When asked what makes a good photo, our minds tend to think of things like lighting, getting our subjects to smile, and making sure everything is in focus. These things are no doubt important, but they don’t make a great photo.
After I’ve edited a wedding or family portrait gallery and am giving the gallery one final look through before I send it off to the client, there are always some portraits that stand out to me more than others. These portraits all have one thing in common. It’s not proper exposure, it’s not that they are all in focus or that the clients in them have big toothy smiles. The connection I see in these portraits makes them stand out, and this connection separates a good photo from a great photo. When you look back at a photo and instantly relive that moment, that is a great photo.
Our lives are full of these tiny moments where we show our love for others in the simplest of ways. A small gesture, an unprompted expression, and a laugh frequently occur without us even noticing them. And when these moments are captured, this is what makes for a GREAT photo.
Let me illustrate with an example. Below are two photos of Grace with her grandmother. The one on the left is a photo that I staged. I posed Grace with her grandmother and told both of them to smile while I clicked my camera’s shutter. It’s a good photo of the two of them, and I’m sure Grace is glad to have it. The photo on the right was captured a few moments after the photo on the left was taken. Grace and her grandma’s photo on the left was the last photo we took for family formals. With a few minutes to spare, Grace was able to share a moment with her grandma while we switched gears to get ready for Bridal & Groom portraits. Grace and her grandma shared a few words and overheard Grace laugh; this is when I quickly snapped this photo of the two of them. Grace’s laugh, the way she put her arm around her grandma, and her grandma’s hand gesture as she talks to Grace is all-natural. This is what makes the photo great. It shows how the two interact naturally; it highlights the connection they share. These are the photos I strive for.
So how do you capture photos like this? While you can’t stage photos like this, you can do a few things to help set the stage for these moments to happen. You can use these tips when you’re having your photos taken professionally or when you’re snapping a few pics on your iPhone!
This piece of advice works for portrait sessions and weddings. There is something about having a camera in front of us that makes us freeze up whether we notice it or not. When we give ourselves something to do that we would normally do, it immediately makes us more comfortable and appear more natural in photos. If you’re trying to capture some photos of your little ones, ask them to find some rocks or flowers for you. Take a look at the photos below. These were taken at the end of the portrait session when these three brothers skipped rocks in the water together.
Give Yourself Time
This is especially important for wedding portraits. During your wedding day, you’ll want to be sure to give yourself enough time to enjoy the little moments I mentioned above. When you have a stricter timeline, you can feel rushed from one task to the next. Giving yourself enough time will allow little moments full of connection and emotion to happen. You can grab my guide to a perfect wedding timeline here for other tips and tricks for planning your timeline.
For portrait sessions, I like to get the ‘posed’ photos out of the way in the first 15-25 minutes and allow the rest of the session time to be full of fun moments, like playing and natural interaction, so you’re sure to have plenty of great photos in your final gallery.
Don’t Be Afraid to Laugh and Get Silly
We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to take ‘perfect photos.’ I see clients get so caught up in making sure that they ‘picture-perfect ready’ that they don’t allow themselves to have fun. Some of my favorite photos (and my clients) are the bloopers, the silly moments that weren’t supposed to happen. I’ve had children sit on their parents’ laps and fart, which inevitably resulted in a fit of giggles from the entire family. I’m sure that wasn’t what they planned on when they left that morning for their family portrait session, but it worked.