Send out a questionnaire or connect before your portrait session.
You can't make honest photos of a family if you don't know anything about them. I send out a family questionnaire as a guide for my family portrait sessions after a session is booked. I leave it up to each family to decide, who answers and I love reading the responses. Learning about a family dynamic, hobbies and their personalities helps to set the tone on how I will photograph a family. Some clients are really interested in photos of them as a whole and others request it to be more child focused. By simply asking your client what is most important to them (prior to the shoot) is an easy and helpful way set yourself up for a successful shoot. It also establishes what is important before the session so I can focus on shooting creatively and they can have fun. A little back story: I spent my early twenties with Ranu and Lindsey living on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. For as long as I've known them it has been them together as a couple, so having a chance to finally meet their boys and capture them as whole was AWESOME. Ranu answered my questionnaire and it is so telling about how important family is to Lindsey and him. (Sorry Ranu, I am going to embarrass you for a moment. Because you are so dang sincere and seeing how wonderful you two are as parents was a highlight of my summer.) See his response to a few of my questions below the images. :)
A few questions I ask:
Q:Are there any shots (or sessions that you've seen of mind that really stand out to you? A: I want you to be free and use your creativeness. (<<<< Can you say....DREAM CLIENT? Trusting the process is everything! Thank you for giving me freedom to capture you guy in such an honest and authentic way. )
Q:Tell me one thing you love about your partner or children? A: I love my families heart. (Man.. I do too Ranu. )
Q:What do you like to do together? (Describe your perfect day off together?) A:Playing Sports, spending time at SNK. We like to goof off. (SNK is a magical place for anyone who knows the cape and he did not lie.. our session was pretty silly.)
I also send a full gallery of a previous shoot before they book me so they get a sense of what to expect. If they are looking for the "perfect" family portrait of everyone looking at the camera full frame in a serious and static manner than I am probably the wrong photographer for them.