What defines a portrait? Is it a picture of a face? Is it a picture of a person? Is it a picture that tells a story about a person? I think it can be all of these, and more. Being a portrait photographer is an opportunity to explore and experiment with all of these definitions. Family portraits are not just portraits of people, but are ways to convey the special relationships between individuals and family members at the particular stage they are in at the time. Traditional family portraits typically have all members of the family posed next to each other, all facing the camera, maybe some physical connections with hands placed strategically on shoulders or across knees. Maybe parents holding the children on their laps or in their arms. These pictures show the family members all together, and is a great way to document the stage of life of the family at that moment.
Traditional family poses are often used for holiday cards or as gifts for parents or grandparents, but they are certainly not the only option when it comes to family portraits. I think portraits can also capture the connections between people by capturing unposed, natural moments that give glimpses into the relationships between individuals. Moments of honest interaction. Unscripted. Unforced. Usually in these situations, the subjects are not looking at the camera. They are looking at each other, or an object or into the distance. And they may not even be facing toward the camera at all. The story is still conveyed, the connections evident, the relationships unmistakable.
And sometimes, faces are not even part of the picture. Capturing emotion, or the feeling of a moment does not rely on facial expression exclusively. The details of hands, especially, often serve to convey the tenderness of a moment in a very special way. Sometimes the focus can be on something happening in the frame, with the faces blurry in the background. That's okay. It's about communicating and sharing a moment in time, more than getting a face in perfect focus.
Family portraits serve many functions, but my favorite is to capture relationships between family members at that singular moment. As kids get older, the relationships between them, as well as with their parents, change and develop. Recording those developing connections allows families to forever have memories to look back on and to marvel at the growth and change that is inevitable with the passage of time.