Business + Marketing

What Do the Beatles Have to Do with Family Portrait Photography?

September 15, 2021

By Jen Huang

© Jen Huang

A few days ago, I had a silly dream: the Beatles were over at my house for a dinner party (bear with me) and we were trying to figure out what music to play for them. You might be wondering what this has to do with family portrait photography, but when it comes to my photography business, the quandary is strangely fitting. What kind of music do you play for the Beatles? What kind of music do you play for a band that has been everywhere and heard it all? 

This is the question I have to ask myself when it comes to attracting and retaining family portrait photography clients. Unlike wedding photography jobs, family sessions are repeat businesses. My clients are generally those that have booked me for weddings and find themselves needing maternity, newborn or family sessions to capture their memories. After their first family session, they usually return year after year for many years.

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Each time, they expect and deserve a portrait session that has the same wow factor that they had when they first received their wedding photos. And each time, I need to deliver photos created with flawless technique, authentic poses and fresh styling. It’s an incredibly difficult position. How do you keep it new and inspiring for clients who have already seen your entire repertoire? 

In my dream with the Beatles, we actually pared it down to two different stations to play—pure classical or a Japanese ska band named Potshot. Weird, I know! In my (subconscious) opinion, you can either keep it classic and simple, or wow with something entirely foreign and different. Either way, you have to trust your gut and go all the way. 

For me, classic and simple always wins. In 2020, I transitioned from 90 percent weddings to 100 percent portraiture. It was unplanned, but I had to make it work. At first, the transition felt chaotic, but I found that I could apply the strengths that I had in wedding photography to family portrait photography and provide a consistently clean and minimalist shoot mixed with classic, timeless styling. This type of look, which is prevalent in my work, comes easy to me because it’s my natural aesthetic. 

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One of the biggest pros to family portrait photography is that you can control for lighting, location and timing. For a control freak like me, it is the optimal work environment. Because I have my own natural light studio (basically a revamped garage), I was able to design a space that perfectly fit my look—white plaster walls, muted subtle furnishings and loads of natural light. There’s also less pressure with factors out of my control—cranky babies, bad weather, late timelines—where you can simply reschedule. Not only that, but I could also complete multiple sessions a day and book on weekdays, thus freeing up my weekends for the first time in decades.

[Read: Best Natural Light for Photography—5 Types and Tips]

Because of the added consistency, my clients started seeing their sessions as a kind of series—photos that would be different from year to year but retain the same consistent quality, like episodes of a show. Consistent, elevated imagery that I’m proud to showcase also draws in new clientele, thus repeating the cycle. The idea of a returning client base—as opposed to ones who only book you once a lifetime—is incredibly reassuring, especially after all the wedding challenges that COVID-19 posed. I also love the relationships that I develop with my clients and their families. It is special being able to document their growth and follow along with their family milestones. 

I know that family portrait photography is a huge industry, and there are many ways to succeed in it. I feel lucky that I had a quick transition during uncertain times. I still feel that I only recently got my “sea legs” in portrait photography, but I am looking forward to developing and improving my business as I go. 

Jen Huang is a fine-art wedding and portrait photographer who, over the last decade, has photographed in over 20 countries and on six different continents. A photography educator who offers a variety of instructional and inspirational materials, she’s an author of several guide books relating to wedding style, portraiture, the fine art of film and more.