My view on family portraits

Years ago I had a woman tell me she wanted me to do a portrait of her children. In the meet and greet that followed where we tried to map out a plan for the portrait she wanted it became ever so clear that biggest thing they had in common was they were siblings. Their hobbies and interests were so different that I was having trouble finding the common thread that was going to tie the whole portrait together in a common theme or message.  I suggested that she might want to consider doing individual portraits of each child and then arrange them as a collection of portraits on her wall.  Hesitant at first, she finally agreed, and after the portraits were finished she thanked me for my suggestion saying that she could never have got the personality of each child into a portrait of them all together.

Today I try to always remember this experience when doing  family portraits, regardless of the age of the subjects. After all a family portrait is about individuals and their relationships to one another.  I think it important when creating a family portrait to capture the individual as well as the relationship.

Let me show you what I mean with this family portrait session that I recently did.


Like any family it begins with the warmth and love of two people.

From there it just grows.

Even though they are a family they are each individual with personalities that are unique different and varied.



What could be more natural in a boy’s growth than the development of his interest in sports?


His love for his dog, of course.

This is one of my favourite images from the session. Like all good photographic image making it begins with the quality of the capture. It was Ansel Adams that said “The negative is comparable to the composer’s score and the print to its performance.” This is probably why I am so insistent on being a print artist. After carefully processing the file and making some enhancements I added a warming look and texture to complete the look I wanted to present.


Many of my clients consider me their family photographer and that is both an honour and a privilege.  The advantage is that I get to know them and the kids get to know me.  I have had the joy of watching many of their families grow. When the family arrived for this session I looked at the kids and commented “You’ve grown so big.”  The shy little girl that once hid behind her mom’s leg and had to be coxed and encouraged to smile looked at me and ever so confidently said “The last time you saw me I was only 3. I’m 4 now!”


This image so captures  that confidence and the little mischief that is now her.

As I was making this image I told her father that if he didn’t already have a collection of baseball bats he had better start one.  Oh is she going to break a few hearts.


But still there is some of that sweet innocence still there, and will always be there.


Like I said, families are about individuals in relationships. Is this not the sibling relationship that mom wants to see? One looking out for the other.


Yet this collection probably better captures the everyday relationship of teasing, provoking, and caring.

So my view on family portraits is simply this; you can’t focus on the relationship without looking at the individual personalities that make up the relationship. And that is why I find family portraiture so enjoyable and so interesting.

John Mitchell is a master photographer accredited by the Professional Photographers of Canada for general portraits, family portraits, legal photography, and wedding story. John specializes in portraiture that captures the essence of the moment and the personality of the subject.  Now is the prime time for family portraits. For more information please call 519-624-8460 or e-mail

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