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24.06.2020 Saraya Cortaville

10 Tips For Creating Socially-Distanced, Professional Family Portraits

Saraya Cortaville

Saraya Cortaville is an award winning portrait and social documentary photographer.
She has received two fellowships (one of only two women in the uk to have achieved this) one for studio portraiture and most recently social documentary for a project she completed in 2015 whilst living in Africa.
She was awarded the Peter Grugeon award for the best fellowship portfolio of 2015, and a gold award in Visual Arts in the professional photography awards 2016.
Saraya’s passion for travel and people has pushed her career in to a more adventurous phase and she has recently lived and worked abroad for various international NGO’s documenting social issues in countries as far as Tanzania and Nepal.
Saraya skillfully manages to draw out her subjects emotions and feelings, in a sensitive and empathetic nature, her portraits are an observation and moment of connection, between two people, rather than photographer, subject.
When not abroad Saraya shoots primarily location portraiture specializing in children and documentary weddings.

With lockdown easing for the time being and many businesses contemplating how to sensibly reopen, I have pulled together a few ideas on how best to approach portraiture clients at this time.

The aim is to reassure them that you have thought about all the ways to move forward in a safe and considered way that maintains all of the creativity and fun, while guaranteeing minimum risk.

FUJIFILM X-T2 + XF8-16mmF2.8 R LM WR - F2.8, ISO 200, 1/500 sec

1. Improvise and adapt

As with most things at the moment, we are all having to improvise and adapt our behaviour to try and get us close to some form of normality.

As photographers, changing the way we work with clients is a must in order to move forward and start reopening our businesses. The way that we do this as an industry must be consistent and collaborative throughout the community as a whole.

In my mind, the most favourable option for photographers is the lifestyle portrait. The ability to socially distance from clients when shooting this kind of photography is certainly easier and safer than shooting in the confined space of the studio.

FUJIFILM X-T2 + XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR - F2.8, ISO 200, 1/100 sec

2. Manage expectations

One of the most important issues currently is that we really are venturing into the unknown. All of us are second-guessing what might happen next, each with our own opinions and worries. If we are to successfully move forward to a place where people are comfortable having their portraits taken, we will need to adapt – not only to the changing rules, but also the changing expectations of our clients.

When approaching a shoot, it is important for us as photographers to protect ourselves, our families and our other clients. As such, it makes sense to explain clearly to clients how sessions will realistically happen.

Clearly outline how you intend to meet up and capture images in a safe place, keep control of distances at all times and create emotion in the same way that you would do in a regular shoot. Also provide reassurance that safety measures are in place for all parties involved and ensure they know to vocalise any concerns immediately.

It might be a good idea to create a Google form or some kind of contract that can be put in place before the shoot to ensure that everything is clearly shown in black and white. It is also worth checking with families whether their children fully understand social distancing. If not, how do you work with this? We will need to be able to think a little differently to be able to cope, but let’s face it, most photographers are pretty good at thinking on their feet and overcoming obstacles!

FUJIFILM X-T2 + XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR - F20, ISO 200, 1/10 sec

3. Think about timings

Historically, the main reason for choosing a particular time of day for your shoot has been to make the most of the best light. However, it now may be a good idea to time your shoots to when local parks and beauty spots are the least busy.

Make the most of the weekdays while children are still off school, and mornings or evenings could be good choices to avoid the crowds, so as to limit any potential contact with others in public places.

If you have smaller children in your group, I would always suggest shooting first thing in the morning at all times, as they tend to be more lively, energetic and compliant within the shoot.

FUJIFILM X-T3 + XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR - F2.8, ISO 200, 1/1000 sec

4. Go wild!

One of the upsides of the recent lockdown rules is that we have all been exploring our local areas – finding new secret little beauty spots to enjoy the countryside while avoiding the crowds! These have now become special places where families take walks, have picnics and spend time together. Because these locations are now more unique and personal to families, they will create a great connection and add meaning to a portrait.

It is worth asking the clients if they have found somewhere near them that they have enjoyed visiting in the last few months where they feel comfortable. Arranging a place to meet and having a quick recce before you start the shoot is always useful to pre-plan where the light and locations are good.

As photographers we are used to a challenge, so it will certainly be good to get out of the normal areas where we shoot!

FUJIFILM X-T2 + XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR - F2.8, ISO 200, 1/2000 sec

5. Go long!

Seems obvious really, but to enable us to work at a safe distance, we will need to use our longer lenses.

Immediately, I would head for the XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR zoom lens. Not only will this lovely lens give you the distance from your clients but, being a zoom lens, it will give you the flexibility of various perspectives without having to handle extra equipment. This in turn eliminates multiple lens changes, saving you time overall.

For more contextual shots, I would still use the XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR zoom and make sure again I adhere to the distancing criteria. I know from experience that most of my clients love closer-in portraits showing the expressions and characters of their children.

FUJIFILM X-T2 + XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR - F4, ISO 200, 1/800 sec

6. Limit your shoots

I for one will be limiting my shoots to only one or two a day to give me a chance to continually evaluate the outcome and whether all of the processes that are in place go far enough.

In the first few weeks, it is a good idea to use a ‘see how it goes’ approach, with the ability to assess and change procedures as we go. What works for one family may not work for another, so we need to be flexible and understanding.

Let’s face it, we have never been in this kind of working environment before and I am certain that new problems and challenges will present themselves. We can only improve if we share experiences and move forward together.

7. Work quickly and shoot smart

With most of my shoots, regardless of how many subjects, the actual shoot time is actually relatively short, with most of the time taken up by communicating and making the clients feel comfortable in front of the lens.

This will obviously still need to happen, but if you can do most of your reassurances on the pre-shoot consultation, this will allow for a lesser amount of time in person.

Keeping the lens changes to a minimum and using zoom lenses to avoid too many changes will help with this, and always try and shoot clever, getting as much variety as you can in one location. With each scenario, try to capture a headshot, a mid-length and a full-length portrait, each in an upright and landscape format, and each in black & white and colour.

With this approach and with very little effort from the client, you can achieve 12 different images for consideration. This number can be further increased if you’re able to move around the subject and create different compositions, expressions, and poses.

With each shoot, try and give the client as much variety as possible, so on average shoot five or six different scenes at the same location. With the current restrictions, you may well need to reduce this, but as I have said before, play it by ear, be cautious, and be client-led! For me, this is the best way.

FUJIFILM X-T2 + XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR - F2.8, ISO 200, 1/320 sec

8. Communicate visually

With the distancing in place, it may be slightly harder to gain such a personal connection with the client. Nevertheless, you must try your hardest to establish a good connection from the start and to engage and create energy in a different way.

Being more vocal and more visually active may help. Playing games and telling jokes or stories is a great way of keeping attention.

Physically demonstrating poses will become the norm and explaining clearly to clients that this is what will happen is key for the shoot to be successful and for clients not to feel self-conscious.

FUJIFILM X-T2 + XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR - F2.8, ISO 200, 1/160 sec

9. In-person virtual sales

Online galleries are likely to be the best way for the next few months until we are able to physically welcome people into our workplaces. However, this doesn’t mean that these can’t be in person!

Zoom or Skype sales sessions could be great fun and just as profitable! They could even become the way forward – who knows? I think we all just need to see what fits to our businesses and be prepared to evolve practices as we go.

FUJIFILM X-T2 + XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR - F2.8, ISO 400, 1/125 sec

10. Wash your hands!

And last, just to add to the message (as if we haven’t heard it enough!), when working with children and on location, a bottle of hand sanitiser or packet of antibacterial wipes has always been an important addition to my kit. Snotty noses and muddy hands are always present and the sign of a good, energy-filled shoot!

Remind your clients to bring along their own supplies and to use them often. It’s always best to lead by example, so make a point of washing your own hands and suggesting you all do after each set of shots, especially if children have been touching benches or sat in various locations.

Celebrate togetherness, apart!

Above all, I believe at this time we should be celebrating togetherness and families, so it is a great chance for photographers to get out there and do this (taking into consideration all of the points that I have outlined, of course!).

If there are any other suggestions that you may have, I would love to add them! If we go about this in a collaborative way as an industry, and support and help each other, the portraits of 2020 will certainly be ones that have marked a very significant moment in our history.