A family portrait session can be stressful for parents. It’s hard enough to get your kids packed in the car and arrive somewhere on time, much less get them to smile and do what the photographer says. Having worked as a nanny for years before I became a photographer, I understand (to a degree) the frustration parents must feel when their child finds a mud puddle in the first five minutes of our session. The good news is that there are a few things you can do to help your session go well and ease your anxiety about what shenanigans your kids may pull. These tips will even help your photos simply look better (and you won’t need to spend money on new clothes).
TIP # 1: WARDROBE
I’ll address this one first because it’s probably the number point of worry for clients. Choose clothing the kids are comfortable and WARM enough in. If they get cold, it’s all over and we don’t want that (plus layers can be removed if they get too warm). You don’t all have to match, in fact, I don’t want you to match. Try and pick colors that compliment each other (all warmer tones, or cooler tones – but even that is a loose rule). If mom is wearing a floral print, then Dad and the kids can choose something pattern-free (or visa versa). You always want to balance patterns with simple or solid colors. It’s normal to want the kids to dress up a little but just make sure that they feel like themselves. If they really hate that cute hipster vest it’s going to show in all the photos…and it’s never worth a cute vest if your child is snarling at my camera because of it. Avoid name brands, cartoon characters, most neon colors or anything distracting on clothing. Finally, less is always more. Simple outfits in a simple location always look great.
TIP # 2: DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE COOL TREE
This one may sound weird, but it’s important. I know the bridge at the park is cool, I know there’s a great view of the mountain over that way, and I’m totally aware of the awesome-ness of that certain tree. I’m even more aware how crazy I may appear that I’m shooting in a really simple part of the extravagant park we are in. The reason I do this is every second we spend walking to the cool tree is a window of time I’m losing with your kids. My main goal is to get you and your children’s natural moments in good light. Sometimes even I am seduced by multiple cool locations but I usually regret starting a shoot out with lots of walking around so I try to avoid it.
If we spend the first part of a session in one location, it’s because the light is great and your kids are doing everything I want them to. In those moments, I will knock out as many great shots as I can. Your favorite photos will be the moments that happen organically rather than the posed photo in front of the cool tree anyway, trust me! After I know I have plenty of pictures I know you’ll be happy with, then we can walk around a bit and I’m generally happy to capture any ideas or locations you are really excited about.
TIP # 3: I’ll HELP THE KIDS KNOW WHAT TO DO
It’s really tempting for parents to tell their kids “look at the camera sweetie!”, especially during a classic portrait moment (the one grandma winds up framing). The problem is, when you tell your kids to smile they automatically don’t want to. Even if they do, suddenly Mom or Dad isn’t looking at the camera. I can’t tell you how many great frames I lose to Moms looking down at their kids with a worried face when everyone else is looking right at me. Please know, I am NOT being critical of moms…you have the toughest job on the planet. I know it’s really difficult not to try and manage your kids because you are just doing your job! However, the best thing you can do (in this particular moment) is relax and let me queue your kids to smile. I will do the robot, I may have you stand behind me and make funny faces, I may offer stickers…honestly I’ll do anything to get them to look at me and I’m happy to do the hard work for you. Be willing to let me guide the moment and if I need your super human powers (which you have in abundance) I will absolutely call on you to wield them.
TIP # 4: IT’S NOT ALWAYS ABOUT THE SMILE
I will always shoot classic group shots with everyone looking at the camera because they are definitely important. However, after we knock those out – we’ll just let the kids play. This will create opportunity for me to be goofy and highlight the natural moments that make your kids unique and special. What is even better is if you jump in and play with them, that’s when really incredible moments happen! The less they think it’s a photoshoot the better. Sometimes the most precious photos are the ones with eyes closed, the back of a head, just hands…it’s all in the details.
TIP # 5: YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE PERFECT
Most of the photos featured above had some kind of obstacle we overcame. This included hard rain, a shy child, skinned knees, wet/muddy clothes, tantrums, a tight schedule, difficult light or less than ideal locations. Would you have known that looking at them? I always tell clients that even if it feels like it’s not working, trust me…it’s working! I want your family to be you, including tears and high energy toddlers who won’t stay still. Your family is great and we want to highlight who you are together! So embrace the moment (whatever it brings) and have a blast!
I hope these tips help the next time you plan a family portrait session and thanks so much for reading!