The first few weeks of spring, before the leaves have returned and the grass has greened again, makes a stunning backdrop for family portraits. Everything feels so fresh, crisp, and subtle, and nature is decorated by every shade of brown.
I love portraits during this time of year for two very selfish reasons. First, bright smiles and laughter contrast the dull shades of the season in such a dynamic way. And second, there are few distracting background elements in the natural landscape to take focus away from you!
In this narrow window of time the colours are warm, the air is cool, and energy is high. Literally every corner of your back yard makes a beautiful backdrop. (Except maybe the compost heap… it smells funky.) Yet this time of year seems to be largely neglected by families. Between mid March and May there’s no snow for snowmen and no roses for sniffing, and therefore little inspiration for many.
However, as the earth starts to wake up from winter there are so many ways to express your personalities and values in photos. (That, and it’s not boiling hot like in July or bitter-cold like in January.) For example, the lighting in early spring is spectacular. There are a couple of times in particular at which you’re almost guaranteed amazing photographs. You can wear just about anything you want. Bright colours, neutral tones, and practically any pattern will look great against the soft spring backdrop. This is also a great opportunity to get creative with your session and really highlight what your family loves to do together.
So… how does one do family portraits in early spring?
There are only two times of day to get beautiful, whimsical sun flares like in the photo above. Keep reading to find out when…
The Best Time Of Day for Your Portrait Session
I’m going to give away a big photography secret! We (photographers) generally hate direct sunlight. While sunlight might make for a bright, happy holiday, it makes for squinty-eyed photos with harsh shadows. We love overcast. Even more than overcast, though, we love the dramatic lighting of sunrise and sunset.
The absolute best time of day for outdoor portraits is just after the sun rises and just before the sun sets. The long shadows that the low sun creates are just plain gorgeous, and you won’t suffer raccoon eyes from it sitting directly above your head. This is also when those gorgeous, whimsical sun flares happen that you see I love so much.
Portrait Times for Early Risers
Waking up early has its advantages for portraits. Rather than rushing to get all your poses in before you lose light, you have more time to play. Your best time for light is within a half hour of sunrise. Here are a few examples of when the light will be best in my area. Start your session at the beginning of this window to get the most out of your early-morning session.
March 20 from 7:30am to 8am
April 1 from 7:15am to 7:45am (no joke)
April 15 from 6:30am to 7am
May 1 from 6:15am to 6:45am
Remember that the time might be slightly different depending on where you live. Look up when the sun will rise in your area, and plan your session to start within the half hour after the sun rises.
Portrait Times for Everyone Else
If dragging yourself and everyone you love out of bed at 5am doesn’t sound appealing or even possible to you, don’t worry. The sun rises, and therefore the sun has to set. The evening is likely a more doable time for families with young children (just make sure they nap during the day).
March 20 from 7pm to 7:30pm
April 1 from 7:15pm to 7:45pm
April 15 from 7:30pm to 8pm
May 1 from 8pm to 8:30pm
Again, check when the sun will set in your area, and plan your session to end at the end of this half hour window to ensure the most number of poses in outrageously good light.
Early spring is an amazing time to highlight your personalities in photos.
Your Spring Wardrobe
Depending on the day you can dress yourself practically any way you’d like. Literally anything looks good against the neutral colours behind you. Bright greens and pinks and floral patterns bring energy to your portraits while plaids highlighted with deep reds and blues warm them up. You can even accessorize with scarves, boots, hats, and mittens!
I find this is a great time of year for families because the kids aren’t too cold, the dads aren’t too sweaty, and the moms aren’t too stressed trying to keep everyone’s outfit perfectly clean.
Mother Nature and Your Family Photo Session
But what about rain?? Good question! First, dress appropriately. While you can have fun with your colours, patterns, and accessories, be sure you’re dressed appropriately for the weather. You’ll likely want to tie your hair back if there is any kind of wind, and you might want to rock your nicest pair of rubber boots if there’s any chance of sinking into a mud whole.
I also recommend that you ask your photographer about their rescheduling policy. Don’t just settle for photos by your fireplace if your vision is to have a fun outdoor family shoot. If it rains, reschedule your session for another day. Many photographers will reschedule within a short period of time and you might only need to push your shoot back a few hours to a day.
The neutral tones of early spring make for a great opportunity for black and white photos.
Do Something Fun
This is not the time to line your family up and smile for the camera. I can’t stress this enough. You want your photos to say something about you. Something more than, “Don’t we look good in our colour-coordinated Hunter boots?”
So many people have told me, “I smile weird in photos…” Well of course you do! If you smile when you’re not genuinely happy it just doesn’t look right. Instead, I’ve found that my clients are thrilled with their natural expressions, and the best way to bring out those faces is to do something everyone enjoys.
Portrait Activity Inspiration
Here are some ideas for things you might do for your outdoor family portrait session.
Go for a hike.
Play road hockey.
Swing on a swing set.
Skip rocks on the water.
Play fetch with your dog(s).
Splash around in some mud.
Climb a tree.
Teach your young kids to ride a bike.
The truth is, this is a beautiful time of year for family portraits. Choosing the right activity for your session will set the tone for real photographs you’ll always love. Remember that the neutral colours of the season make an incredible backdrop, and scheduling your session first thing in the morning or at sunset will create a beautiful setting for your photographs. Highlight your style by wearing practically anything you want. No colour or pattern is off limits. (Except of course for the items of clothing I’ve outlined in the guide.)