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The Simple Portrait Project is a collaborative, creative experience unlike any family photo you've taken before. All photos are black and white and a session lasts 30 minutes. These limitations create a unique environment for creativity to blossom, which makes the portraits unique. / Image: Jonathan Willis // Published: 11.5.17

The Simple Portrait Project Takes A Truly Unique Approach To Family Photos

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and with The Simple Portrait Project, it’s true. What started as an accident, according to founder Jonathan "Jonbob" Willis (who kept fielding requests from friends for family portraits until he finally gave in) has turned into a singularly unique experience for the hundreds of families who’ve been involved since the project began in 2007.

The premise is simple: sign up online for a photo shoot time, head to the designated studio for that year, and let the photographer capture your family doing what it does best: being a family. Quickness is the challenge for the photographers — they have to capture the magic of a family’s dynamic (family could be you and your spouse or partner, you and your seven kids, you and your two kids and your dog, etc.) in a 30-minute session. That limitation, along with the boundaries of the studio, creates a pressure cooker of creativity and collaboration.

There are no elaborate sets or props. All photos are shot in black and white, and while there’s no need to wear a suit, coordinating outfits in similar color palettes or styles is the way to go. The photos are meant to encapsulate the essence of your family while having fun. As Willis says, it’s hard to articulate but easy to experience. This year, he’s converted a dirty old garage (his words!) in Newport, Kentucky into a blank slate playground for drawing out your family’s best qualities that you didn’t even know you had.

Part of that experience includes sitting down with an experienced editor after you've let loose and hammed it up on camera. They help you select the best of your crop of images. Toto, we’re not at a Sears family portrait session anymore.

The tenth anniversary of The Simple Portrait Project kicks off November 3, and photographers this year include Jonathan Willis, his brother Steve Willis, wedding team Best Day Ever, Jeremy Kramer, and Jessica Ebelhar. Photo sessions are $250, and you’ll leave with four hi-res JPEGs of your choice (additional photos are $25.) This is next-level family photography, and you can still get involved.

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Sessions for the 10th annual Simple Portrait Project are available here.

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