Embarking on a family photo session is certainly not for the faint of heart. Now add three boys all under the age of 3 and we have a certain recipe to make for some really stressed out parents. Here are some tips to make the session as smooth as silk (well maybe not silk!) and a bit of a heads up just so you know what your getting into.
Be sure everyone has eaten a light meal about an hour before the photo session. This will give the food some time to digest and provide for some well needed fuel to make for some amazing images. Also please bring some snack food along to the session for an as needed quick boost of energy. Ideally stick with treats that are quick to eat and are not full of coloring that might discolor faces or mouths.
Gone are the days of saying “cheese”, “whiskey” or any other phrase used to contort our mouths into a smile. I'd rather have authentic, real smiles that only come from having a great time. Sometime it takes a bit of a warm up period where I do my best to start the process with some banter, possibly some potty humor, high fives, or even a back flip; anything to get a response. Keep it light and fun knowing that photo sessions are a special time, where it's okay to have fun. It's the smiles of pure joy that I'm after. No "time out's" here, just fun.
Children will often model their behaviors from their parents. So if the parents are being enthusiastic, fun, and engaging it turns on a green light for the children to do the same. Conversely if someone is being closed, uninterested or even negative for the photo session this can and will likely reflect into the children’s behavior. That said, I invite all present for the session to let loose for about an hour, laugh for no reason at all and enjoy the play while being in the moment. The photos will be somewhere beautiful, take it all in. Be present and the photos will be amazing!
I had a client once tell me that family photography is a lot like combat photography except harder. While I can’t say that I can even partially agree with his statement, I can attest to the fact that family photography can be a tad stressful for the parents. My advice is to just roll with it keep laughing and having fun (even if you’re not). Just remember that it is completely normal for little boys to keep running off for the posed family portrait. With children under the age of 5 there will be some level of chaos at some point guaranteed. Sometimes putting down the camera and engaging in some simple play time can make all the difference. I tend to change things up a constantly during the photo sessions to keep children’s interest and engagement. I might put some seaweed on my head or have everyone say "poopy pants" to get some giggles. If something is not working then we’ll change it up. Patience and persistence always succeeds!
Yup, I said it and when it comes to family photography I am all for them. Bribes are best if left on the back burner for emergency use only when all else has failed. There are two types of bribes. The first is the delayed gratification bribe – this might be say additional screen time the next day or an ice cream cone after the photo session. The second is the instant gratification bribe – this would be like a jelly bean or another treat that can be offered at the moment it is needed. Also be sure to use food that will not discolor mouths and can be eaten quickly and easily.
My usual summer start time is often very late in the day and bedtime or later for younger children. A good sleep the night before the photo session will ensure your children are feeling their best and depending on their age an afternoon nap might also be a good idea. For young babies please be sure they have some time (about an hour) after waking to work out any post nap crankiness. Being woken up and injected into a photo session wouldn’t be fun for anyone at any age!
I am all for helpers to get children to look at the camera but please do so directly behind my head. Definitely not two feet above my head or six feet to the right of me. If the eyes are not looking directly into the lens the portrait is usually a fail. My favorite is to make some reindeer antlers with your hands beside my ears! Please feel free to bring any attention grabbing toys (like a puppet) to the session for this purpose.
Outdoor photo sessions in Maine have the inherent risk of possible tick exposure. Deer ticks can spread Lyme Disease which can have long term health effects to those exposed and untreated. Please bring insect repellent and use as needed. Always do a thorough tick check that evening before you go home and again when you go to bed.
When it comes to people photography expression is everything. It’s all about joy, laughter and love – just bring this the the session and the images will be amazing. See you there! – Josh