Motherhood, Marriage and Other Wild Rides

Health, Happiness and the Pursuit of Mommyhood

Capturing The Moment – Tips for Family Portraits September 29, 2008

Most writers are content to sit quietly–alone–writing, researching, reading and pondering turns of phrases for their latest story. Increasingly, in our online-driven media world, requests for a writer headshot accompanies a writing assignment. Taking a cue from newspaper editors, online editors want to place a recognizable face with a column or article. (A photo is worth a thousand words, after all.) Thanks to avatars on social bookmarking networks and sites like, the web has made us increasingly more intimate; we want and expect to see who’s saying what.

I’m Ready For My Close-up, Mr. Bisson. With the help of Laguna Beach photographer Tony Bisson, I smiled for my headshot this weekend. Thank goodness for Tony’s 19 years of experience; for me, it was just a little bit painful. Why? In some ways it was like playing back my voicemail recording, only visual. I cringed at (imagined) inflections and flaws. I think it was the exercise of exploring whether one photo can capture my self-image—Not the way I actually look, but who I really am, and what I hope to become. I’m pleased with the images Tony shot, and they are a good representation of my appearance. Are they me? My overall “wholesomeness” surprised me. My sassy “inner badgirl” is nowhere to be found, but that only opens a more philosophical question of whether in fact my inner badgirl may be, in reality, hybernating during this season of my life as a new mommy. To be completely honest, my favorite pictures are ones of our little family of four, each with a natural smile borne of our enjoyment of being together.

Tony Bisson is well-known in the Laguna Beach area for capturing striking portraits outdoors, particularly at the beach. “I bring lighting and I have a lot of experience shooting in nature,” says Bisson. While he creates impressive, tasteful and beautifully artistic wedding shots, I was very taken with his family portraiture. His website, showcases his photo sessions with a variety of families. Tony is able to capture moments of joy, togetherness and familial ties in well-composed images that create warm and attractive art pieces for decorating the home.

He is also kind enough to his tips for creating cherished family photos:

  • Don’t put them off. “Most people get their photos taken every 3 years,” says Bisson, “sometimes more often when they’re young.” But when the children enter their teens, Bisson cautions, “parents stop getting photos done, causing a huge gap in the family’s history from when the children are around 11 years old until they graduate highschool.” (This might be a result of failed attempts at coercing tweens and teens to stop rolling their eyes long enough to smile for the camera.)
  • Make it an annual tradition. “Ideally you want to do one family group picture every year,” advises Bisson. Of course, newest family members deserve the most paparazzi. “During baby’s first year, have them photographed at least three times,” he says, “as a newborn, at 6 months (or when they sit up, and then again when they crawl) and at Baby’s first birthday. “It is important to document that because they change so rapidly in the first year,” he adds.
  • Prepare. “These are family history but you also want to hang them on your wall,” says Bisson. “A good place to start when preparing for your portrait is visualize where it is going to be displayed in your home. Look at the room, its colors and decor and coordinate your outfits to best match the space. You can even bring the clothes into that room and see if they work with the surroundings.”

Dressing For Your Portrait

While respecting the individual tastes of each family member, portraits look best when the people in them have a simplified and harmonious look. As Bisson puts it, “look coordinated, but not like you’re in team uniform. Wear colors that look good together and represent who you are.” It is best to have an overall theme and coordinate in such a way so that the viewer will not be distracted by what a particular person is wearing.

  • Solid colors look best. Avoid Busy patterns, bright colors, and above all, logos and words.
  • Light colors look good on the beach, such as white or ecru.
  • Choose colors that look good with your skin color.
  • Trendy clothes may look dated in a season, but your portrait will hang in your home for many years. Keep this in mind when choosing what to wear.

For more information on preparing for your family photo session, and to see more samples of Tony’s work, click here.

What Makes A Good Photo?

From Tony Bisson’s perspective, expression and motion are what separate truly great photos. “In those little split seconds when people have real expression and real emotion, there is a sparkle in the eye,” he explains. “As a photographer, I am always looking for those moments, even if it may appear as though I’m setting up a staged scenario, like ‘walk down the beach towards me,’ or ‘let’s put you in a group here with the sunset behind you.’ But, in my mind I’m looking for that little spark. I may say something or do something in my body language to encourage that to come out—and when it happens I’m ready to capture it.”

Making Family Photos Last For Generations

Most families take hundreds (thousands!) of digital photos of the family, and most people are very good about archiving those treasured photos. “It’s great, I think,” says Bisson. “Kids today will have a lot more photos of them then I did growing up.” With photography, however, people have this sense that their digital archives will always be there and always be readable. “But I would have a hard time playing an 8-track tape and how would I read a 3.5-inch floppy now?” muses Bisson. “People need to be very careful about how they archive their digital images. The photos that will last through this generation and future generations are going to be printed on paper or canvas, or framed or in an album. Those are the pictures that are going to make it,” he says.

Tony showed me Polaroids his mother took when he was young, which have held up remarkably well. “I’m 43 years old and those photos haven’t faded at all. I was fortunate that my parents didn’t choose to shoot with negatives, which eventually turn orange. Just Polaroids, one at a time, little jewels. Digital archives are not to be trusted over time.”

With the holiday season around the corner, now is the time to begin planning your family photo.

Tony Bisson
2307 Laguna Canyon Road #5
Laguna Beach, Calif. 92651


4 Responses to “Capturing The Moment – Tips for Family Portraits”

  1. Tony Bisson Says:


    It is fun to read about your point of view of being photographed. Every few years I hire someone to take my photo so I can have that perspective.

    You are a good writer!

  2. rjlacko Says:

    Thanks Tony,
    That means a lot coming from a creative person like you!
    And thanks again for shooting me. It was a great experience and I am so pleased with the result.

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