A comprehensive look at Pasadena family photos
I will outline all the technical and artistic aspects that I consider when creating beautiful family photos. For everything you need to know about family photos at my Pasadena studio or on location, keep reading.
Table of contents for Pasadena family photos
- A comprehensive look at Pasadena family photos
- Studio vs Outdoor portraits
- Posing for family photos
- Outfits for family photos
- Hair and makeup
- Retouching for family photos
- Products for your home
- Email me to schedule a Pasadena family photo session
Studio vs Outdoor portraits
Not sure if you want family portraits in the studio or outdoors? Outdoor photos are definitely more casual but that doesn’t mean family photos at my Pasadena studio have to be stuffy.
We’ll talk about what kind of photos you want before your session and decide which is better for you. Of course, you can always have both! I have indoor and outside locations at my studio.
We can also meet at an outdoor location. There’s more information about family photos in Pasadena and nearby outdoor locations below.
Family photos in the Pasadena studio
Benefits of studio portraits
- You can control the light in a studio.
- There are more props for seating, so it’s easier to pose groups in a flattering manner.
- There’s no wind to mess up your hair.
- It’s easier to corral children in a studio, but you need to be aware of heavy and expensive equipment.
- You don’t have to worry about the weather.
- You can have a change of clothes hanging at the ready.
My studio is in Pasadena, CA and has outdoor locations as well as a studio setting. It’s perfect for family photos and it’s nice to have both options.
I have hand-painted canvas backdrops and professional lighting equipment. There is room to hang your clothes and change outfits. I have a steamer, lint rollers, a full-length mirror, and hair supplies.
Studio photos can be elegant with traditional posing and studio lighting or casual with sunlight streaming through the window (see the image below).
Outdoor locations in Pasadena
Benefits of outdoor portraits
- When you’re outside, everyone is a little more relaxed.
- It’s easier to accommodate larger families.
- The setting is informal.
- You can choose between wide-open spaces or be in the center of nature and among trees or flowers.
There are many good outdoor locations in Pasadena and surrounding areas. Some require a photography fee and some do not. Most places require a fee because they’re overrun with photographers who impact the guest experience. Photoshoots can also damage to the delicate ecosystem.
Some popular locations for outdoor family photography in Pasadena and nearby areas are:
The Arboretum 301 N Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, CA 91007 (626) 821-3222
The Arboretum requires a $75 photo permit purchased in advance along with tickets for admittance. The photo fee is reasonable and one of the cheapest. Hours are 9am-7pm daily. This is a beautiful spot for family photos with a variety of locations.
Descanso Gardens 1418 Descanso Drive La Canada Flintridge, CA 91011 (818) 949-4200
One of my favorite locations for family photos. There’s such variety and it’s a beautiful place to visit. If you have a Center Circle Membership ($1,000) you’re entitled to one free photography session. A photography permit is $300 for up to 5 people. See an entire post devoted to the best locations at Descanso and photos I’ve taken there.
Lacy Park 1485 Virginia Rd, San Marino, CA 91108 (626) 300-0790
Family photos, which are considered commercial photography, require a permit ($1,000) from the San Marino City Hall and a permit processing fee of $135. You must apply for your permit at least 10 days ahead of time. Lacy is a beautiful 30-acre park, but not one of my favorites for family photos.
Arlington Garden in Pasadena 275 Arlington Dr. Pasadena, CA 91105 (626) 578-5434
A permit ($100) is required for one hour of family photography at this Pasadena nature garden. This is a 3-acre botanical garden with paths, fountains, cacti, arbors, benches, a stone meditation circle, and fruit trees. A small, charming location.
Eaton Canyon 1750 N. Altadena Dr. Altadena, CA 91107 (626) 398-5420
A $100 permit is required and usually not given for the weekends. There is trail access at the following locations:
- Pinecrest Gate / Mt. Wilson Toll Road
- Midwick Ave. Access Point
- Waterfall Trail at Walnut Canyon
- Equestrian Trail at Walnut Canyon
The farther you go into the canyon, the more rugged the trails become. There are many tree-lined trails and a (usually) dry riverbed. See an entire post devoted to photos taken at Eaton Canyon.
Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden 270 Arlington Dr. Pasadena 91105 (626) 399-1721
A $500 permit is required for family photography at his Pasadena Japanese garden. This is truly a “secret garden”, hidden from view, and built in 1935. This two-acre garden features a formal tea house, two ponds, sycamore and oak trees, and a waterfall.
NO PERMIT REQUIRED
Arroyo Woodland and Wildlife Nature Park 100 Pasadena Ave, South Pasadena, CA 91030
A three-acre park at the southwestern end of the Arroyo Seco. A rustic setting with trails winding through live oaks, sage, and stone walls. Next to the Arroyo Seco bike path.
The Lower Arroyo Seco 415 S Arroyo Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91105 at Norwood Drive (626) 744-7500
A 3-mile loop trail with various photography locations along the way including overhanging tree branches, stone steps, grassy areas, fallen logs, and the bases of the Colorado Street Bridge, La Loma Bridge, and the San Rafael Bridge. There are 11 access points in to the Arroyo. The main entrance with a small parking lot is at the Arroyo Blvd and Norwood Drive location.
Hahamonga Park 4550 Oak Grove Drive Pasadena 91103 (626) 744-7199
A 1300-acre park with a variety of locations. From forests of live oaks to wide open grassy fields to dirt trails that wind through sagebrush to stands of slender trees, it’s got it all. Before the Big Dig, I spent hours there scouting locations. Some of my favorite family photos in Pasadena have been taken there.
Posing for family photos
Posing is an art and a skill. You can learn posing rules that create pleasing shapes.
Some basic posing rules are:
- All limbs should be slightly bent.
- A woman’s torso and shoulders should turn 45 degrees away from the camera.
- Stagger heights when posing family members.
- Pay attention to clothing and arrange colors in the most pleasing manner.
Your personal style also influences posing. Do you like precise posing where you direct every limb into place? Or do you like fun casual posing that highlights a family’s connection?
Good posing doesn’t mean complicated and the family personality determines how I pose them. Some families want to wear coordinated outfits, have dramatic lighting, and create a photograph that’s inspired by art and fashion.
Other families like to plan and create a highly stylized holiday card with props. Others want studio portraits, but want simple family photos with no fuss.
Your family photos are always customized to your needs and we’ll talk about them before your session.
Outfits for family photos
Outfits are so, so important! I spend a lot of time discussing what to wear with clients and send them a digital guide with tips for getting the best look. Distracting or uncoordinated outfits can ruin a photo.
The family above is wearing black pants as their foundation, then adding shades of pink and ivory. Gorgeous!
Not everyone should match, but everyone should be coordinated.
Start with black or dark pants or skirts. These are the foundation of the outfit. I like dark colors closest to the ground to serve as an anchor. Almost everyone owns dark pants, so it’s a good place to start.
Then choose your color palette for the tops. It can be as simple as everyone wearing shades of blues and grays for shirts, sweaters, and blouses.
Or everyone wearing dark jeans with one person wearing a jean jacket with a t-shirt underneath, another person wearing a deep blue sweater, another wearing a medium gray shirt, a fourth person wearing a coordinating shade of blue, and someone adding a colorful scarf.
Or everyone wearing neutral tops in browns, deep greens, and tan with a red scarf to break up the monotony.
No writing or logos. No loud patterns. Solid colors usually work best.
A dress that is perfect for the office or going out might not be ideal for family photos if the pattern is eye-catching. You want to sing in harmony; it’s not time for a solo.
Stay away from white
White shirts are bright and distract from the face. Your eye tends to immediately go to the brightest part of the photograph and we want that to be your face. Yes, white can look fresh and modern, but please choose warm shades of ivory or cream, not stark white. A white shirt is best layered under a jacket or sweater.
Stay away from fabrics that wrinkle easily. Knit fabrics and denim are smooth and forgiving. Satin and silk lack structure and can sometimes look sloppy, so make sure the fit is good. Other fabrics that don’t wrinkle easily are wool, polyester-cotton, cashmere, and Tencel.
Suit jackets that are too small with sleeves that are too short are noticeable and look uncomfortable. If you can’t comfortably button your jacket, it’s too small.
Buttoned shirts that gape at the breast line are a no-no.
Caftan-like tops may make you look heavier if that matters to you. Form-fitting is usually better. Don’t forget shapewear if you want a smooth silhouette free of bulges.
Match your undergarments to the color of your clothes. Wear flesh-colored bras under sheer tops and dark bras under thin dark tops.
Consider Spanx or pantyhose for a smooth line under dresses, skirts, and pants.
For tops made of thin fabric, wear a t-shirt bra. These are designed to disappear under clothing. Bra lines can be distracting and can’t always be fixed through retouching.
Be cautious with sleeveless tops. Armpits can be unattractive and bare skin can distract from the face. When women wear sleeveless tops, I tend to pose them with their upper arms near the body so the armpit isn’t visible. If you love your arms, this is your chance to show them off.
I usually don’t photograph families full-length and include their shoes. A wide shot can make their faces too small to be clearly visible. You want to be able to see expressions and connect with the people in the photo. With a very large group, or if they’re seated, sometimes it’s inevitable. Dark footwear looks best and is least distracting.
Changing area at the studio
I have a private area for changing at my Pasadena studio, so if you need to bring additional sweaters or shirts for your family photos, there is a place to hang and organize your outfits. I also have a full-length mirror.
Hair and makeup
Professional hair and makeup services are not essential for a beautiful family photo, but it’s nice to be pampered and it’s one less thing to worry about. If you only choose one, hair is more important than makeup for a polished presentation.
Messy hair or lots of flyaways don’t look good. I tell women that If you don’t like your hair, you won’t like your photo. I’ve learned this through experience. I always have a hand mirror nearby so you can check your hair and makeup.
It’s very difficult to retouch messy hair and is usually cost-prohibitive when not impossible. I recommend bringing a hairbrush to your session and using hairspray to tame any hair sticking up and to stop loose hair from drifting into your face.
When applying makeup for photos, apply it as you normally would. Don’t think you have to be extra dramatic in order to see your features. Blend your foundation and blush well. Don’t put too much color on the apples of your cheeks.
Always bring a hairbrush, blotting paper or powder if you have oily skin, lipstick for touchups, and a hair tie, headband or clips if you’re outside in case it gets windy.
I offer professional hair and makeup services at my Pasadena studio for family photos. My stylists have years of experience and have worked with hundreds of clients. They follow your lead and are experts at creating looks from natural to full glam.
Lighting helps determine the mood of your family photos. Dramatic studio lighting with high contrast and a painterly quality gives a fine art feel to your images. Natural light streaming through windows feels light-hearted and happy.
At my Pasadena studio, I have studio lighting and lots of natural light for either kind of family photos.
It’s essential to know what kind of photos the family wants so you can create the appropriate lighting.
Different types of lighting for family photos
Flat light is a light that is shining directly on the face, usually from just a little bit above the camera. It is flattering and is usually bright. This flat light has no contrast and is not dramatic. Because it has no contrast, it fills in facial lines and imperfections.
A light coming from the side would emphasize these lines just like the setting sun casts long shadows. But this flat lighting casts no shadows. This is an easy light to use for family photos and makes everyone look good.
Paramount or butterfly is flattering light that sculpts and thins the face, hides a double chin, and highlights cheekbones. It’s called Paramount lighting because it was used to create classic Hollywood portraits by Paramount studios. It was so flattering and shapely that Marlene Dietrich supposedly insisted on it. It’s called butterfly because there’s a butterfly-shaped shadow directly below the nose, although sometimes it’s hard to discern.
This is light that’s best for an individual beauty portrait when you can concentrate on one subject. When I create family photos at my Pasadena studio, I always create individual and family groupings as well.
Clamshell lighting is also a type of beauty lighting. It’s used for headshots, magazines, and glamour portraits. It starts with a Paramount lighting setup then adds a reflector under the subject to bounce light back onto the face. The light source and the reflector together look like a clamshell or a “V”.
Backlight is light that comes from behind the subject. The light usually streams through a large window, although you can use artificial light to create this same look. I add a giant reflector in front of the subject to bounce that light onto her face. The light fills the room and smooths the skin. This is a gorgeous, flattering light and creates a halo of light around the head.
Backlighting with a backdrop
The light is placed behind the backdrop and illuminates the subject from behind. You can use a large window or artificial light for your source. I place a reflector in front of the subject to bounce the light back into her face. This soft light adds a bit of shine to the hair.
Short lighting is when the light is shining on the side of the face that is turned towards the camera. If the subject is looking straight at the camera, the light is placed in front and to one side. If the subject turns her head to look towards the light, that is short lighting. Light travels in a straight line and is aimed directly her nose and chin while brushing past the sides of her face.
Short lighting can make a fuller face seem thinner. This can used for individual portraits but is not usually used for family photography.
Broad lighting is the opposite of short lighting. If the subject is looking straight at the camera, the light is placed in front and to one side. If the subject turns her head to look away from the light, that is broad lighting. Broad light highlights one side of the face and illuminates this entire side. Light travels in a straight line and is aimed directly at the broad side of her face while brushing past the sides of her face.
Broad lighting can make a thinner face seem fuller. This can used for individual portraits during a family photography session.
Loop lighting starts off as a Paramount setup and moves slightly to one side. This creates shadows on one side of the nose and under the nose, lip, and chin. It also creates a shadow under one cheekbone. The shadows formed “loop around” the face, hence the name. It’s beauty lighting with a touch of drama.
“Rembrandt lighting” is dramatic lighting with lots of shadows. It has a specific look, mainly an inverted triangle of light below the eye that’s farthest away from the camera.
Usually when used in a studio with lights, Rembrandt light is more dramatic and more of the face is in shadow, but in the painting below you can see the inverted triangle below his eye and the shadow under his chin and along his cheekbone.
Rembrandt light can be adjusted to create a soft, painterly light for family photos.
Split lighting is light on one side of the subject that shines on one side of her face. There is a dividing line down the center of the face between light and dark. It’s dramatic and a specific look that’s not suitable for family photos, although it may be used for individual portraits in rare cases.
Top lighting is a light coming from the top. The forehead, nose, and upper cheekbones are mostly illuminated. The mouth and chin are in shadow. This can lend an air of mystery and ambiguity as you may not be able to see the subject’s expression very well. It can also mimic the sunlight at high noon.
If you add a reflector or adjust the light a bit to illuminate more of the face’s lower half, I find it creates an evocative portrait. It can be used for a family portrait with two or three people.
Retouching for family photos
Professional retouching gives the final polish to an image. Every print or album image you purchase includes complimentary retouching.
My standard retouching includes:
- removing blemishes
- smoothing lines and wrinkles
- removing dark circles under eyes
- brightening eyes
- removing red and orange skin tones
- taming fly-away hair
More complex retouching includes:
- opening closed eyes
- body slimming
- filling in thinning hair
- removing glasses glare
- removing braces
- head swaps
The level of retouching is always customized for each client.
Products for your home
I believe in the power of the printed photograph. Technology evolves and whatever you store your photos on now will become obsolete. A photograph can be handed down from family member to family member and last generations.
- framed prints
- loose prints
- digital images
- matted prints in a portfolio box
Email me to schedule a Pasadena family photo session
Use the contact form or email me directly at Rebecca@RebeccaLittlePhotography.com
My studio is in Pasadena, CA and I accept QuickPay with Zelle, Venmo, credit and debit cards, and cash.