After my marathon mini-sessions two weekends in a row (where the ages of children ranged from 6 months to 12 years), I came to the conclusion that it might be helpful for a photographer to write to her clients about things to do (and maybe a few not to do) during a custom portrait session.
Since it's "Back to School" time, it's even more appropriate that I bring you
"The Rules for Parents"
1. Come to the session with well-rested, well-fed children. Nap times might need to be adjusted on the day of our session for the littlest, or dinner time might have to be a couple hours early. It truly makes a WORLD of difference if you plan your day around our session - even if it means a schedule that is non-typical for your family. A good photographer will interact with your child, play games, chat with them and make them feel comfortable. But we cannot take a tired, hungry, writhing ball of meltdown (can you tell I HAVE toddlers?! :D) and create a beautiful portrait!!
2. Your job, as parents is to look at the camera and smile when we attempt the big group shot. When your photographer poses you and is doing her best to get the childrens' attention, don't look down at the kids!!! My job is to get the baby to smile. My job is to keep the kids looking at me. My job is to see whose head is turned or fingers are in their mouth. Your job is to plaster that (natural!) smile on your face and look at my camera! There have been too many times when I've gotten home, downloaded a family session, and found that by the time I got all three or four kids looking at the camera and smiling, the mom and dad had dropped their smiles or were "just checking" to see if the kids were smiling. So, I either have a great shot of mom and dad with wild monkeys or beautiful children with parents who look completely over it! Remember to just look at the camera and smile - your photographer will do the rest!!
3. Get close. When you stand next to each other, you should always be touching! Wrap your arms around each other or hold hands. Even a few inches of space looks like a wide gap in a picture! I often tell people to, "act like you like each other!" (which always gets people to smile, by the way!) because I want them to be close. Kids sitting on laps, or standing with their arms around their parents legs or shoulders are natural "poses". Your closeness and love for each other will shine through if you are close to each other when standing or sitting for a photograph.
4. Try not to threaten your child or coerce them into smiling. You are most likely not going to get a genuine smile if you've just told them that they must smile or you will beat them within an inch of their lives not take them for ice cream. :) :) :) Please, whatever you do, don't tell your child to SAY CHEESE! It does not capture their true smile and we're probably only going to get that smile the rest of the session. (That's why they call it a cheezy smile!) Your photographer will help with fun things to make your child smile - or you could always just start a tickle fight or say something really silly that makes everyone laugh!
5. Allow your photographer to interact with your child. Don't answer for them - or chime in with your own thoughts. The photographer needs to spend a few moments getting comfortable with your child and allowing your child to get comfortable with her. Many times I will ask children questions about what things they like, about their teacher or friends, or find something in common to chat about. It helps to break the ice and allows the photographer to get a sense of your child's personality.
6. If you have older toddlers or elementary school children, allow the photographer some space to work with them. If you "disappear" or hang back a bit, photographers can often work more easily with your child - especially siblings! Trust us, we have interacted with many children and have a few tricks up our sleeves! :) Oftentimes, children will act up when their parents are around and watching just to get their attention - but they wouldn't dare misbehave with a stranger! (Just ask their teachers - they are angels at school, right?!) I sometimes take a child by the hand and we take a walk to a new location so that we can start fresh and not have mom and dad watching our every move. Most of the time, I capture the truest smiles that way!
7. If you have a baby, allow the photographer to interact with her and try to get her to look at the camera and smile. This is a hard one for parents. I know it's hard not to interact with your baby, but try to refrain. If there's a particular thing that "works" - a game, a sound, a word, a song - tell the photographer at the beginning of your session together and allow her to try it with your baby. The goal of the photographer is to get your baby to look directly into the camera. If you are standing to the photographer's left or right, even slightly, and shouting your baby's name to get her to look up, she is going to look AT YOU! Why is that a bad thing? Because even though she could be giving the best, most beautiful and perfect smile to you...when you see the photo, it looks like she's smiling at someone outside the frame. I never really understood this until I started photographing children professionally, but now I notice it all the time. In most studio photos, the children are almost always looking at someone above the camera's level. My goal as a custom photographer is to capture your child(ren) looking right at me - so that when you see that photo, it looks like they are smiling directly at you every time you look at the picture. You will see the twinkle in their eye, you will see the mischievous grin, you will feel the connection! It is hard to step back and not interact with your own baby - but let the photographer try first. She'll let you know if she needs help!
8. If your child is between 12 months and 2 1/2 years old, expect your session to be a lot of "follow the baby around"! This age is the most unpredictable. Since bribing, cajoling, and joking doesn't work yet, we are forced to go with the flow! The best thing to do is to see where he wants to play, sit, stand and then position yourselves around him for a group shot. When he moves, you move! Again, interact like you normally do - if that's playing peek-a-boo or clapping, we'll capture it, and maybe a few smiles in the process!
9. Don't prep your child too much for a photo session. Talking about it for days on end (or even all day on the day of the session) only raises the stress level for your child and creates an atmosphere of "you'd better...or else!". It's better to let your child become comfortable at the session and have their personality shine through. That said, bring a "backup plan". If you have wee little ones, bringing a non-messy snack (for babies: puffs, small cookies, etc.) and a drink is essential! For older toddlers, a special snack (something a bit exciting even!) might be just the thing to get that big smile! If your child has a lovey or special friend that you don't mind being in some photos, it can be a great comfort item. I am not above bribery, but be sure to keep it positive and specific. "Give two beautiful smiles and you get a special treat!" is great. "Smile or you don't get ice cream" is a bit too vague and probably won't elicit the same immediate response...more than once!
10. Be yourselves and try to have fun! The absolute best family photographs are those where the family looks comfortable and connected. If you are silly, be silly during your session. If dad is the comedian, by all means, bring on the jokes! If your kids like to play Ring around the Rosy (or Superheroes!), let's get to it early on in the session so that we can capture your family being you. After all, that's what you want to remember in ten or twenty years, right?
And because no post is complete without a photo, here is one capture of a family that I just adore! Notice their coordinated wardrobe and the fact that mom and dad are relaxed and looking at the camera? I was making a complete FOOL of myself getting all three girls to look at me at this very moment! :D