Holy cow, it’s the holidays. Yeah, crept right up on me. With family and friends getting together, you could have a golden opportunity to make terrific portraits.

If you don’t blow it.

Another picture…?

The problem is that these people know you are crazy about making portraits and they’ve suffered you for years — or maybe only this year if you’re new to this marvelous game. They may be a little tired of feeling compelled to participate in your hobby (no matter how much your peers realize it’s a passion, it’ll always be a hobby to family. Sigh.). Especially that one brother-in-law…

Even if they do agree to a picture, they’ll likely give you two fake grins and want to get back to the game. You may be the only obstacle between them, a whipped cream-covered piece of pie and a La-Z-Boy.

The solution: A project

The key to getting family to be in pictures for you is to beg their help in a little project. Everybody likes to help with a project — it’s intriguing, and it gives them something to talk about at the water cooler next Monday. No one wants to be the brother-in-law who is unhelpful.

Try some of these suggestions:

  • I’ve got this new light setup, and I think I’ve just about got the hang of it, but I need a few more subjects to practice with; could I make three shots with you real quick?
  • I read about this posing technique, and I’m trying to see if I’ve got it down. I’m all set up on the porch — could I make three pictures with you? It won’t take five minutes.
  • I got this new old film camera, and it’ll be a fun experiment to see how it compares with my digital photos. Could you come be in a picture for me? It’s all ready to go in the other room and won’t take a minute.
  • I’ve rented this fancy lens that is supposed to make wonderful portraits. Could you help me try it out so I know if I should buy it on sale tomorrow? I’m all set on the porch and we’ll be done faster than you can spell mincemeat pie.
  • I’ve got this complete set of Star Wars costumes and I’d like you to wear one in a picture. I’m ready to shoot and we’ll be done faster than Han Solo can make the Kessel Run.

Are you seeing a trend? Make sure it’s fast and easy to say yes and then follow through on that short time. If you need more time, use that niece who loves to be in pictures, or maybe that cousin who has a crush on you.

Share the results

No matter how badly your pictures turn out, you’ve got to share them with your family. If they weren’t great, they’ll use it as a road marker for your progress. They’ll be happy to do it again next time and see that you’ve improved. You can say, “I promise it’ll be better than last time!” and everyone will have a laugh and make a better picture.

Here are some pictures I made on the front porch during Thanksgiving. I used the, “I got a film camera!” line and they all went for it. It’s Kodax T-Max 400 in my Pentax 67 medium format camera with a 200mm lens.

But absolutely don’t…

The one thing you mustn’t do is make it not fun. Don’t shame anyone about their smile, don’t pick on anything to try to get a smile, don’t mention that time last year when that embarrassing thing happened — you may be ready to laugh about it, but they may not be. The most important thing is to spend a minute together and make a memory. It’s really not important that the picture be stunning, it’s just important that it happens.

Have a happy Thanksgiving.

Portrait Tips come out each week, and you can see them all right here.