Portraits of Mothers with Two Children

Today's post comes from the book Mother and Child Portraits: Techniques for Professional Digital Portraits by Norman Phillips. It is available from Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

Let's review images of mothers with two children. Some of the images were created in the studio, and others were made on location. Photographing three subjects requires more guile than working with a mom and one child. Depending on the age of the children involved, we may find ourselves facing some unexpected challenges.

The Michael Ayers portrait below was created in an all window light setting. The room in which the subjects were photographed had four windows arranged in a semicircle. One window was at camera left, one was at camera right, and there were two windows behind the subjects.

The window light in this scene produced what is called “double lighting” on the subjects. In other words, the lighting pattern on the mother is different than the lighting pattern on the children. The lighting on the mom is unconventional. Photographers commonly seek to have the subject’s face illuminated on one side by the main light. Here, Michael’s subject has highlights on both sides of her face, and the ratio we seek to achieve is seen on both cheeks. The lighting on the kids is a little more conventional. Both have highlights on the right side of their face. Because the group was not positioned facing the light source, there are no distinct catchlights in the eyes. See the diagram below.

The posing and composition are lovely. There is a wonderful diagonal leading line that runs from the boy on the left of the frame to his mom at the right.

Jody Coss created the portrait shown below using a low-key set in her studio. The three subjects were attired in dark clothing, in keeping with the low-key portrait concept. The main light was a softbox placed 45 degrees off both camera and subjects. A hair light placed by the background was directed onto their hair.

The posing arrangement Jody used is very attractive, and the mom and older child how a great deal of interest in the new baby.

In this photo, we see a multi-generational image by Terry Jo Tasche. Here, the mother of the children was joined by her own mother for a family portrait. The posing is casual, and from the grandma’s elbow up, the portrait has a lot going for it. There are smiles all around, and there are two nice diagonals—one that runs from the baby to the young mother and one that runs between the toddler and the grandmother.

The lighting on the group came from a softbox positioned at camera left. A light placed behind the camera provided fill.

Michael Ayers is a well-regarded Photoshop artist, and in next image we see evidence of his talents. Black & white portraits with selective “handcoloring” are very popular in some markets, and this application is one to consider when presenting images to your clients.

The family group was seated on a porch swing—hence the tight composition. The subjects’ arrangement produced a nice diagonal line that leads the viewer to examine the expression on each subject’s face. The background elements add a nice touch and do not compete for our attention. The splash of color in the leaves helps to keep our gaze fixed on the focal point of the image.

Michael chose the right location and the right time of day to capture the image. The beautiful, soft sunlight softly modeled the subjects’ faces and rendered the ladies in a nice 21/2:1 ratio.

The next portrait is a masterpiece by Edda Taylor. The posing is exquisite and the lighting is simply perfect. There is not a single notion that anything might have been done differently, and certainly not better.

If we analyze the pose, we can see how skillfully it was done. The mother and daughter’s placement anchored the pose at the left of the image. They joined hands behind the bouquet with their arms creating a lovely curve from their shoulders to the flowers. The other daughter was tucked into the composition, with the right side of her body behind her mom. In this position, she was able to lightly rest her chin on her mother’s shoulder. The posing of her hand on her mom’s arm is a nice finishing touch.

The main light for this image was a 4x6-foot softbox at camera left, close to the camera position. A large reflector positioned at camera right produced the fill light. The beautiful lighting produced a delightful range of tones across all elements of the image.

Jeff and Kathleen Hawkins used a low-key set in their studio to create the portrait shown below. The subjects were dressed in black velvet. Their dark eyes are beautiful, and the expressions are all different and intriguing.

The main light was a softbox placed a little more than 45 degrees off camera left. A fill light was also used; it was set to produce half the light that the main light produced. This helped to soften the modeling. Finally, a hair light was set at the same power as the main light. The exposure and lighting were excellent, and the skin tones were beautifully rendered. We can also see nice detail in the hair.

The next image, a portrait by Michael Ayers, falls into the storytelling category. Michael positioned his subjects at a bay window. He had them turned toward the leftmost window, and this created a different lighting pattern and ratio on each of the faces. The lighting pattern on the boy produced shallow modeling. The lighting pattern we see on the mom is quite flattering, even though she is slightly in the shadow of her son, who was blocking the light coming from the window behind him. The girl was posed in profile and was rendered in a 2:1 ratio.

The light from the window behind the subjects allowed Michael to capture detail in the subjects’ hair.

The posing, with the mom at the center and both children posed at an angle to the camera, resulted in a triangular composition that draws the viewer’s gaze across the image.

When a child is learning to walk, we are presented with the opportunity to document some special moments with the family, as Jeff and Kathleen Hawkins did below. The beach was the perfect setting for this image of a mom and her elder daughter holding the infant daughter’s hands while she takes some of her first steps. The time of day and the overcast lighting produced the soft modeling on all three subjects. The overcast sky and the sea to the left served as the main light. The sandy beach produced much of the fill light seen in the image.

The composition is nicely balanced with the figures in the right-hand two thirds of the frame.

This next photo explores a different concept in posing in which the subjects are posed in a vertical composition. One girl was seated on her mom’s lap, and the other stood on the seat upon which the mother was seated. Note that the heads do not appear “stacked” and that each girl’s head is slightly tilted to the right. This helped to create a more dynamic feel in the image.

The main light was a 28x42-inch recessed softbox positioned at 50 degrees off camera left and slightly feathered across the group. A single-diffused Westcott Stripbank provided the hair light, and a 48-inch concertina reflector panel provided a little fill from the left of the subjects.

I have heard many a pet owner claim that their pet is like a child to them, so I have decided to include a family portrait that features a dog. Next, we see a lovely portrait by Jeff and Kathleen Hawkins. Here, the dog is positioned much as a small child would be. This composition is very attractive. Each face is presented in a unique plane, and the staggered position of the clients creates a nice undulating line through the image.

The Hawkins’ subjects were attired in black and posed in front of a high-key backdrop. A single diffused softbox was positioned to camera left, and the reflected light from the background spilled onto the boy’s face. Light from the right side of the set created a highlight on the mother’s left cheek.


Adding Props to Senior Portraits

Today's post comes from the book Jeff Smith's Senior Portrait Photography Handbook: A Guide for Professional Digital Photographers by Jeff Smith. It is available from Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

The one thing that you quickly realize when working with clients of high school age is that they are all individuals. While some photographers have you believing that every girl wants to look like a pinup model and every guy wants to show off his ripped abs and bulging biceps, it really isn’t that way. We have many girls who want to do the same painted-background session that their mothers did thirty-some years ago. We also have boys who absolutely do not want to be photographed for anything other than the yearbook.

These varying tastes will need to be evaluated and accommodated for in all of your sessions—and they’ll be particularly obvious when clients bring their personal props to the shoot.

The different props teens bring to their sessions show you how diverse your clients really are.

Personalize with Props
I love when seniors bring in their own personal props. We have photographed everything you could imagine—from guitars, to enormous snakes, and everything in between. To encourage seniors to bring in their personal props, we don’t charge a fee for including them and we mention it in all of our information and phone conversations. (Note: I should mention that even with a great deal of advertising, reminders, and no extra fees, the majority of our seniors do not include these items. Probably one in twenty brings something other that the typical letter jacket or cheer uniform. In other areas it may be more popular, but for our seniors it isn’t a major factor.)

When using large props, it’s especially important not to allow the prop to overwhelm the subject.

Keep the Focus on the Person
When we include a prop in someone’s image, we keep the focus on the person, not the prop. I, like most senior portrait photographers, went through the years of lighting props (like mid-swing baseball bats) on fire and creating what were basically portraits of props with people in them. Today, however, I prefer a simple approach. I like to think we are showing a little of the senior’s personality, not creating an episode of “When Photographers Have Way Too Much Time on Their Hands.” First and foremost, the focus of any portrait must be the person, not the stuff they bring in.When your eyes are drawn to anything in the portrait before you look at the person’s face, you really don’t have a portrait of the person; you have a portrait of the stuff the person brought in.

The Size of the Prop
The way in which we photograph a senior with a prop depends on what the prop is and its size. Smaller props are photographed in head-and-shoulders or waist-up compositions so they are visible. These props would be things like books, a football/soccer ball/basketball, or small stuffed

While some props are perfect to hold, like a guitar or other musical instrument, others are better displayed in the background or on the floor where the subject is sitting. Posters, paintings, jerseys, and uniforms fall into this category. These types of items fill the space around the subject to become the background/foreground.

Showing only part of the prop can help keep the attention on the subject of the portrait.

The next groups of props are the large ones—the quads, motorcycles, cars, trucks, buildings, etc. When I photograph these props, I minimize their visual weight by turning them into background elements. I do the same thing when I photograph seniors and teens with our studio’s Viper. If I were to put the subject inside the car, there would be a photograph of a huge car with a person’s head sticking out of it—not a real strong selling point. If, instead, I bring the person in front of the car, I can make the Viper fall into the background so the person remains the focus of the portrait. This is the same idea I use when photographing people with the Harley; the motorcycle either becomes the background or we isolate only a portion of the bike to form a foreground/background element in a head-and-shoulders pose.

While we have modified our studio to allow the Viper to be moved in and out, I don’t want to take the time to bring in seniors’ own cars and trucks—not to mention the fact that summers in Fresno are incredibly hot and the air conditioning has to work hard enough to keep the studio cool without large doors opening and closing all day.

When a senior wants to use a prop that is too large to get through the front door, we set up an appointment at one of our outdoor locations. Many seniors want to be photographed with their car or truck, and this is done outdoors. Since we live an area that has many farms and ranches, it is also very common for seniors to want to be photographed with horses or other livestock. The idea is always the same with these additions: reduce the apparent size of the larger prop by putting it into the background or capturing just the most important part. Horses are a good example. Not only are they huge, but horse owners are always very fussy about the placement of the legs and the position of the horse’s body. The best way to avoid investing undue time in horse posing is just to photograph the head of the horse. Of course, even this is hard enough, because horse people want both ears up and forward.

Props don’t have to be shown as they are usually used. Here, a creative pose allowed the skateboard to be incorporated into a casual head-and-shoulders portrait.

Final Thoughts
Whatever your subject might bring in, you need to find a way to position it somewhere in the frame where it will be noticeable but not overpowering.When you see the variety of props that come in with seniors, you’ll really begin to understand how diverse this market is. Your first senior will want to be photographed with a Bible, the next will have gothic props; one senior will bring a new BMW or Corvette, the next will wheel out an old tractor—you never know.

Today's post comes from the book The Art of Posing: Techniques for Digital Portrait Photographers by Lou Jacobs Jr. In this book, Jacobs profiles eleven of the industries finest portrait photographers to find out what is behind their amazing images. This post is an excerpt from his profile of photographer Marissa Boucher. Find the entire profile and ten others in this new book, available at Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

Marissa and her husband Weston are a team who own Bouchér Photography, a wedding and boudoir studio in San Diego, CA. The pair began as high school sweethearts in 1997 (they had the same high school photography teacher!) and now have two hairy “kids,” Boston terriers. Their blog says, “Our passions and interests include our faith, travel, music, good books, nature, health/fitness, red wines, food, and global/local charitable organizations.” The Bouchérs were voted Best Wedding Photographer in 2005 by their local ABC TV station. Marissa puts pictorial emphasis on photographing women in pinup poses that please their husbands. She has developed her own boudoir posing book, and this chapter includes her boudoir poses.

I started in photography at Palomar College though I was shooting in high school at age of 17. Our business started on a small scale in 2001, and I taught myself techniques the best I could. I fell in love with photography and switched to digital in 2003, though I will always miss the darkroom. My husband is also partly self-taught.

In 2003, we were talked into shooting a wedding. We really enjoyed the experience, being newlyweds ourselves, and we began a full-time operation of Bouchér Photography. By 2006, I was ready to launch the boudoir portion of our business, Woman Captured. Kimberlee West and I shoot boudoir and she is my business partner for the Boudoir Divas. Under this name, we produce educational materials for other photographers. Kimberlee and I wrote a book about boudoir techniques in 2007. Woman Captured had unbelievable growth, and in 2008 we went from shooting in a small garage to using a 4500-square-foot studio in San Diego. Our materials are available online at www.theboudoirdivas.com. We plan to release tutorial video footage in late 2009.

Our studio is in a commercial warehouse where we have large framed canvas gallery wraps everywhere. We paid special attention to moody lighting and overall ambiance. Five of us work full time. I am the creative director, and I run the studio and do marketing. I also shoot our bigger boudoir packages. Weston shoots and manages the wedding portion of our business. I am his second shooter on weddings.

Crystal Carr, our studio manager, is also a Woman Captured boudoir photographer. Our shooting space is about 1500 square feet. We have ten handdesigned boudoir sets, a few high-key areas, a dark and moody set, and a vintage bed with crown moldings on the wall behind it. There’s a viewing and sales room for boudoir, and another for weddings, plus a 1000-square-foot production area, a break room, and a dressing room.

Although my husband and I shoot weddings together, our studio specialty is definitely boudoir photography, where we spend about 70 percent of our time using the custom sets we created. In addition to the vintage bedroom and other sets we have a few outdoor locations available for a special fee. In 2008, we did about 120 sessions, and in 2009 we anticipate about 200. Boudoir denotes sexy, classy, “for his eyes only” photography. It allows a wife to give her hubby a gift that will add a little spark to the marriage. Our boudoir packages include an album and range from $560 to $1600.

Ours is a high-to-medium-volume studio, and we limit the time we spend with our clients. Once a client books her session, we send her a PDF that answers frequently asked questions and helps to prepare her for the shoot. This keeps her from having to e-mail or phone us.We also send a questionnaire that will help us determine what look the client is hoping to achieve, what she would like to accentuate about herself, and what she would prefer to hide. When women arrive in our studio, they typically understand the process. We chat a little more about her feelings and go over outfits and choose corresponding sets. This way, when we are chatting she doesn’t need to bring up any self-perceived flaws that would create negative energy.

During the shoot itself, we get to know each other. However, boudoir posing can be very challenging. For that reason, we have memorized about 14 poses that flatter all body types, and we can really give the client the attention she deserves.

We want our client to feel that she’s in a safe environment where she can get outside her comfort zone. We are fun and friendly and avoid making her feel like she has to meet our photographic expectations. Our 14 poses range from lying down, sitting, standing, to different variations in between. Not having to think about what poses to do next allows me to create informal energy and a positive experience. I value a client’s facial expressions even more than her poses.

In our boudoir marketing we put a great deal of emphasis on the experience. We want our client to enjoy the shoot so much that she leaves thinking, “Well, even if the photos are terrible, I had so much fun and it was worth every penny.” But almost always, when the client sees the photos she just loves them, and it’s icing on the cake.

I always begin with the “Laura” pose, with the subject sitting on her side, usually on the floor on a cute rug or fabric. Her body is angled with her face in the foreground and her legs in the background. It’s a simple pose, and I usually demonstrate it first, which is much more effective than describing it. Since I am working with clients who are typically nervous in lingerie, I think they would shake in their boots if I asked them to improvise!

The more direction you can give with boudoir photography, the better. I’m aware that these ladies are nervous and will eat up any bit of instruction I offer. I think if I were photographing say, seniors, it would be my goal to get them amped up and comfortable to do their own thing. But with boudoir clients who you want to look their glamorous best from hair to toes, one must be a very detail-oriented photographer.

We photograph a variety of presentations and angles during each pose, including from just the eyes, lips, and upper body, to full length. We are always hoping our shots will have a bit of a fashion-forward look, so creative composition is very important. We observe our clients as much as possible to find their most flattering face and body angles. At least once or twice I try to put myself in a position that I would be least likely to choose to shoot from, and it’s where I usually end up getting some of my favorite shots. I also like to take a few photos that show that we are in a studio.

Our “Laura” pose is one of our favorites for head-and-shoulders portraits, because it’s extremely flattering for everyone. A number of our clients are fuller-figured women, and they often ask us to avoid their tummy area. To do that, we usually use our “Keely” pose, which shows off the entire body but highlights the back, and lingerie choices are very important. A longer corset that isn’t too tight can be one of the most flattering choices on a full figure.

We don’t do full-length shots too often because they are the most challenging to pull off for boudoir clients. To create a great full-length boudoir photo, the client needs to be completely comfortable, and there needs to be movement to the photo as if she is walking, dancing, or showing off in some way. I am not certain why full-length boudoir photos of nonmodels tend to look a bit awkward, but unless your client has abundant confidence, I would just take a few full-length shots and make the majority of figure pictures more cropped.

We do use a number of props. Vintage couches and chairs are a must for us at Woman Captured. Scarves and hats can also add a bit of movement to a stiff expression. We want our props to look real and not outdated, so we use vintage items that will remain hip and classy in the client’s mind when she looks at her photos in years to come.

When we use a prop it is usually to show off a certain feature. Having a woman lean on a folded chair forces her to create a gorgeous arch in her back, rounds her shoulders, and shows off her neck and décolletage. We also use a small vintage couch often. Having the client lie on her back seems to show off a woman’s curves beautifully. This is a great way to keep the subject’s hips a bit more blurred in the background since they are another self-proclaimed problem area. We also ask women to lie on their backs quite a bit, keeping her face sharp in the foreground.


We never discuss the “why” of whatever we do with the lights, camera, etc. For example, I don’t want the client to know that I am turning her body into the shadows to hide her tummy. It would upset her confidence. I want her to feel that she is a complete joy to photograph. Professional compliments are a must, and we never stop talking as we are shooting. If the photographer goes quiet, the client starts to wonder, “Am I doing the right thing?” We try to be expert and casual about inspiring confidence in boudoir clients, who may be nervous about posing.

Our lighting setups are very simple. We were self-taught, so we really have to use our eyes to realize the best lighting on the subject, rather than be able to refer to traditional ratios or setups. With all of our lighting arrangements, we aim for fine pictorial quality. More than anything we want our lighting to look like the client is appearing in a classy fashion magazine where she looks drop-dead gorgeous. We use large softboxes and reflectors to put emphasis on the face and chest while trying to minimize the tummy and hips. There have been times when I have used a video light as a spot on a woman’s face along with the softbox flash. Hot light seems to really clean up the skin and do away with any lingering shadows. When lighting boudoir clients, I look for falloff or shadows on the body, plus full even light on the face, which makes this technique come in handy.