I’ve seen it time and time again… That panicked look in a mother’s eye as the family photo session she painstakingly planned begins to melt down.
Usually, it’s a mix of frustration and embarrassment. You have a lot invested in this experience. You carefully planned your family’s outfits (tips on that here), convinced your camera-shy spouse to take part, researched location options, and you might have bribed your kids. Consequently, when they start acting up – you might be the one ready to cry! It doesn’t have to be this way. I’m here to make your experience enjoyable from start to finish. Here are six pointers to keep in mind as you prepare for family photos.
1. Kids Will be Kids –Let Them!
Trust me when I tell you, I have seen it all—shy kids, wild kids, hyperactive kids, kids who literally run from the camera. Guess what? They could rub mud all over their face and we will still get an image you adore. There is nothing your child can do that will surprise me. Nor should their antics embarrass you. I’m a family/newborn photographer! This is what I signed up for… and I have plenty of tricks in my arsenal.
As you prepare for family photos, remember your littles have minds of their own. We might try something for a bit and discover it’s not working. That’s okay and that is where you come in. Be flexible; allow us to move on to something else. Goofy or shy behavior is age-appropriate, not misbehavior.
2. Keep It Light
Kids feed off your mood, so you want to keep the session as low stress as possible. Do your best to make it a fun experience. Stick to positive reinforcement. Harsh words or threats of discipline can send a session spiraling. Your child’s behavior might be frustrating, but this is one time you need to ignore it.
Set yourself up for success by framing the session in a lighthearted manner. Say something like, “We’re going to the park with Kelly today. She loves to play games and make animal noises. She’ll be taking our picture and it will be such fun!” On the flip side, comments that amp up the pressure (e.g. “This is a really important day for our family; mommy needs you to cooperate.”) are detrimental. Let go of that stress and tension. Once a session begins, the best thing you can do to ensure success is to have fun and cozy up with your kids.
3. Just Say NO to Bribes
Many parents think they need bribes to prepare for family photos. That couldn’t be further from the truth! In fact, bribing small children before your session might be sending a message you don’t anticipate. In a way, that bribe is telling them the photo session will be painful. It’s like you’re saying, this will be awful… so I’ll buy you a (new toy, ice cream, etc.) to make it up to you.
Furthermore, children under the age of five do not understand delayed gratification. Promises of a “future” reward don’t resonate. However, they are plenty capable of getting on board with family photos sans reward. After all, the session is “playtime” – Who needs a reward for having a blast?
Sometimes a little motivation AT the session can help though… so bring a bag of fruit snacks or their favorite candy for instant reward and gratification. Suckers, chocolate and really messy treats are best left at home so as not to spoil the outfits and fun.
Now, do hear me out, you can still go out for ice-cream afterwards as a fun treat to cap off the family session, but keep it at that… a fun treat to end a good evening!
4.Let Your Photographer Take the Lead
I get it… You know your child better than anyone else. You know what makes them tick, what draws a giggle, or shakes them out of a mood. However, this is one occasion where you need to let the professional take the lead. It might be tempting to stand behind me and tell your kids to “smile” or “look at the camera”. After all, when you’re taking photos at home, those prompts can be helpful… even necessary. This is not the case when you’re working with a family photographer.
My job is to elicit genuine emotion and real smiles. I don’t want to make your children smile—I want to make it impossible for them not to grin. If you get the urge to start coaxing, take a breath, step back, and savor the moment. Parents rarely have the opportunity to simply relax and gaze at their incredible little people. This is that moment. Enjoy it!
Sometimes it’s helpful to show them a picture of me in advance when talking about the upcoming session. Head to my “About” page, so I’m not a strange face or show my Instagram feed to them. This will help them see I’m a friend.
5. Don’t Let Yourself Feel Rushed
By far, the easiest way to prepare for family photos is to give yourself plenty of time to get ready. You want to eat before your session and have a snack/treat/water for your kids on location. Additionally, make sure your children are well rested and pack everything you need hours in advance. Give your outfits a test run in the days leading up to your session. If something feels uncomfortable, choose an alternative. Stress increases when you feel rushed. So give yourself extra time to get dressed, load the car, and drive to the session. The goal is to minimize any frantic, frazzled feelings.
6. Get Dad on board
Remember what we said earlier about how your mood sets the tone for the entire session? Kids will notice if Dad isn’t excited about the session. I know most men don’t exactly jump for joy at the prospect of having their photo taken. So, talk with your spouse and ask them to put their game face on. Ask him to pretend he loves the camera. The first few minutes might feel stiff and awkward, but I promise you will quickly find yourself having fun and settling into the moment. Lifestyle photography—and my work in particular—is all about capturing genuine emotion and authentic connection. The best photos are candid. My job is to capture the real you. So… get ready to play, laugh, relax… and simply be yourself!