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Envisioning Family: A Photographer's Guide to Making Meaningful Portraits of the Modern Family

adamkoplan | Book Reviews | Published Aug 4, 2012

New Riders Press, $44.99 (288 p), ISBN-10: 0321803574, ISBN-13: 978-0321803573

In 'Envisioning Family', professional photographer and popular lecturer Tamara Lackey admirably tackles an under-addressed genre by sharing what it takes to create powerful family portraits. Although many books on the market describe working with models, children, or couples, far fewer address the unique challenges and responsibilities of capturing the larger family unit together.

Although she presents lots of technical information, preferred gear, and professional etiquette, Lackey’s abiding emphasis is around sensitivity to human interaction. Her tips and strategies often center on promoting comfort and spontaneity in subjects so as to allow space for honest moments.  That said, Lackey also understands that aesthetics are central in successful family portraiture. 

She points out that depicting her subjects in an authentic and revealing way must coexist with presenting them in a flattering manner thus she covers everything from chin placement to use of reflectors to choice of wardrobe.  Perhaps surprisingly for a photo-technique book, she begins with a cross-cultural overview of conceptions of the family unit and even more remarkably, she then recounts her personal experiences of family - including deeply poignant accounts of her adoptions. 

The insights she distills through these chapters reinforce her argument that photographic technique should be in service to an overall sensibility and point of view. Her warm and intimate portraits amply illustrate her points and energize the book with loving sentiment.

Occasionally however, Envisioning Family seems like two equally useful but distinct books wedged into one. Some chapters are clearly designed for aspiring pro photographers who want to offer family photography in their packages, and thus contain descriptions of necessary gear, professional comportment, client management strategies, and other pearls pertinent to a would-be pro - right down to the kind of sign to hang outside the studio.

Other sections though, including those on proper exposure, basic composition, posing, qualitative differences between studio versus location photography, seem more squarely aimed at people who are less familiar with photographic basics.  Her informative and energetic tone make both parts readable, but it is likely that either target audience will skip around to find the sections most appropriate to them. 

For readers who want to add dynamism, ease, and gravity to their family portraiture, (and who don’t mind periodically flipping ahead a few pages) this book deserves a close look.

Images excerpted from Envisioning Family: A photographer’s guide to making meaningful portraits of the modern family by Tamara Lackey. Copyright © 2012. Used with permission of Pearson Education, Inc. and New Riders.

'Envisioning Family' is available on Amazon.com 


Adam Koplan is head of the Performance Department at the Dreamyard Project which brings arts programs to NYC schools. He is also Artistic Director of The Flying Carpet Theatre Co. Follow him on Twitter @FlyingCarpetNYC