When my kids were two-years-old and six-months-old, we tried to do a photo session. A photographer friend of mine agreed to do a photo swap. I warned her that she was in for a bumpy ride, but even I wasn't ready for the toddler-meltdown that occurred. Even though we had snacks, a playground, and favorite toys, we still had two kids who decided that family photos just weren't something we needed that day. To her credit, the photographer still got some great stuff--she worked fast and didn't stop clicking the shutter when any sane person might have said, "Y'all are nuts. I'm out."
What went wrong? I didn't follow the advice that I'm about to write below. I tried to get my two kids sitting still and smiling, and they felt the stress. They just wanted to be kids, and I didn't go along with it.
A photography session can bring with it all kinds of stress and expectations. There's a financial investment. There's a break in the routine. There's a stranger with a camera in everyone's face. There's the desire for one--just ONE!--photo of everyone looking at the camera and smiling.
My portfolio and my clients will attest to my ability to capture your family smiling, laughing, and having fun. And yes, with me as your photographer you'll definitely get that photo of everyone looking at the camera and smiling. To relieve yourself of some stress and make things easier on your family, here are three things you can do to make your next portrait session fun and pain-free.
1. Be yourselves and have fun
Be ready to sing, dance, or do whatever you do to play with your little ones. Don't stress about looking at the camera and smiling for every photo. I have a few tricks to get that coveted family-looking-and-smiling photo. If you're stressed and trying a little too hard to get your kids to smile, then your kids will be stressed. Even if you're trying to hide it, they'll feel your stress! Instead, be yourselves--play, snuggle, hug, tickle, and do whatever you normally do with each other. In fact, be crazier and weirder than normal--confuse your kids enough that they can't help but smile. Those candid moments of laughter and smiles will be great in the end.
Most parents worry about their kids looking at the camera and smiling, which ends up giving me a lot of photos with distressed parents looking at smiling kids. Try not to worry about whether or not the kids are photo-ready. If we're trying to get that holiday-card photo, just look at the camera and smile. I'll get the kids' attention.
My best clients have been willing to jump around, sing songs, chase each other, hide under blankets, and play peek-a-boo. My best clients are those who have enjoyed just being with each other for an hour while I'm there documenting the experience. I'll make sure that we gather everyone a few times during the session for a group photo. But we can't do that for an hour. We can play for an hour, though. My advice: be ready and willing to play.
2. Bring stuff to keep the kids happy
As anyone with little kids knows, a toddler's mood can change in an instant. The first break from the session should be to enjoy a favorite snack and drink. Snacks like gummy bears, fruit snacks, cheerios, goldfish, and trail mix are great because they are small and don't make much of a mess. Juice boxes or water bottles are great, too. Pack the snack in a small container that's only enough for one serving size. If you bring an entire bag of yogurt melts, the kids won't want to stop eating until the bag is empty. We want a quick break, so small portions are best. Whatever you do, don’t use Oreos or other messy snacks. We don’t want to fight smeared faces and crumb-filled teeth!
In addition to snacks, bring favorite toys, stuffed animals, books, and games. Bubbles and balls are simple and can really help make a little one comfortable and happy. If your kid likes to chase the soccer ball, bring it and be ready to play. If you and your kids love reading Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type and Rainbow Rob, then bring those and read them together. With infants and toddlers, bring a toy that makes noise, like a rattle or squeaky toy. Bring a few noisy toys and we’ll use them to help your little one look right into the camera.
Bring the small things that you and your kids enjoy together. Just remember, what you bring will also be in the photo, so if there's a well-worn stuffed animal or faded piece of blanket that you don't want in the photos, then don't bring it.
3. Bring a blanket
Bring a blanket that is a dark, neutral color. Patterns are distracting, so keep things simple and clean. If the blanket is made for the outdoors with waterproof or water-resistant material, all the better. And if the blanket is new or has been in storage for a while, give it a good wash and dry. We don't want those crease lines where its been folded to be too distracting. If you can, cut the tag off of the blanket. I can do my best to edit out a distracting tag, but cutting it off eliminates the need altogether.
I've also published a few articles about making sessions better from the photographer's perspective. You can read those here and here and here. Enjoy!