How To Take Magical Family Candids

Mar 12, 2014

Stefan Kohler

Stefan Kohler is a full-time retoucher. He’s from Germany and likes bacon. In the last years, he built up a broad community around his retouching classes at the Infinite tool’s website. You can follow his work oninstagram.

How To Take Magical Family Candids

Mar 12, 2014

Stefan Kohler

Stefan Kohler is a full-time retoucher. He’s from Germany and likes bacon. In the last years, he built up a broad community around his retouching classes at the Infinite tool’s website. You can follow his work oninstagram.

Join the Discussion

Share on:

Some time ago the wonderful images of Elena Shumilova went viral. Suddenly there were dogs, rabbits and cute children everywhere. And I have to say – these images are extraordinary – we instantly begin to dream and to fell fuzzy. Something is going on with us while looking at these images. In some way, her work is magical.


After a while threads started popping up in forums, asking about the secrets and post production in Elena’s work.

The stuff I usually do is definitely different from soft warm portraiture, also I am not the photographer on the team – my job in the process has to do more with the technical planning of shots, lighting and retouching.

As a father of a two-year-old girl, owner of a DSLR and with a girlfriend who’s blogging, I had to expand my principles. So I started analyzing Elenas images and wrote some key elements in her images down. I did not want to copy her compositions,  or wanted to recreate her image ideas – which is technically not possible, because I don’t have a big dog, or rabbit around.

The idea was “applying some of her key elements on a normal family trip”.

Last weekend the family went out, the light was quite pleasing, I had my D800 and a 85mm f1.8 lens with me and so I was following my own “ basic shumilova-rules”:

  • use shallow depth of field
  • never shoot hairs without backlight
  • avoid colorful clothing
  • watch the background
  • if you see some sort of road – use it
  • be ready for some serious photoshop-work

So I shot about 150 images while my little one was playing on a little lake and this here is my favorite image from that afternoon. It’s called “Walking through life”

The processing was quite straight forward, but it was way more than what I would usually do for a “family snapshot”.

I added some notes to the images, so you can just browse through the gallery and get a pretty good idea what’s going on. The techniques involved in the actual retouching are pretty basic, so I am focusing on on the what, rather than on the actual button pressing. No need for another boring photoshop-tutorial…

First, here is a quick run through the process:

How To Take Magical Family Candids

And another one, only a bit slower :)

















There are some more images on my girlfriends blog, so if you like it, you can visit the article here.

Find this interesting? Share it with your friends!

Stefan Kohler

Stefan Kohler

Stefan Kohler is a full-time retoucher. He’s from Germany and likes bacon. In the last years, he built up a broad community around his retouching classes at the Infinite tool’s website. You can follow his work oninstagram.

Join the Discussion

DIYP Comment Policy
Be nice, be on-topic, no personal information or flames.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

39 responses to “How To Take Magical Family Candids”

  1. Dave Johnson Avatar
    Dave Johnson

    Excellent work!

  2. Jichul Maru Kim Avatar
    Jichul Maru Kim

    its good

  3. Björn Vilcens Avatar
    Björn Vilcens

    Realy nice work.

  4. Dee Avatar

    “Get ready for some serious photoshop”
    That’s the problem now of days. Shoot shitty pictures fix it in photoshop that’s not photography. Impress me by shooting a great image with no photoshop.

    1. Anna Nym Avatar
      Anna Nym

      Sorry to say that but that’s really a quite limited view of photography. Photoshop is here used as a tool to make a good pic even better and to add some mood. Even in the good olden days the photographers used to spend hours and hours on photo editing in the darkroom. Why should I limit my photography and my vision by not using the tools I have at hand to realize what I have in mind? It would be a bit like to avoid spices, herbs, salt, and pepper to round up a good meal because the food should speak for itself.

      1. iowapipe Avatar

        Agreed, looking at the work of past ‘masters’, it is easily verified that some stupendous shots were the result of darkroom work. Photoshop is the new darkroom. SOOC is admirable when possible, but spontaneity to capture a fleeting moment is what it is… (and PS – Disqus changing the voting so as not to show down votes, and only show up votes is NOT a welcome change. Hiding useful information to boost another metric is shady marketing)

    2. SeoulFood Avatar

      Then we all should shoot JPEG…

      1. Stan Perry Avatar
        Stan Perry


    3. BuckCash Avatar

      Yeah, it IS photography.

      Like it or not, photographers since the dawn of capturing light have been manipulating their environments, camera settings, lenses, negatives and prints – ALL aspects, in order to produce the vision they want to ultimately present.

      It has often involved whole crews of many people assigned to many varied jobs. Those jobs range from preparation that sometimes took days, weeks or even months of planning, prop acquisition, location scouting and procurement, construction, to MUAs and fashion and costume designers and, yes, outsourcing to retouchers when the shoot is all over with; THAT WHOLE PROCESS to get a final result for viewing has ALWAYS BEEN, is, and shall remain “photography”.

      You are certainly free to shoot and present straight out of the camera if that’s your bag, but don’t presume to tell the rest of the world that your way is the only “right” or “correct” or “acceptable” way to make photographs. The masters of photography who came before you would laugh at your naivete and prudish, closed-minded attitude.

      1. Ryan Villanueva Avatar
        Ryan Villanueva

        Well said.

    4. Ryan Villanueva Avatar
      Ryan Villanueva

      I used to think like you friend until I read some photography history and discovered that even the masters manipulated their images in the darkroom.

  5. David Delgado Avatar
    David Delgado

    “Get ready for some serious photoshop”
    That’s the problem now of days. Shoot shitty pictures fix it in photoshop that’s not photography. Impress me by shooting a great image with no photoshop.

  6. D.Pulsar Avatar

    *do not feed the Troll* *do not feed the Troll* *do not feed the Troll*
    Nice photoshop tutorial. What about photography skill or tips ?
    AARRRGGG. I fed it.

    1. Stefan Avatar

      What exactly do you want to know? where can i help?
      – rule of thirds: applied as good as possible
      – camera settings: see the notes in the image above

      Okay, shooting against the sun. I prefer not to have the sun directly in the image. You can see it in the “before”-image.

      1. Julie Anne Moore Avatar
        Julie Anne Moore

        I am interested in how to find nice back lighting. I love the effect of back lighting but find my photos are hit and miss.

        How do you set up a shot to shoot hairs with backlight? What time of day and location are you looking for?

        I know you want the sun low and you want to shoot towards the sun, but that is about where my knowledge of back lighting ends. I have got a couple good shots but only with luck.

        1. Stefan Avatar

          there is – it’s pretty helpful. a map with the sun in it. so you get a quite good timing for a specific date and location.
          I recommend not to shoot directly into the sun, if you have it just outside the frame, it’s perfect.
          so you don’t have burned out areas and lens flares. if you choose a very low position for the camera, you will have some blurry floor – in my opinion it’s also very helpful to give depth to the image…
          just go out and try it – it’s not that hard actually.
          good luck!

          1. Julie Anne Moore Avatar
            Julie Anne Moore

            Thanks for the advice.

            Hope to get out and shoot when we have a bit warmer of weather.

          2. Stefan Avatar

            You’re welcome!
            Don’t wait to long, the colors are quite good right now ;-)

    2. iowapipe Avatar

      Is photography only about the camera and settings? Does every article have to talk about the camera and settings to be useful to photography? (No and No would be both of my answers)

  7. John C Avatar
    John C

    Not much of a “how to take” as much as how to photoshop a picture, a particular picture. Not a bad article but not really what I was hoping to get from the title. I was hoping for tips on how to get the candids (i have a hard time catching the family “off guard” and not posing) or at least tips on TAKING a better picture. It’s more of a how to enhance your family photos with photoshop, might rethink the title at least.

    1. Stefan Avatar

      Hi John,
      i think “catching the family off guard” is the hardest part, true. I asked the girls to go in that sunny spot, so the walked along that way. That gives me some worthy seconds and i jumped on the ground, did my framing, waited until i liked the position and did a few shots. When shooting my family, most of the time i am producing unusable images because of waiting to long or not long enough or because of predicting the wrong actions.
      I always try to minimize the source of errors, so i like using short exposures and continuous AF (i use 3d-tracking with a single tracking point in the D800).
      Some times i use a high frame rate to select that “one” frame. Some times i try to hit that perfect moment. It depends on my motivation :D
      The editing showed in the article is quite typical for that style i think. If you shooting against the sun you will always end up with low contrasts.
      The main motivation for that article was not to show how you can do a particular image, I see it more as a “don’t be afraid to retouch some light if you want that style”. Elena is definitely not afraid of it. she even paints in fog, snow, rain, sunstrokes and shadows…
      I hope this helps a bit, otherwise just ask – i might have some more specific tips.

      1. John C Avatar
        John C

        If that was the purpose, you might consider a more appropriate title. That would be my main “concern”. I think what you said in your reply (using continuous AF etc) to me fits this current title better. Just my opinion.

        1. Guest Avatar

          I’m here to answer your questions until the title of the post is meaningful enough for you. the purpose of that article is “help people to get better shots”. so the title is 100% correct.

        2. Stefan Avatar

          Hi John,
          the title is absolutely perfect. I follow that discussion here. So feel free to ask, i might have some answers – but always keep in mind: i am not a photographer…

          1. John C Avatar
            John C

            I guess I see “taking” and making as different, to me taking is setting up the shot, camera settings and pushing the release. I don’t see post as part of Taking. But at this point I’m talking to hear myself speak, So I’lll let it go :-)

    2. Paul Menard Avatar
      Paul Menard

      i think instant camera’s are the best for family and friends, kids love them, my instax is amusingly crude, only a couple of settings, and technicaly the pics arent *that* good. but they do skin so very well, easy to use, and you get a real picture, thats magic :)

  8. Jake Brown Avatar
    Jake Brown

    Really guys? Elena’s photos were good because it was great moment in a great setting, but I’m sure if you look at the raw image, it was pretty boring. Her pictures clearly show heavy photoshopping, if you want that look, that’s what it’s going to take.

  9. Joel Meaders Avatar
    Joel Meaders

    Come on guys. It’s a candid family photo, not a staged studio shoot with attendants to throw dust and hold reflectors. Also, ALL RAW photos need post work.

    The original photo looks perfectly fine and the end result could have been created in Lightroom within minutes, minus the dust. Nice work.

    I know a couple photography “purists” personally and their work is horrible.

  10. Ricardo Vaz Avatar
    Ricardo Vaz

    Stefan, it’s people like you that helps the photog community. Don’t get mad at all these trolls, you did an excellent job. In fact, I aways wanted to know how to do a post production to get this kind of photography. It is a shame that I only know how to use Lightroom, I think I’ll need to learn some photoshop to get this result.

    1. Stefan Avatar

      Thank you very much. Means a lot to me. And don’t mind that haters… it’s a funny game and i take it as a compliment. Most of the time “it is bad” means “It is bad to have not thought to do it myself”.

  11. Nathan Blaney Avatar
    Nathan Blaney

    I kind of like the warmer tone, although the original is just fine. A bit too much fixing what isn’t broken, though. (but by all means, provide the client with what they want – and if THAT is it, then job well done.)

    1. Stefan Avatar

      You’re right – it is definitely over the top.
      The “client” or in this case “the idea” was to create that particular style of an image.

  12. KC Newman Avatar
    KC Newman

    I love this picture, and I love the use of Photoshop to enhance an already great shot. Part of why I love photography is the ability to do post-processing and how to make an elevated version of the image! It appeals to the artist in me!

  13. Nico Avatar

    Nice one Stefan! Is there any chance to present a more detailed walkthrough of the technique please? Im rather a starter in this but im quite interested


    1. Stefan Avatar

      Are you looking for the photoshop-technique or the tips&tricks behind it?
      If it’s the first, i think i am not the right guy, because i am using the german version, so all my screenshots and videos might be a bit confusing …

  14. Adam Markan Avatar
    Adam Markan

    Excellent job Stefan | Images are wonderful specially yours “Walking through life”. I want to read your key elements on Elena’s images also.

  15. Michael Foster Avatar
    Michael Foster

    Being able to edit a photo can be a lot of work. These days you have so may option on how to edit a photo that it can become a little overwhelming. What is really important though is having a good original photograph to start with. Editing can only do so much good for a photo.

  16. elle Avatar

    Very nice! (ignore the close-minded trolls)

  17. Val Weaver Avatar
    Val Weaver

    So cute – ‘never shoot hairs without backlight’ :) I’m obsessed with Elena, this was such a fun read!