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

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 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by dpreview.com or any affiliated companies.


Total comments: 11
By Leonhardwin (2 months ago)

that's exactly what I am searching....I would vote it!

By sevrom (Aug 10, 2012)

Pity about the proof reading: illicit/ elicit???

By sean000 (Aug 6, 2012)

Thanks for the review. I will probably check this out. In years past I have mostly photographed landscapes, architecture, and candids of people. I'm very good at candid shots of people, whether they be candid portraits or wider shots. However I have never really been good at posing people for more formal portraits. I have read a few articles and know some major things to avoid and some tricks to make the shot more flattering (it's also just partly a matter of taking time to observe the shot for anything that doesn't look quite right). Now that I have a toddler and a baby, I shoot far more portraits than I ever have before. I'm definitely better at coaching my subjects than I used to be, but I think this book will have some useful tips.

By larrytusaz (Aug 6, 2012)

I may need to buy this book & check it out. I'm a mere hobbyist but people sometimes prod me into trying to make income from such pursuits, as I can take rather nice photos of people that are much better than snaps. HOWEVER I lean towards just it being my hobby because I'm not big on having to deal with clients--as John Mellencamp stated regarding his very folksy, non mainstream "No Better Than This" album, for me it's about doing things how **I** like them, & if you'd like to join in, you're welcome--but I'm not going to do things the way YOU like it for it to sell.

But also, I do lean more towards the "posed" style vs the "photojournalist" style because, frankly, I find the PJ style much too difficult, at least if you're trying to get a GOOD shot (not a "snapshot"). All that movement & blur, it's just too hard. Also, I've noticed anymore you have to REALLY go HEAVY with environmental props & such to where it looks very "bed & breakfast"-like. Maybe this book can teach me something.

Comment edited 4 minutes after posting
By guyfawkes (Aug 6, 2012)

Hmm, just what does "Envisioning Family" mean? Shouldn't a book title let on just a little of what it is about?

edu T
By edu T (Aug 6, 2012)

The title of the book is "Envisioning Family: A Photographer’s Guide to Making Meaningful Portraits of the Modern Family". I fail to see how it could have been made more descriptive.

By keeponkeepingon (Aug 5, 2012)

I was so excited by the first part of the title "Envisioning Family" that I missed the second part and was a bit disappointed when I read the review.

For me (just a parent with a couple of cameras) "envisioning family" includes but is mostly the opposite of staged portrait photography. It's more like run and gun photojournalism, with a healthy mix of spray and pray with a sincere often failed effort to keep out of the way.

By cseiler (Aug 6, 2012)

I thought the same thing- I want to see the kids in action, with a natural expression not a staged one. Even more when I look at old pictures of myself the important ones are where I recognize toys places and games we did.

1 upvote
magneto shot
By magneto shot (Aug 5, 2012)

looks like a very good addition to my reading...

edu T
By edu T (Aug 4, 2012)

Looks like an engaging and very insightful book... but its publishers could well have hired a copy editor: “[the message to relax the hands] can be a soft reminder that can illicit a more natural reaction overall.” ;)

1 upvote
Pavlo Boiko
By Pavlo Boiko (Aug 4, 2012)

That's what I need. Thanks

Total comments: 11