Capturing Family Photos – Being Both Behind & In Front of The Camera

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Each year when it’s time to capture family portraits, my wife, Amanda, suggests that we hire a photographer to do the job. I have mixed feelings on this because if you want good pictures you should hire a good photographer, and I’m a photographer but it can be very tough to be both in front of the camera and behind the camera at the same time. I’m generally cheap but I’m also happy to help support the photographic community. Most years, including last year, I end up with the job and only a few times have we actually had someone else do it. Almost every year, though, the idea of hiring someone gets brought up.

This year we took our own pictures once again, deciding not to hire someone. There are  always challenges in doing this, and the results are a mixed bag. This is known going into it. I prepared myself mentally that things weren’t going to be perfect. When you are in front of the camera, you simply don’t have the control, vision or freedom that you are used to when you’re behind the camera. You rely a little more on preparation and luck, and really just hope for the best.

There were two shots that my wife and I were hoping to get good: one picture with the two of us and one picture with all six of us. Anything else would be the icing on the cake. We knew that we would do the photo shoot at Antelope Island State Park, and we purposefully chose a day that was supposed to be overcast so that we’d have softer light. We scouted out three different locations on Antelope Island for the pictures. We made a plan and had everything set.

For the photographs of Amanda and I and also the entire family, I used two cameras set on tripods. I had a Fujifilm X-T20 with a 90mm lens, and set closer (but out of the frame of the X-T20) was a Fujifilm X100F. I used the Fujifilm camera remote app to control the X-T20 from my phone and on the X100F I used the interval timer (set to capture an image every 15 seconds) to snap random shots. This turned out to be a good setup, providing two angles and capturing a little of the serendipity. For the rest of the pictures the cameras were taken off of the tripods and my wife and I both captured images, which were the “icing on the cake” photographs.

What was out of my control was the weather, or more specifically the temperature, as it was colder than we were dressed for. The kids were pretty miserable. We sent them to the car (which was never far out of frame) frequently to warm up. Besides being cold, my four-year-old son was nervous and didn’t have a good attitude for much of the shoot. Despite our best efforts, we really struggled to get him to have a look on his face that didn’t clearly say, “I don’t want to be here!”

Some of my favorite pictures are the random ones captured by the X100F. These “outtakes” are humorous and give a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the “real” us. The out-of-focus shot of Amanda and I was a happy accident. I captured RAW+JPEG, and using the built-in RAW converter on the cameras, made both color and black-and-white versions of each picture. Our favorites are the black-and-whites, so that’s what I decided to share here. Overall I believe it went well. The pictures aren’t perfect. The photo shoot would likely have turned out a little better if I had hired someone to do it. Maybe next year I’ll do that. Or maybe once again I’ll find myself in two places at once.

The kids:

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Amanda and I:

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Partial family:

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The whole family:

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Outtakes:

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