This family outdoor portrait series was taken for my friends Tony and Marilyn, who wanted some family pictures for their Christmas cards.
Tony thought of doing some studio portraits at first, but felt that studio pictures would turn out a bit stiff.
Even though she only gave me one-day's notice, and even though I had not done a family outdoor portrait assignment before, I was happy to oblige.
With studio portrait lighting equipment, the lighting can be fully controlled and if does not matter if the sun is shining brightly or if it is raining heavily.
A studio portrait can thus be taken at any time of the day or night, on any day or night.
A family outdoor portrait cannot. You have to choose a good time when the natural lighting is nice – when it is gentle, flattering to the complexion, not too birght and harsh but still bright enough to add some brilliance.
We fixed our appointment for 5 pm but did not get started till about 5.30 pm.
The timing, and the natural lighting, was perfect, I was worried earlier on because it rained in the early afternoon. But I also knew that after the rain, the natural lighting can be quite special.
Tony's family lived in a condominium with a beautiful, very lush, landscaped garden. So the photography back drop was not a problem. Almost every angle provided a nice back drop.
Professional portrait photographers – those who do fashion shoots for magazines, for example – might drive around the country or even fly around the world to scout for "ideal” locations.
This is not practical for the outdoor family portrait. Normally I would go early to survey the grounds but I had a prior appointment and reached their home just on time. I had to make quick judgements but it was not difficult.
Before we went downstairs, I took some pictures of the children at home, playing and being their natural selves.
I felt this would be a good way to warm up to the children and make them feel comfortable with me and my camera.
The house was cosy but the lighting was dim, and I had not brought along my large aperture 50mm f1,4 lens, because I was not expecting to take indoor photographs.
But I could not resist the opportunity. I took several pictures, hand-held, at between 1/15 and 1/8 of a second. All came out blur, not because my hand shook, but because the kids moved about quickly. Except for this one of Raphael which, I feel, is a nice example of a child portrait.
Raphael seemed to dislike having his picture taken. He would often refused to pose and refuse to stand in front of the camera with the rest of his family. Yet I managed to get him to look right into my lens for this picture.
His sister, Chantelle, however, is the exact opposite. She loves to have her portrait taken.
She would strike a pose, look right into the camera lens, and hold her smile for as long as is needed.
With her, the challenge was to refrain her from smiling too broadly – and exposing her teeth and braces.
But, she takes instructions from the photographer well. Tony and I predict that she would become a famous model one day!
So the best pictures I took of Raphael were those that caught him unaware. Like this one, of him sharing an intimate moment with his mother.
And the best pictures I took of Chantelle were the posed pictures, such as this one of she with her father:
Thus, one major advantage of doing a family outdoor portrait is that it affords the opportunity to take a wide range of photographs, both posed and unposed.
In just over an hour, I shot close to two rolls of film. Not every single picture came out great, of course. And because it was a last minute assignment, I had used one roll of slides and one roll of film. The slides have a much richer color and ideally I would have shot only slides.
But Tony and Marilyn were very pleased with the results. They were glad they opted for a family outdoor portrait instead of a more formal studio portrait.
Their absolute favourite picture from this outdoor familiar portrait series is one that is, technically, far from perfect.
It is blur! But it captured the thrill and excitement of two children rolling down a slope on their toy car (which Tony had bought from an overseas trip).