'm gonna check in, with Jim, in a second, but before I do that, what we'll do next, is go to see how the family shoot went, and see how... Some of this, we've put into practice, some of it, maybe not, we'll see. Jim, at this point, any questions on your end, or what's your, what's your-- You know, we always have some questions. We'll always ask the in-studio audience, if someone here has a question. We'll go there first. One of the... We did have a question, about wanting to know, the timing on the shoots, and what we've been looking at here. Are they one-hour shoots, are they two-hour, are they 15 minutes, 30 minutes? What's the gauge, on most of these here? Yeah, the gauge, on most, I mean, the kid photographs, those would happen in a second, and then they disappear. The family photographs, I like to do an hour, typically more than an hour, unless it's a really beautiful day, the kids will kinda fall apart. So, that's what I tend to do. And then, at the same time, I've done some, that are 20 minutes, and that works as well. So, I think, as far as a range, I would never go shorter, probably than 20 minutes, I just don't think you can make the connection that fast, or I can't. And then, I would never go longer than an hour and a half, unless the sun's setting, and the family's like, we're gonna hang out, for another hour, if you wanna stick with us, awesome. Then, I'll stay. It's a really good question, 'cause what happens in photography, and this is any type of photography, portraiture, whatever, the photographer's so excited, that you lose track of time, and this is true, if you've ever had someone photograph you, it's like, someone's like, hey Chris, can I take your photograph? Sure. 10 minutes in, I'm over it. I am done. If they wanna do a two-hour shoot with me, I'm like, there's no way possible, I could do that. But, as a photographer, I could easily photograph someone, for two hours. You get the difference? And so, that's where that timing comes in, and having a little bit of that awareness. Why do an hour? Let me just, one more little thing here, is you need buffer. They're always late. Something always happens. Someone forgets the shoe, or needs to run back to the car, and so you wanna account for that as well. Do you really need 60 minutes? Probably not. But, it makes for more of a flow, for me. Yeah. Great. I think we're good over here! Any questions, from you guys? Yeah! Yeah, I had to write it down, 'cause I was forgetting. How do I capture good composition, or think poses, while trying to maintain a really fluid shoot? I get stuck. 'Cause, I can take great pictures, and stay connected, and then I'm looking back, and I'm missing. I think the composition's startin' to fall. Composition. So, the question really was, and I think you all heard it, is how do you stay connected, and then also can pose? 'Cause, these are two very different things. Composing is very, let's call it structural, and then connecting is very interpersonal. So, the thing I tend to think of, is be willing to crop, afterwards. A lotta times, people say, and I'll show you, in the Lightroom segment, I do crop. A lotta times, you would get it right on camera, but sometimes... And we'll see with the family here, sometimes, the moment's so right, if I rearrange myself too much, I'm gonna lose the moment, I'll get it, knowing my camera's limitations, sensor size, and all that stuff, that I can crop in pretty well. So, that's really helpful. And then, when you do that, and you give yourself that freedom... When you are doing that, say, next time, if I had only had my camera here, rather than here, I wouldn't have had to crop. And so, use Lightroom as a way, to teach yourself how to compose. So, every time you crop an image, in Lightroom, it's a lesson. And that lesson's really important. And if you can, then, tie that to the camera... Then you'll just get better, and better, and better at composition, if that makes sense. So, it's sort of seeing cropping as a good thing. Seeing it as a teacher. So, that's really important, I think. The other thing, is just that idea of a peripheral awareness, and... Prediction. Meaning... I drag that driftwood log thing out, onto the beach... I knew kids would like to climb on it, but I put it in a spot, where the composition was good. When I was location scouting, I was blockin'. That's a good composition, that'll work, that's clean, no tourists. There are tractors behind us. I'm not gonna shoot that way. Wind's blowing this way. I need hair, to be, for the mom to be blowing backwards, not forwards. So, it's really having a little bit of predictive planning, 'cause you're right in the moment. That all goes away. So, that's a great question. I don't know if that answer helped, but that's fine. Bill, yeah. So, you talked really great about being prepared, at the day of, and getting camera-ready, and all those things. But, I wanted to ask you, a little bit about... Days before, or weeks before, preparing for the shoot. How do you speak to whoever in the family, you're talking about shooting? Getting them ready, and even what they wear, and those kinds of things? What's good practice, for that? Yes, yeah! And we'll talk a little bit about wardrobe later, but in general, that kinda pre-communication is really helpful, right? Meaning, all of you here, in the audience, you had some communication, before you showed up, which was sense on timing, sense on what does lunch look like, what to bring, all that kinda, if you just walked in, blindly, it makes you a little nervous, and so putting people at ease, is huge. People always feel a little conscious about what to wear, and how to wear that. So, what I tend to do, is first you kinda get the thing set, and that's exciting, and then you do that check-in, a week or two ahead of time, day of, do a check-in. And then, also, on-location, do a check-in. So, once I'm there, hey, I'm down, at this park. Sun is setting, it's so beautiful out, oh my gosh. Can't wait to see you guys. And also, no rush. I'm just happy, walkin' around, taking pictures, so just let me know when you're here. So, setting all of those tone, that really leads up, and then, of course, the part I blew with, or messed up, with this family, was... When you get there, being that relaxed. So, it's really consistent, warm, kind, this isn't a big deal, and the family, the family that, there's one photograph, I really like, with Isadora leaning onto her mom, they didn't dress up for the shoot, at all. And some families, that's what they wanna do, and that's okay, too. I think, as photographers, we think, oh my gosh! We have to have all this perfect, you don't always have to. I will talk about some more of the tips, later, but that's in another segment, so I'll hold off on that. Yes, question? [Woman In White Jacket] You talked about giving direction, about how it doesn't always work, to tell a child, to stand this way, 'cause you'll look good, but rather, look at the penguin? Yeah. That's something, that I struggle, to come up with those kinds of creative ways, to get kids on-board with what I want them to do. Yeah. Do you feel like, you... Learned more about that, from just shooting more families, or like when you had kids, did you just sort of open up a whole new part of understanding how to do that? Yes, that's a great question. So, here is the parenting tip, that most parents know, and that it's really well, to this type of photography, is... That you give kids a choice. In other words, you have steps, and you have a rock. You say, hey, you guys, will that be more fun, to climb on the steps, or on the rock? And both choices are ones, that you want. They think they chose the rock, like they're in charge. Kids like that feeling. And the same thing I would say, with bedtime, when you have kids of yours. I said, little Elsie, I wish you guys could see Elsie. She's just this bundle of joy. I'll show a photo of her later, but I came home the other day, and she was wearing this bunny costume, hopping around the front yard. Anyway, I say, Elsie, did you wanna go to bed, in five minutes, or 10 minutes? "Oh, 10!" I'm like, okay, fine. And she chose it, but if I wait, 'til nine and half minutes, and say, Elsie, it's bedtime, she goes boneless, she's on the ground, kicking and screaming, and it's just a huge mess. And so, that really helps. And again, that takes some thinking ahead of time, versus nine minutes, oh my gosh, we're past bedtime. I gotta drag this kid in, to bed. Otherwise, the next day is gonna be horrible, or whatever it is. So, choice. And then, if you can't come up with... Choices, that... If you're like, well what do I choose? Do you climb on the rock, or do you go in the rain gutter? Even just... Trying to make it up, if it's a little bit more nonchalant, like hey, I kinda think it would be cool, to photograph your family, or your parents... Do you think that would be cool? Or just, it can even be just a question, just like, their opinion counts. If you don't have two options. So, that has been really helpful for me. And then, the kids, I think, they kinda like you. They're like, I like this guy! And, when you're a photographer, of families and kids, you get to be kinda like that uncle. It's a little more crazy than the parent. The parent has to maintain, somewhat, order. The photographer has to loosen that up a little bit, because disorder is better on camera, than order. A little bit more life. So that's, you kind of adopt that fun rule. Yeah, question? Chris, love the parenting advice. That's awesome. So, you talked earlier about focal lengths of lenses. So, one of the challenges I have, is I want that close-up look, on my kids, like you have here, but they just run right past those... Type... Focal lengths. So, what do you actually shoot with? Yeah, so actually, I mean... Let's say, the family, with the one, where the kid's leaning on the mom, going out. That's all of the 50, so one lens. The shoot, we'll see in a second, I shot with a 50, and a 70, to 200. And I did that, mostly, 'cause the bridge is there, and I knew I kinda wanted to have that compression. With most of my kids, I'm gonna say... 'Cause, you're a dad of two kids. Five and three, right? I would say, at that age, 50 is the best lens ever! Oh, my gosh! Most people will say, 50 isn't good for portraits. You get too close, it creates distortion. That's for adult-size faces. For kids-size faces, a little bit of distortion, even the one with my daughter, at 16 mill, was a lotta distortion, it's fine. And you feel there, 'cause kids are, if you think of adults, like if any of us were, you and I were to talk, we would stand about this far apart. If I talk with Elsie, my daughter, or you talk with your kids, you're like this close! You're in here, and you're pickin' em up, and you're on the, come up, look at me, on the slide! And when you watch them, on the slide, you're this close to 'em, putting their arms, while they go under you. So, 50 feels like that, to me. And as far as catchin' 'em, while they swoop by, again, a lot of that is a little bit of prediction, a little bit of playfulness and fun, a little bit of letting, taking shots, that don't count, and don't matter. And then, 'cause it's kinda like, you let them choose four things, and you get to choose the 5th. So, at least that's for me, and just being okay with that. That's kids, right? I mean, that's the nature of bein' a parent. You go to Home Depot, with your kid, it takes twice as long. And if you think it won't... It's gonna be really frustrating. (audience chuckling) Yeah? How are you easily getting on the beach, where it's open, above them, for that... Yes, that kinda up look, or whatever? I mean, I'm shorter than you, but... Yes. I just have a hard time, I don't wanna carry around my ladder all the time, or-- Yes. Yeah, so that's a great question, and the question, as you heard, is this sort of height, how do you change, and modify height? Sometimes, I mean, with families, having them sit down, obviously, it works. And... So then, I'll do that. Sit, stand, climb, crawl. So, a lot of those kinda things, are how I tend to do it, and... Or, even with the leaves, there's a shot, where the kids were throwing the leaves up, so that's sort of this level, a little below eye, and then, when the kid fell over, I went like that. But, just being willing, to... Kids... I'll answer this, in kind of a funny way. My kid's elementary school, they put in a new playground, and so they had this playground specialist, come to talk about playgrounds, which I didn't even know there was such a thing. But, they found, that what happened, was the old school playgrounds were really challenging, and rewarding for the kids, then all these safety regulations came along, and they became too easy. And so, the kids weren't growing, they weren't learning about challenge, and risk, and reaching, and all this stuff. So now, they make playgrounds, so you can enter 'em anywhere, and exit 'em anywhere. So, it's not like everyone enters here, and exits here, or everything's easy to do, has all these different progression of levels. So anyway, the only reason I say that, kids love challenge. They love to wiggle, climb, crawl, do all this kinda stuff. And so, I think about using that, and lettin' them do that, and then while that's happening, gain my angle, if that makes sense. Was that a 50, when you were with the girl on the leaves? Yeah, that's 50, of course. Because, it's like, it looks... It almost looks like... If your kid was in the leaves, you're like, there she is. So, yeah. And it would have to be too, because other lenses, you would have to hold up too high, or wide. It would look more distorted. And then, 50, you'll see in the shoot we're about to watch. What I was gonna say, was, 50 is a conversational difference. You'll see, in the family shoot, I use a 70, to 200. I had to go way back, and shout. I don't prefer that. I like to keep connected. So, if I had one lens, to photograph family and kids forever, it would be the 50. My favorite portrait lens, it's 85. Doesn't work well with kids, because you're a little bit further away, and it's a little bit more awkward to use. Does it work for my editorial portraits? Yes. When I do editorial, authentic portraits, 85's my lens of choice, hands down, 90% of the time. When I go to kids and family, I go 50. And then, I'll also throw in 70, to 200, if that helps.

Class Description

  We love photography because it helps us celebrate and savor life. Capturing those images can be difficult, especially when it’s your own family or friends. Photographer and artist Chris Orwig walks through all the techniques that go into capturing a photo quickly so that you can focus on your subject while relaxed and confident. He’ll discuss tips for working with available light as well as how to develop your own creative style. He’ll discuss gear recommendations and location scouting tips to set your photo shoot up for success. 

He’ll also cover: 
  • How to connect with children and capture real emotion 
  • Finding moments that photograph well and how to set them up naturally 
  • Wardrobe tips that make your photos timeless 
  • When and how you should turn your passion into a profit 
  • Essential Lightroom workflows for quick processing of your photos 
  • How to deliver your images or prints and share them for all to enjoy 
Start improving your photographs of your family with this course and learn the essential skills you need to make photographs that last a lifetime. 

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Family Resources

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes


Meredith Zinner Photography

Chris is a FANTASTIC teacher (and photographer). He is so very very authentic, warm, REAL, talented, knowledgeable, honest, open and true to his wonderful self. This class, in addition to endless nuggets of knowledge and insights, highlights how being true to your own self makes you a better photographer- emphasizing connection, authenticity, fun and easy relaxed simple joy. A refreshing take on children's photography for sure! Thank you Chris and CreativeLive!

lisa james

Wow, I have been in search of my style. I've been reading and researching and listening to inspiring speakers and from each one I've gathered pieces of information that help guide me. This class, however, has been the most successful for me. Chris's approach to teaching and his material that he provides is Spot On for me. Thank you, Chris. I am so inspired and eager to move forward now that I can see my vision more clearly. I highly recommend this class.

Neeraj Arora

Oh my god!!!! What a class. I couldn't stop watching. Chris you are an inspiration, loved every word you said, loved how you said it. I am in the process of getting a plan together for doing photography professionally on the side, on top of my research career, and you just hit a home run in getting me motivated and excited in taking the plunge. My photography of people gives me a lot of satisfaction and meaning and you just validated what I have been thinking of doing lately. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU.