The Best Time to Shoot Your Family Portrait | Lisa Staff Photography

August 12, 2022

Family photographer on Haig Point, Daufuskie Island , Lisa Staff Photography

So here I am, singing “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof and back again to dispel wisdom, as little as I have, on the one (and only) topic that I know the most about. Photography. And today specifically on family photography and what you need to do as a client to prepare you and your family for the best experience possible with both your family and your photographer. 

What’s the difference?

We all know that everyone is taking snaps on their iPhone daily and branding themselves as photographers.  But we also know that there is a difference between a selfie and curating family photographs with a professional that will become an iconic part of history. And with every major purchase, you should do your due diligence and be informed and educated to make the best investment. Investing in your family photographs may not seem like a huge investment but creating gorgeous iconic family portraits that truly represent your family is helluva important. Who wants to be known by their great, great grandkids as that family in the whacked-out photos? What you curate of your family to tell their story is something that is passed down to posterity.

There should be an understanding and connection between you and your family photographer of what you are looking for and what you can expect will be delivered. No one wants the surprise of something that looks like the old-school Olan Mills images. Awkward, stiff, and just plain unattractive. So let’s clarify what you should expect from the “artiste” commonly referred to as the “picture lady”.

If you missed the last blog that discussed the differences, both the positives and negatives, to help you make the decision between studio or location photography, you can read it all here. It’s actually quite helpful in aiding in the decision of what would be the best fit for your family. There’s more to it than you think.

Some of the most common questions

So let’s start with one of the most common questions that I get asked as a family and portrait photographer in Hilton Head and Bluffton.

When is the best time of day for a family portrait?

It all starts with choosing the right time of the day!

Whether it is a family portrait, engagement, couple, or wedding, you have to know that lighting is EVERYTHING. Yes, photographers have lighting equipment and on-camera flash but if you want to be fluid with movement, spontaneity, creativity, changes on the fly, and great lighting, it starts with the right time of day. 

What are the two best times of the day for photography?

What you want to aim for are two times of the day. 

Let’s talk about Sunrise Photos!

Sunrise. And I’m talking early, early, early in the morning before the sun gets too high and hot. I’m totally fine with getting up early. Hell, I’m one of those people. An early riser. But when you are the “model” in the family portrait session, unless you wake up “close up” ready, you are going to be up even before the crack of dawn. Not many families doing their family photographs are excited about this. That is unless they have an early tee time in Harbor Town Golf Links and plan to spend the whole day on the 18th green and then in the club after. Hmmmm. Good idea, right? Seriously. I have shot family portraits early for just this reason. So that they can spend the rest of the day golfing and sipping cocktails.

Let’s talk about Sunset Photos!

Sunset. That’s what we like to call here in the photography realm… especially as a photographer on  Hilton Head Island and in Bluffton, the “Golden Hour”. Don’t think that it is called that just by all of the big wig movie producers in Hollywood. Us Hilton Head family photographers appreciate good complementary lighting as much as the next guy. 

And when I am saying “sunset” that generally means starting one and a half hours before sunset is clocked to happen.

What this good lighting translates to is “money” for you models. It means a variety of things.

What this good lighting translates to is “money” for you models. It means a variety of things.

  • You won’t be squinting with tears streaming down your face as your retinas burn and sizzle out. This especially means you… I’m looking at you blue-eyed people…. You know what I’m talking about. You basically can’t go out in the sun without your Ray Bans on. #vampirelife
  • The lighting is softer and more flattering. Mid-day and early in the day the sun is high in the sky. I know. I’m basically a scientist. But what this means is that the lighting is super duper contrasty. That equates to a hard shadow. Your eyes will be dark, fathomless pits unless you are blasted with reflectors ( see above and refer to the tears streaming down your face and budget costs) or artificial lighting to offset it. Don’t get me wrong. I can shoot with all of the lighting, but family shoots tend to be more free-flowing. Why is that? Well toddlers, babies (and some husbands) don’t like waiting for the “perfect” lighting to be set up
  • And one more reason. And this reason is more specifically catered to Hilton Head beach portraits. Or actually anywhere that you are doing a beach portrait. Savannah, Tybee Island, Bluffton, Beaufort, Charleston. The visitors that have spent all day lying and frying on the beach will start their pilgrimage/exodus off the beach later in the day so that they can aloe their charred burns back to health for the next day. That means that the beach will empty out. And why is that important? That means that you aren’t going to have to worry about random people in their Speedos in the background of your beautiful family portraits. That’s a win-win for us both. And, yes, I’m really good at Photoshop (that’s a blatant brag) but it’s so much easier to not have to do it for all involved.

Yes, photographers can adapt to lighting situations. But that isn’t always the best option.

  • You can be scrimmed off. Which just means that an assistant is going to hold a flag or scrim of different opacities over you to shield you from the sun. You have probably seen this in BTS of movie productions or big-time photographers on set like Annie Liebowitz. But taking into account wanting to be fluid and not spending a million dollars on production, it’s not always the best option.
  • Open Shade is also an option. This just means that you are using an area, say under a tree canopy or the shade of a building. In this case, you can shoot any time of day when the shade is consistent and not patchy. I repeat, not patchy. Because if it is patchy and it’s a large family group, someone is going to end up in the shade and someone else is going to be blinded by the light. The contrast in light is never good in a photograph when it comes to family photography and the chances of someone’s face being blown out.

I know that’s a lot of information, so I’m going to give you a break to digest all of that super heady photographer education. Well, in reality, I’m at my word count for the night and going to break this out into another blog so that you are left with this cliffhanger and will have to wait for the next big release date for the upcoming blog. 

What’s upcoming in the next blog? Glad you asked. We are going to cover….

What’s upcoming in the next blog? Glad you asked. We are going to cover

  • Wardrobe. And why it is the perfect excuse for shopping
  • What and who is actually the OG
  • How to embarrass your kids because it’s finally time to turn the tables.
  • Understanding pricing and comparing apples to apples and not apples to grapes
  • What’s up with Google reviews

All this and more in the next upcoming blog from Lisa Staff Photography where you will find all of the trivia and information that you need to make your family photoshoot a success. Not just here in the Lowcountry. But it sure doesn’t hurt to know these things in Hilton Head Island. 

And here is one more tip…..

And here is one more tip if you are coming to Hilton Head and want sunset photos on the beach with the sun setting over the ocean…. It doesn’t happen on that side of the island. It’s only sunrise. Even I can’t fix that in Photoshop!

And just like you would do some “R and D” going into any romantic relationship, do the same when choosing your family photographer. Do some stalking. Look at their site. Check out their social media. Look at their google reviews. And best of all when all that is done, have a conversation with them. It’s worth it to see if they are the right fit. And don’t be afraid to ask them questions. Any and all questions. We actually like when families are interested and not just price shopping. 

Make sure that you understand the pricing. 

Make sure that the person that you are speaking with is actually the same person who will be photographing your family portraits.

And if you have any other questions reach out to me. And watch for some of my other blogs and the last one that talks about how to make the choice between studio and location for your family portraits. I’ll give you more tips on choosing the right family photographer.

Lisa Staff is the owner of Lisa Staff Photography servicing Hilton Head Island, Bluffton, SC, Savannah GA, Beaufort, SC and the Lowcountry. Please reach out with any questions.

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