Sometimes you only have a limited amount of time with a subject. To make the most of it, I always go for the safe/easy shot first. These are typically the ones where everyone is looking at the camera and smiling the “cheese” smile. I do this because when kids are present or (I hate to say this) impatient men they are usually their best the first couple of minutes and getting those safe shots out of the way ensures you have a decent picture where everyone is looking at the camera. These are the pictures most traditional families want to pass out to family and friends.
Let’s back up and visit the impatient man comment. I say this because next to kids, men are the other group that will loose focus in a photo shoot and cause the shoot to be over. Think about it, women are the caretakers of the family and the ones wanting to document growth…women like to get the family all spruced up…women like to see their family smiling and happy. Everyone else is there because mom wants them to be. Now of course there are exceptions to every rule.
After the safe shot is out of the way, I will then scan for more locations, groupings, and poses depending on the family. Keep your options open.
Not everyone has to look at the camera.
Not everyone has to be in focus.
Not everyone has to be sitting or standing together.
Sometimes just parts of the body in the picture can speak to the family…hands, feet, backs of the heads
In other words, get your safe traditional shots first. After that use the remainder of the time to pin point your style by experimenting. I have found that initially a family will ask for the very traditional and then after seeing the more photo-journalistic style shots they tend to choose those. Those fun different shots are the ones that show off kids as they really are, or show people with their real smiles not their “cheese” smiles.