Making a family portrait with meaning

This photo needs a little explanation as well. This is a family portrait of two sisters with their husbands and kids. The photo was going to be a present for their mother. So how did we come to this photo?

For a family portrait I could have taken a simple traditional family shot but that’s no challenge and I wanted to add more meaning. The same as with my group portrait of the craftsmen, see the other blog.

A month before the photo was taken I talked with the sisters and asked what was special about their family, what did their family have that others didn’t. After a while we discovered they had a secret family recipe of raisin bread which was given from parent to child, it’s been in the family for generations. I thought this was a great starting point: a photo in which you see ‘the making of raisin bread’.

I also found it important to have the sisters right in the middle because this was going to be a present for their mother. To emphasise even more I wanted the sisters to be in their own little world. They are together having a quality moment, quite serene, where they are enjoying the family raisin bread, seemingly unaware of a hell breaking loose around them. The contrast of the center and the surrounding would make the picture better. I think I also wanted to refer to ‘Een huishouden van Jan Steen’ in my photo, I like our Dutch paintings.

And then we discussed many minor things like small objects that are meaningful but too small and also the use of stereotypical objects (like the rolling pin). Important because people need to easily recognise what they see.

The day we took this photo we first started to build the set including the floor. On the table everything was placed in an interesting position so you could start making a beautiful still life painting. After that I spend time to get the light completely right, like in a painting of the 17th century. You can see that all the shadow parts have detail, that I found important as well.

Next step was to take pictures of only the two sisters so I could get the centre piece completely right, and later we had the whole family together. Kids have an attention span of max 3 minutes so the last bit needed to be done very quickly. In the last minutes we started very clean and ended very messy. In the meantime, I was taking lots of pictures to the catch the right moment.

The shoot was over. Later in my studio at home I made selection of the best photos. The photo you see now, and this might spoil your experience of the photo, is a composite of seven photos. That’s the way it goes, I want to have the best photo possible so I make use of this ‘new’ option of the digital age. If you want to see the composite just click on the photo, it will be shown and probably a bit of magic disappears...

Harrie de Fotograaf