When I’m not editing Offbeat Mama, I work as a photographer. Something I have learned in this field is that family portrait sessions can be many things: unbelievably perfect ways to document where you are in your life as a family, awesome gifts for family members and grand-parents, and fun. They can also be chocked-full of stress, nervous energy, and have more than once been the source for many a family squabble–or even all out fight.
It makes sense: most of the time, you’ve set up the session weeks, if not months, in advance. You’ve paid a hefty deposit, sitting fee, and possibly a way-too-gigantic print credit–there’s quite a bit on the line. In your ideal photo world, your family looks exactly how you see them. They all smile at the right times, laugh at others, and everyone gets along and is in a great world. In reality…this doesn’t always exactly pan out.
Here are a few tips for what to ask and what to keep in mind during your session. It is by no means all inclusive, and I’d love to hear from other parents who have weathered the family portrait session storm.
Ask to shoot in a familiar location
I love to shoot family sessions at the home of the family. Most of the time, this is perfect–kids are always happy and comfortable at home, and it’s easier on the family as a whole. However, if you don’t want to do this, see if your photographer will meet you at the playground you guys always visit after school, the dog park, wherever you guys all feel comfortable.
Kids are going to be kids. Most of them are not going to sit still for more than two seconds, and they certainly don’t give a rip that you are paying $350 for this nice photographer to take their picture. Does this mean you should forgo having your kids pictures made until they are high school seniors? Absolutely not!!! You just have to out smart your children by choosing a photographer & location that fits their personality–find a lifestyle photographer that does location sessions. Pick somewhere like a playground or park where your child has the freedom to be loud, crazy & just have fun. This will give your photographer plenty of chances to capture lively full face smiles, and much to your delight you don’t have to worry about him tearing apart someone’s studio. – Courtney Rosen, Athens (GA).
For those with children under 2
If your children aren’t yet old enough to follow a lot of direction, you’re probably going to be a bit more stressed than parents with a seven year old that will sit and smile when asked to. This can be your mantra: “Cameras can’t hear.” You know those twenty minutes your 15 month old spent screaming? If your photographer is good (and I bet he or she is), there will be at least one shot in which it looks like your child is grinning his or her fool head off, even IF the opposite is true. As stressful as it can be for your child to decide that the family portrait session is the perfect time to have a tantrum, just remember that sounds aren’t recorded in digital or film photography.
Part of our responsibility as photographers is to be attentive to everything going on around us so we’re able capture meaningful images in the midst of a stressful or chaotic moment. That’s one of the great things about photography: it literally takes less than a second to capture a sweet moment. You should work with a photographer you trust and feel comfortable with because it’s important for the family to relax! and have fun! In the end that’s what will come though in your photos. – Lindsey Baker, Austin (TX)
Your photographer has done this a zillion times before
One thing we hear repeatedly throughout a family session gone awry is “I’m sorry.” Parents, you have nothing to apologize for. I’m assuming you’ve picked your photographer because you’ve seen a sizable children and family portfolio–and this is your first hint. Your photographer has been there, done that, and has probably encountered families that behaved a zillion times worse than yours. If not, he or she will at least act like they have. Also, keep in mind that while your photographer is probably awesome, YOU are paying him or her–not the other way around. So, they do kind of have to just deal with whatever the day brings. Constantly apologizing isn’t necessary, but if it was particularly stressful session, a nice thank you card or email is never a bad idea.
Photographers have seen it all when it comes to children–please don’t worry or feel like you have to apologize if your child isn’t cooperating. Bribery rarely works for long, so don’t do it unless you absolutely have to. I know it’s tough not to tell your child to “Smile!” or do this or that, but try to let your photographer direct and work with your child. The most important job you can do as the parent is look like you’re having the time of your life (even if your child isn’t). It really helps to increase the chances of catching that perfect image of everyone looking happy! – Michele Anderson, Austin (TX)
The goal is to capture all of you as you are–right now
Basically, if all your child wants to do is look at flowers and pull leaves off the trees, let him or her. The best sessions are the ones in which the parent(s)/caregiver(s) relax and let the child do the leading.
I tell my clients that our photo session is a time to let their kids be kids. Let them run around and be crazy, let them throw leaves at me, let them be free. All of this action allows me to document their true spirit and capture fun, dynamic images. Hell, let them be moody if that’s what their feeling. Anything as long as it’s authentic (no forced or phoney smiles!). I have a way of warming them up and getting them to trust me and my honkin piece of black plastic. When a parent corrects or scolds their child during a shoot, the child closes up, becomes more self aware, inhibited, static,and I have to start over again to bring them back to a place of freedom and fun. Letting children go for awhile usually allows the parents to relax, play around and enjoy the session too. – Jenny Jiminez, Seattle (WA)
So, Offbeat Mama fam: photographers and parents alike–what tips and tricks do you have?