After working with dozens of families over the past five years, I’ve learned a lot about what makes (or breaks) a family portrait session. Here are some (hopefully) universal tips for making the most of your session:
Practice and prepare.
Talk with your family about your upcoming photoshoot. Tell your kids you’ll be meeting a (super cool, hilarious, goofy) photographer named Brooke who will be taking their picture. Practice different smiles and expressions. Let them know how you expect them to behave. Talk about why you’re taking pictures together and why it’s important to you. Find images online that you like and take note of what you like about them — the pose, the outfits, the composition, etc. Share them with me ahead of time, and I can help you execute your vision on the day of your session!
Plan to arrive early.
Because you know your three year old will ask to go potty just as you’re about to run out the door or your eight month old will have a massive blow out as soon as you clip him into the carseat. (Or wait, is that just my kids?) Either way, you don’t want to start your session feeling rushed and flustered. So give yourself extra time to get ready, and plan to be early so that you’ll at least be on time if something poops up. I mean pops up.
Not everyone likes getting their picture taken, I get it. It can be awkward, and it’s easy to gloss over and just be “along for the ride”. But I find it’s a much more enjoyable experience if you just have fun with it and not take it, or yourself, too seriously. Even when you’re not in front of the camera, pay attention to what’s going on and participate. Disconnect from your phone, don’t watch the clock, and focus on spending quality time together. Savor each smile, each laugh, each conversation. Pictures will come effortlessly if you are genuinely having a good time in the moment.
Smile, chase, grab, repeat.
I like to take a variety of pictures during your session. Some will be directed and posed but others will be spontaneous and candid. When we’re attempting a posed portrait, try not to make silly faces or look to see what your kids are doing. I’ll be making a fool of myself in an attempt to get them to smile, so just laugh at whatever ridiculous thing I’m doing behind the camera, and I’ll let you know if your kids are cooperating or not. The reason I say this is that more times than I can count, just as I get a smile from a child, the parents look down or make a goofy face. So just keep smiling and resist the urge to look down unless I tell you to. Eventually, we’ll get it right. Also, it’s totally okay if your kid busts out of your arms and runs away from me while we’re taking pictures. But be prepared to keep bringing him back, over and over again, unless I tell you otherwise. Sometimes it helps to bring along a family member or friend to help chase after runaway toddlers and to help bring out genuine smiles!
Be intentional about being candid.
As we walk around in between poses, I like to capture the unique ways you interact with your family. Maybe you like to toss your 11 month old into the air. Maybe your 2 year old loves to twirl around your finger. Maybe you frequently brush your daughter’s hair and whisper something in her ear. Whatever it is you do to love on your kids when you’re hanging out at home, do it during our session. If you’re too focused on getting that perfect family photo, you might miss an opportunity to simply connect with your kids in a way that brings out a genuine smile or interaction. And sometimes the best pictures are not posed and not necessarily planned or directed either.
This is particularly good advice for parents with little toddlers who want to explore their world and have zero interest in sitting still for portraits. (There’s way too much to see and touch!) They may not sit and pose for a picture, but there are lots of things you can do to encourage them to smile, laugh, and play with you while I’m sneaking pictures. Play peek-a-boo, sing their favorite song, hold their hand, tickle their toes, etc.
And parents, don’t forget to be affectionate with each other too! Put your arms around each other, hold hands, look lovingly into each other’s eyes and laugh as you remember the days before you had kids when you thought you were tired. (Psh… you didn’t even know how tired you could really be. But you wouldn’t have it any other way.)
Be coordinated, but not matchy-matchy.
I would avoid very bright, neon colors or fabrics that easily wrinkle. Some white is okay in your wardrobe, but be careful that it doesn’t get dirty. If you have little ones in dresses, find a way to cover diapers and underwear (e.g. diaper cover, tights, leggings, etc.). You can go super dressy or super casual, that’s totally up to you, but if you go casual, I would at least wear nice shoes (no dingy sneakers). If you’re having a hard time deciding what to wear, feel free to send me pictures. I’m happy to provide input and help you choose an outfit! Pinterest is also a great place to go for wardrobe inspiration.
Maybe you had to feed your kids in the car on the way to your session, maybe you’re planning to bribe your kids with goldfish, maybe your little one can’t resist eating mulch, maybe your baby is teething and is one hot snotty drooly mess… Either way, please have a wipe handy so that your adorable kids have clean faces in your photos.
Give your kids space to be silly and watch them shine.
Sometimes little kids can get overwhelmed by too much direction and will start acting out. (I think they can feel performance anxiety!) So if your child is being a little stubborn during a set, let me try to work with them one-on-one before stepping in. Kids will often cooperate for me because I’m new, giving them a lot of attention, and being silly.
Also, it helps if your kids are fed, comfortably-dressed, and well-rested (to the extent that you have any control over those things). If your kids do act out, don’t stress over it. I have a very spirited 3 year old so I’m no stranger to temper tantrums. We’ll find a way to distract and redirect them.
Lastly, let me know how it goes.
I’m reluctant to include this tip because I’m deeply sensitive about my work, but the truth is, I learn a lot from good and bad experiences. If you had a wonderful experience and are happy with your photos, let me know! That tells me what I’m doing is working. But if something didn’t quite turn out the way you’d hoped, let me know too. Maybe we can re-shoot, or at the very least, I can take note of what techniques I need to improve.