Choosing a place to take family photos: How this family showed off their city close to home.
A lot of people ask me about how to choose locations for family photoshoots, or cool places to take photos in Chicago, Denver, Austin, and St. Louis.
When I was first talking about doing family portraits with the Hutchinsons, who are located in Chicago, IL we began brainstorming ideas of where to do their photos.
One of M’s first emails to me said: “We live in the South Loop, close to the lake area around the Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium. Or we could go up around the Lincoln Park area, whatever you think is best. Our apartment isn’t ideal at the moment so I prefer to do them outside.”
When it comes to deciding a place to shoot family portraits, I want to photograph the family any place that feels like them, I don’t want to set up expectations of a place that doesn’t really relate to them and that they don’t spend too much time at. Unless, they are wanting to have a new experience and I’m there to document it as the live it. At that point any location is fun because it’s all new.
When we were thinking about it later, she said “I think since [my son] is growing up around the museum campus area, we should do it there, or the aquarium.”
She asked what my expert advice was in either area, or if it’s just wherever we feel comfortable. That’s what I really wanted to focus on - comfort. Yes, it would be great if you have the skyline of the city, or that you could tell it’s Chicago, but really what I want for every family, no matter where they’re at, is a place that is meaningful to them.
For the Hutchinsons, their little one is growing up in this area, so they would normally walk here, anytime. This means this is a place they are familiar with, and that they would already be comfortable here, but it’s also a place that they feel would be memorable in photos, and represents their little ones’ childhood.
They were a little nervous because I think that their little one didn’t feel one hundred percent himself. This happens a lot! Of course it’s photo day and of course their kid is gonna get a stuffy nose or something, but they were just trying to have a good time, and have a fun experience with their kid. And he wasn’t so sure about me, which happens! I don’t try to make kids do anything than what they’re already doing. I don’t say “look here!” or anything.
Basically, my method for photoshoots, is that I try to make people as weird as they possibly can. One of the best things about doing family photos is that the parents already get to be their silly selves because kids are weird and always trying to have fun. I try to open that door for them to be comfortable not being totally put together. Climbing around on the ground, chasing after their kids, making the weird noises - I’m not doing video, they can make all the crazy noises they want.
At this point, the family was trying to make him laugh, and he was just like “whatever.” He wasn’t feeling smiley at the moment, that’s totally okay. He wasn’t sure about this person with a camera in front of his face that he’s never met before. We just continue to do our normal thing and see what happens. That sort of eye contact is just him sizing me up and checking me out. Some kids immediately laugh at me, and some kids don’t. But we always have a good time.
I don’t like the idea of a perfect family photo. Whether it’s the composition being a little off, or not everyone is looking at the camera, I don’t like to follow any rules. I want to tell their story so the photos to look like THEM. When they see their family photos taken this way, I want them to feel connected to the memories of the shoot.
When we’re told to grow up, we’re told that we can’t act fun anymore. We all have more freedom to be silly when there are kids around.
I don’t really tell people what to do. Instead, I guide them through the shoot but for the most part they’re just hangin out. Most of my photos are documenting the family as they are. For those who want the looking at the camera and smiling photo I got you. There’s a couple times where this happens throughout the shoot.
That’s really all life is, just trying to make the kids happy and having fun along the way.
What makes one location better than another for family photos? There’s no such thing. Yeah, if you have a 2 x 2 room with a tiny window of light, that’s probably not gonna be a great place to take photos. If you’re looking to represent the area, you could look for:
a place with a view
a place with details that represent the place (for Chicago, architecture, trains, Wrigley field, etc.)
But, in my opinion as a traveling lifestyle family photographer, if you’re looking for a cool place in Chicago to take photos, it doesn’t really matter. When its photos like this, I just want you to be yourself. If there’s a place that you go often, then it makes more sense to have the photos there. If I had cropped the skyline out of these photos, you wouldn’t really be able to tell that these are taken in Chicago. The most important thing is the experience, not the location.
For this session it all worked out to have both. A location for photos where you can tell they are in Chicago, and a place that is meaningful to them. As their child grows up in this area and looks back on the photos, he will see how things used to look and how much life has changed.