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Why I hate plain backgrounds*

*for family photography.


Okay, before I state my case, I must first acknowledge that there are photographers who take great family shots in the studio against a plain background, and if you're into that sort of thing, fill your boots. Stuff like this (a stock photo, not one of mine).



There are many good things about this photo: it's high resolution so could be enlarged, the focus is pin-sharp, nobody's wearing anything too distracting, everybody looks good in it: it's a good photo of a family. But is it a good family photo? For me, no. But why?


To explain why I don't like this kind of photo let me start by asking: If you have children, what are your favourite photos ever of them? I'll kick off with my favourite photo of me and my son.




Is this a technically good photo? Not at all. It's taken on the worse of two cameras on my phone, in a badly lit room so it's both grainy and blurry. Technically it's a terrible photo.


But I love this photo because:

- It's the first photo of us together I ever took, when he was around one hour old, so it has huge significance and will always remind me of the day my son was born.

- Although he's actually only yawning, it looks as though he's taken an instant dislike to me, which amuses me, perhaps more than it should

- This was how I announced his birth on Facebook. The caption was something like "This is my son: he totally loves me, as you can see"

- I'm genuinely happy. I'm not just smiling for the camera


The point is it captures a moment. A great moment. Most of the best photos do. As a photographer, though, I wouldn't be comfortable presenting an image like this to a paying customer, because of the aforememtioned lack of technical quality. As a photographer, I want to present something that provides the best of both worlds: a great quality image that captures a moment.


And that's why I don't do family photography against a plain background.


Because in years to come, what will that photo remind you of? The day you bundled the whole family into a studio, posed awkwardly in front of a white background and had a giant flash go off in your face? Like I said at the top, if that's your thing, fill your boots. But for me, a family photo shoot should at least try to capture moments. And that's why I try and make my family shoots less like a photoshoot and more like a day out that happens to result in some great, natural-looking photos. Sure, I'll take some posed shots, there's nothing wrong with that, but there'll also be a selection of candid shots of natural moments. Like this one of my boy.





We went to the park one autumn morning and I took my fancypants photography camera with me, so when the boy took it upon himself to go and shout into this playground apparatus, I managed to capture a moment AND get a technically good photo, which reminds me not just of him playing megaphones but also of him laughing on the swings, tramping through leaves, and nervously climbing the steps to the top of the slide before gleefully coming down head first. In short it reminds me of a nice morning: it doesn't remind me of a photoshoot. And this is the sort of atmosphere I try to create whenever I work with families. Once we're outside at the location of choice, for the best part of an hour I'll want you to act like I'm not even there. For the most part I use a long lens so I can shoot from a greater distance, meaning kids are less likely to react unnaturally and grown-ups should feel a lot more comfortable than they would with a lens right in their face.