Photography Techniques

9 Tips to Reinvent as a Family Photographer

9 Tips to Reinvent as a Family Photographer

It’s tough to break into the super-saturated photography market. But with patience, determination, and a good eye, a career is there for the taking.

Monica Carlson went from media buyer to stay-at-home mom to highly successful and in-demand family photographer in a matter of years. Here, she shares her advice for people looking to transition into the business. 

Sack Race
Image via Monica Carlson.

1. Seek Out Professional Training and a Supportive Artistic Community

Carlson didn’t pick up a camera knowing she wanted to be a professional photographer. “When I started staying home with my son, I got bored,” she says. “Then, I had two more girls and decided I wanted to learn to take better pictures.”

Girl in Garden
Image via Monica Carlson.

She signed up for a handful of classes through Click Community, using her family and friends as her models and muses, and posted the results online. “Eventually, people started asking me to photograph their families. I was reluctant at first, because I didn’t think I wanted it to be a business. I didn’t think I was good enough.”

Portrait of a Girl
Image via Monica Carlson.

The more classes she took and the more involved she became on Click Community’s message boards, the more her confidence grew, until she finally decided to join the group’s professional organization, Click Pro. “It’s really tough to get in and I got rejected twice before I finally made it in on my third attempt.” 

Portrait of a Boy
Image via Monica Carlson.

She launched her business from her home in Atlanta in 2016, when her youngest daughter entered kindergarten, and has been steadily building her photography career ever since.

2. Just Say “Okay”

As Carson’s portfolio grew, a fellow photographer and friend encouraged her to look into stock. “She was like, ‘Your pictures are totally the kind of thing they are looking for—lifestyle photography, kids doing random things. They’d probably accept you.’ So, I was like, ‘Okay, I’ll give it a shot!’”

Lake Rocks
Image via Monica Carlson.

Now, Carlson submits regularly to Offset and generates a significant passive income off her photos. 

3. Shoot What’s Around You

Carlson’s own family—her three children and her husband—are her most frequent models. “I started practicing on the kids when they were really young,” Carlson says.

Cleaning Window

Picking Pumpkins

Family Fishing
Images via Monica Carlson.

“Especially with my kids, I just kind of sit back and let them do their thing. I try not to involve myself. I just observe and think, ‘How can I make this look interesting?’’

“Really, I think you can make anything look interesting. Even something mundane like eating a donut or learning to use the bathroom. It’s all about beautiful light and capturing those moments of true excitement and emotion.”

4. Make Sure the People in Your Life Know How Much Photography Means to You

Part of the reason Carlson’s family is so comfortable with her taking and selling pictures of them is because she has made a point of telling them what photography means to her. ”My kids are at that age now where they understand that, one, this is how I make money, but also it’s important to me. I’m passionate about it. It makes me happy.”

Car Air Conditioner

Dandelion Flower
Images via Monica Carlson.

It helps that Carlson doesn’t insinuate herself into the scenes she’s trying to photograph—directing her children or styling them a certain way. “If I made them change outfits every time I wanted to take a photo, I don’t think they would be so [accommodating],” she says.

5. Don’t Be Afraid to Shoot Sad Stuff

Kids are always in their feelings, which can make them wonderful to photograph, even when they are sad or angry or pouting. “I have pictures on the wall of my daughter crying,” says Carlson. Sometimes, it’s not about rushing to comfort them, but, rather “capturing a moment that will pull the viewer in.”

Sick Day

Girl Pouting
Images via Monica Carlson.

6. Don’t Force It—Just Watch and Wait

“Over time, you learn to anticipate what people are going to do next. You can see that moment of emotion coming—that excitement building—and capture it, so you can elicit the same emotion in the viewer.”

Beach Fun

Leaf Pile
Images via Monica Carlson.

These moments cannot be manufactured. They have to be real if the person looking at the photo is going to feel a true, genuine connection. 

7. Always Have Your Camera on You . . . Always

“I’ve been using Canon cameras since the beginning,” Carlson says. “As I outgrow one, I just move on to the next. Right now, I’m using a Canon R6, which is mirrorless. Mirrorless cameras are so lightweight, so even though it is my main camera right now, it’s also great for when I’m just out with my family.”

8. Resist the Urge to Over-Curate 

“You see a lot of people with very curated Instagram feeds, you know, where all the colors are sort of in the same pallete and the kids are always dressed in a certain way. It’s beautiful, but it isn’t real. So many people try to chase that look, but you really have to ask yourself, ‘Is this me? Is this really what I want?’” 

Sleeping Girl
Image via Monica Carlson.

If you’re interested in capturing moments of genuine emotion and connection, you need your subjects to be comfortable. Putting them in outfits they don’t usually wear might make for a nice photo in the moment, but when they look back at it years later, will they remember the emotion or mood you were trying to convey, or just how uncomfortable they were in that particular outfit?

Bouncing Basketball
Image via Monica Carlson.

“I think people have a hard time seeing themselves in these super-curated, super-clean photos,” says Carlson. “I think you’re more likely to see yourself in a photo where things are a little messy, where the living room isn’t quite perfect. It just feels more real and that is definitely the way stock photography, in particular, is headed: Realism.”

9. Don’t Take “No” Personally 

“You are going to hear ‘no’ so many times, and that’s okay,” says Carlson. “It’s hard not to take it personally, since with every click of the camera you are, hopefully, putting your heart out there. But, not everyone is going to like what you do and you have to know that is okay and love what you produce anyway.”

Knit Scarf
Image via Monica Carlson.

If you take rejection personally, you’ll lose your confidence and might end up tapping out on the eve of something really amazing. 

Orange Sweater
Image via Monica Carlson.

“I was rejected from Click Pro twice before I was finally accepted,” Carlson says. “I didn’t take it personally, though. I just kept thinking ‘I belong there,’ and I worked on my portfolio and applied again. You are going to fail, but you can’t let it stop you from getting where you hope to go.”

Girl Twirling
Image via Monica Carlson.

Cover image via Monica Carlson.

The post 9 Tips to Reinvent as a Family Photographer appeared first on The Shutterstock Blog.

Did you miss our previous article…