Portrait photography

Pickup points of Caroline Tran’s pose for family portrait photography [Free Webinar]

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Although all of her 2020 weddings have been postponed, Los Angeles-based photographer Caroline Tran has been able to maintain (and even exceed) her income by doubling down on her family portrait photography and optimizing her basic pose cues. Adding 15-minute sessions for families and children as options for clients, she tells us, generated more than $30,000 in a single weekend last year (when we were all suffering from a pandemic, no less!). The secret to her success with these sessions, she says, is rooted in her “Pick Up Points” posing system for more authentic, natural-looking family portrait photography in half the time.

Caroline Tran developed her Pick Up Points pose cue system to help eliminate the need to memorize a long list of poses! “My pickup points can help photographers stay in touch with their clients and focus on having fun together,” she says. “Why not even ask the child to ‘carry’ the parent, right? Whatever the child is willing to do, do it,” she advises. Here, the son of Tran helps exemplify his starting point “Carry” with zeal © Caroline Tran

[Read: Caroline Tran’s Tips to Building a Recognizable Photography Brand]

We recently asked Tran to break down his posing process for his family portrait photography in the free Rangefinder + WPPI webinar,”Pose for family and kids.” Below are some of the highlights Tran covered that can help other photographers increase their profits while keeping the subjects fully engaged and coming back for more.

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Before digging into specific pose elements used in her portrait sessions, Tran first describes how her pick-up points evolved and what led her to be able to create portraits that resonate with her clients.

[Read: 4 Family Posing Tips for Dynamic In-Home Portraits]

Elements of a beautiful family portrait: lighting, posing and staging

When you want to get to the point in a family photoshoot where you’re “on fire and your shoot is moving,” Tran says you first need to define and communicate your vision. If you don’t have a vision of what you want to do, how are you going to move forward in filming? Do you want it to be dreamy? Amusing? Playful? Romantic? Your answers affect how you direct and pose your clients (and you must answer them before you start shooting).

The same goes for lighting, says Tran. If you don’t know your lighting, you won’t be able to truly connect with your customers. If you want to land and steer them efficiently, you can’t worry about lighting and vision.

“At first I struggled with bad lighting, repetitive poses, stiff, emotionless kids, grumpy kids, customers with no personality, no ‘wow’ factor,” she describes. “I had to overcome all of that before I got to where I am with my portrait sessions now.”

Understanding the basics, she says, requires having a good understanding of your lighting as well as a clear goal in mind. “Only then can you really focus on connecting, posing and leading your clients. And that’s how you reach your maximum potential.

The next step is to ask yourself why are you posing and directing your clients? “If you’re posing them for wall art, for example, you might want to go for the hero image shot type. For a scrapbook, you might want more subtle details, like the focus on your subject’s hands or other close-ups.These details may not be isolated very well, but together they tell a great story and fit well in a scrapbook.

Carry is a bonus pickup point for posing family portraits.
Tran’s “Carry” is a bonus pickup point that helps inject some fun into a family photo shoot. It works well with preschoolers and small babies, as well as grumpy children. © Caroline Tran

The Evolution of Caroline Tran’s Pose Cues

As a child playing the piano, Tran says she stumbled into the music and didn’t know how to pick it up. “I learned the song as one long song but when I stumbled in the middle of the music I had to go back to the beginning. Fast forward to when I was a photographer I noticed that This happened to me too: I had memorized a whole list of prompts in my head and wrote it down, but maybe I only remembered the first five items and the last two. both, I would forget, get frustrated and go back to the start.

Over time, she developed four main posing cues that she knew she could “take back” to help her manage her time and give her the confidence to see the shoot through to the end.

“By dividing my shots into 10-15 minute chunks and focusing on my main pick-up points, plus two bonuses when there’s time, I’m no longer burdened with memorizing long lists of prompts and poses that can often get repetitive. Now I can focus on connecting with my clients, keeping the inspiration, sparking authentic expressions and so much more.

Four essential poses for family portrait photography, plus two bonus poses

The Four Main Pickup Points Tran says she at to go through in a full session (usually 1 hour, each done in 15-minute segments) are as follows:

  • Cakes
  • walk run
  • Cheek to cheek
  • Prom
Cake Toppers is a family portrait photograph posing in a tail that makes Tran's family patrons look like a cake topper.
“Cake Topper” is a starting point that eventually leads to the other pick-up points, which is when more personality and movement begin to emerge. © Caroline Tran

The cake toppers are exactly what the pose looks like it would be, and that’s a good place to start because it’s a bit stiff, Tran notes. “This is where everyone stays still (or sits) and a little triangle starts to form. This is also where I don’t know what their personalities are yet, so why not start being really stiff at the start? And then I tell them to pretend to be on a cake. Just imagine creating little figurines of them and putting them on a cake. That would be so cute, right? That was my inspiration for cake decorations .

It’s also a good way, she adds, to gently bring people out of their shells. After the next three and if there is time and energy left, his two bonus points are “Carry” and “Laying Down”. Tran says if she doesn’t get the extra two, that’s fine because she knows that with her four essentials, she already has a full session where people get all the different poses they expect. “If it’s a mini-session, I can do just one pick-up point or I can only do 4-5 minutes from each pick-up point – that gets you to a 15-to-15 shoot. 20 minutes, and that’s really all you need. Remember, these pose cues aren’t set in stone, but rather are meant to inspire. You can fall back on them or leap forward with them when you feel stuck.