You, like every parent, want great photos of your family and kids (if I had a dollar for everytime I heard “I just need ONE good one!”…). You hire a professional photographer for the annual family shoot for this very reason. As part of the planning, you buy new outfits, schedule haircuts, stalk the weather forecast, and bribe your kids with toys and candy if they do a good job taking pictures. You put a LOT of pressure on yourself.
While the planning is inevitable, the stress doesn’t have to be so high, and can actually make your photos worse. As a photographer who’s done thousands of sessions (and worked with as many kids) over 17 years, here’s my advice on having the best photo shoot possible:
1. Leave the stress in the parking lot. There’s a lot of planning and build-up leading up to a shoot, but let it end in the parking lot. Once you’re at the park or wherever you’re shooting, take a few deep breaths, let the stress go, and focus on being in the moment with your family. Realize that through the hustle and bustle of your busy lives, this might be the first time in a while that you’re all together as a family, spending time outdoors, disconnected from work and screens and distractions. If you’re like my family, that doesn’t happen as much as we would like! Embrace the hour for what it is – quality with each other and a chance to capture the love between you.
2. Stop directing your kids. So many parents want to “help” me take pictures by telling (or shouting) at their kids to “sit still!”, “look at the camera!”, “smile at Erin!”. They bribe in desperation (“remember you get a treat after this!”) if kids would just cooperate. It never works. In almost 2 decades of family photography this has never worked. Directing kids only succeeds in frustrating the parents and kids alike. Of course you can parent (console them if they take a tumble or are nervous, stop to change diapers or get them a snack) but where the shoot is concerned – surrender control and hand me the reins. I’ll walk you through the whole thing.
3. Take my approach and play play play. I don’t direct! Instead I work through a list of games, and play. I’ll ask the kids to tickle mom, or run and chase Dad. I ask the toddler to see if “something is stuck in Mom’s nose” (the child looks up and smiles at mom, who smiles back at him – the mama kiddo shot). We pretend one child is peanut butter and the other child jelly, and I ask if they could stick together (they giggle and squish together – this is the sibling shot). I’ll have the parents sit on a blanket and have the kids hide behind me. On the count of three they have to run over and give bear hugs to mom and dad (this becomes the seated family shot). I stand in front of the child and ask them to yell boogers as loud as they can (they light up and laugh – their individual portrait). See how that works? My approach technically stems from some little white lies and manipulation, but it works so much better than boring, forced direction. Instead of asking your kids to act like you, act like your kids and play.
4. Forget the camera. Forget about me. Pretty often I have the client that is laser-focused on the camera the entire session. They look constantly in my direction, and shift their body and face in ways they think are ideal for a good shot. I get it. You want to look good! We all do. But the “posing” doesn’t really make for the best photos. Instead turn your focus to your family. Joke around, heck flirt, with your spouse. How often do we pause on this parenting journey and actually look at our spouse?! Hug and kiss your kiddos. Chase them. Throw them in the air. You know, things you do at home?! The more you connect with your family, and lose yourself in your love for them (cheesy but true), the more I can photograph the best parts of your family. The images that result are so much more beautiful than a “look” you could compose for the camera.
5. Trust that I want to make you look good too. No parent likes double chins, looking heavier than they are, or bad expressions. As we play games during your session, I’ll gently tweak your position if one of those things is a factor. I shoot from above (or straight on), rather than from below. This immediately “takes 10 pounds off” visually. I use a reflector to bounce light into your face, which fills in wrinkles and is my “instant airbrush”. I’ll have mom hold baby in a way that blocks her tummy, since it’s a common trouble spot. As we’re playing I’ll remind you to smile rather than make goofy faces at your kids. In the editing room, I work my magic to soften skin and pop the light and colors.
6. Be kind to yourself when you see the gallery. I can give you the absolute best I’ve got – lighting, exposure, top-notch equipment, and editing. I can choose flattering poses and get your kids laughing at the shoot. But if you view your gallery through a thick lens of self-criticism (I call it the “flaw finder”), I can only make you so happy. You will only like the photos so much. Because the flaw finder is turned on high, all you’ll see is the vanity weight you haven’t lost, or your crooked nose, or hair flyaways (I actually love those), or your go-to perceived flaw. So do yourself and me a favor. At least on the first pass of your gallery, view the images with love and kindness. I want you to see the photos the way I do, the way your friends do, and the way your spouse does, the way your kids do. Instead of zooming in on the imperfections (that only you see by the way), look at the things you love about yourself instead. See the whole picture – the love between your family, and how beautiful you are. When you see the gallery through that lens, you’ll like the photos a whole lot more I promise.
So relax. When parents come ready to have fun and play, the photo shoot is a smashing success. Leave the stress and flaw finder where they belong – in the dumpster by the parking lot. 😉 I’ll make the session fun and get you the family photos you want, and deserve.