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.

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