I have seen a strong correlation between families that put a lot of thought and planning into their family portrait session and how successful they view the outcome. I also know how stressful this can be as a parent who just went through it from on the other side of the lens. I spent the weeks leading up coordinating wardrobe for not only our six family members but also with my sister’s family and mother, who both live across the country, as well as my brother. I had more than one strange look from passersby in many clothing stores as I snapped pictures of possible outfits to text across country in an attempt to get the color palette just right. Wardrobe aside, as important as it is, what makes or breaks a family session is the mood of the children. Are they nervous? Tired? Excited? Mad? Crying? Goofy? Shy? Cooperative? And more importantly how do the parents react to these emotions?
I’ve given this some serious thought and have come up with a list of five ways to prepare your children for a successful and stress-free portrait session!
1. Get them excited about the session in advance. Kids (and adults) like to know what is coming. Plan a surprise such as a trip to the ice cream shop or a night out at a favorite restaurant (could even be McDonald’s). I have a client who made this a tradition and their children look forward to their family session every year as a result! A post-session trip to play mini golf could be another idea. Make it your own!
2. Schedule your session for a time of day when your children are well-rested. If you’ve ever scheduled a session with me before you know that my preferred time to shoot is an hour before sunset. That being said, I always follow that up with this statement: “Happy children trump good light.” So true. I can definitely take stunning pictures of your children no matter the time of day. That’s my job!
3. Feed them. Simple as that. Full tummies (or at least not hungry tummies) make for happy kids. If you are planning a family dinner out afterwards give your children a snack before dressing or pack some (non-messy) snacks for the road. Children are more likely to be restless and easily upset when they are hungry.
4. Bring along their favorite toy, stuffed animal, blanket, etc. Anything that brings home a little closer and gives comfort to your child(ren). If your child needs a break from pictures to snuggle up it’s nice to have that comfort on hand. Furthermore, I’m definitely not opposed to including that “snuggy” in some pictures too! It speaks to what your family life is truly like at this time and someday you may look back on those pictures warmly remembering when your little one just couldn’t bear to be without “kitty.” I have a client whose middle child has “baby” (doll) in their family pictures year after year. She’s part of the family!
5. Change locations and do not be afraid to step away. Okay, I’ll admit that that’s two so maybe I should have titled this 6 ways to prepare… Forgive me! If you feel your child is about to take a turn for the “worse” there are a few things that you can do. Walk away! Children can sometimes feel pressure to “perform” with many eyes on them (especially parental eyes) and they shut down as a result. Of course as their parent you know best how your child would handle having some extra space between you and them. Another option is to suggest a location change or go for a walk. This doesn’t have to be far from your current location and can do wonders for lifting moods. Tip: If you are nervous or stressed your children can and will feed off of that emotion. They feel your mood. Finally, if all else fails just prepare yourself to take whatever comes your way in stride and have confidence in your photographer. I turn frowns upside down ALL THE TIME and am 100% ready to take on the most challenging child out there! That being said, embracing your children as they are can be beautiful and something you look back on fondly.