Preparing Children for a Photo Session with Me
Several years back, my husband and I thought it would be a good idea to take our son for his One Year Old Photos ON his actual birthday.
I didn’t have my photography business then, so we took him elsewhere to have his photos done. As it turned out, he did a GREAT job for the shoot, but was so tired afterwards that the evening was over before it had begun. He cried a lot due to being overtired. Our tearful birthday boy even had to sit through a mandatory sales session immediately following the shoot. It was a terrible experience and not at all how we had hoped to celebrate his very first birthday!
By reflecting on the lessons I have learned as both a parent and a photographer, I have put together some tips to help your children have the best possible experience during our photo sessions. And just to let you know in advance - there are no high pressure sales sessions immediately following any of my photo shoots! :)
a. Schedule a session time according to your family’s needs. If I’m running a special and the times don’t suit, please let me know what would work better. I try to be really accommodating!
b. Most of my sessions are in the evening - this is because of light being ideal and because of people’s schedules.
2. Rest and Food:
a. Be sure to give your little ones a nap before the session if they are still of napping age. If they are older, try not to have them at a practice or something tiring right before the session.
b. Feed your littles before the session!! Whether it is a substantial snack or dinner before you get them dressed, if their tummies are full, they will certainly not be hangry!
c. Give yourself time to fix hair before the snack and then wipe their sweet faces and get them dressed after the snack so they (and you!) don’t feel too rushed.
a. Don’t make promises or bargains about what they will earn if they do a good job. If you want to do something special afterwards, just do it and express how glad you are about how well he/she did. I’ve found that allowing that special thing to become a threat, bribe, or especially something he/she will expect does not produce the desired outcome.
b. I do like to provide a small treat for the children I work with. The type of treat I provide does vary - sometimes I bring along a prize box from which the children may choose. Other times, I provide a special crayon/paper set. Occasionally, I provide an edible snack and I always make sure to check with parents prior to offering. Any snacks I provide to children are always free of artificial dye and major allergens like peanuts or dairy. I usually say to the children, “Thanks for having fun with me and doing such an amazing job!” This me further build a connection with them as we talk about the toy or snack which will make our next session go even more smoothly than the first!
4. Shoot Flow:
I usually work with this order:
a. Group shots first:
I always try to capture the big group shots first. Everyone is fresh and full of energy at this point, so they’ll smile pretty easily and be focused.
b. Individual Child Shots:
We will work on individual portraits immediately following the group photos. This way, parents are available to help make the kids laugh.
c. Relational Shots:
These are a more candid style of photo - for example, Mom and son sharing a laugh or looking at nature together… just normal family interaction. At this point in the session, your family knows that the formal work of portraits is over and begins to relax, becoming who they really are as a unit. Smiles take on new life and these are the moments to which we want to hold forever!
d. Final Shots:
Occasionally I’ll do one more group shot but it definitely has more of a relaxed feel.
5. My personality:
a. I don’t get in children’s faces. I don’t act too crazy. I think it is very important to respect a child’s personal space and boundaries. Typically, when a photographer is too demanding or intrusive when working with a child they do not know well, the child will smile because he or she thinks it is expected. These smiles often seem forced and slightly uncomfortable...just as I would in the same situation. I can imagine how unsettling it would be if a person I had just met for the first time or a person I only saw once every few months got in my face to try to make me laugh.
b. When I meet them, I use good child psychology. I wave from a bit of a distance, come closer and greet the parents. Children use their parents’ reactions and comfort level with my presence as a clue to how they should feel. After saying hello to the parents, I will greet the children with a smile but still maintain respectful boundaries to let them get comfortable.
Tears and grumps don’t bother me for photo sessions.
Here is how I deal:
a. I sometimes give families a minute or two to walk away, get comfortable, etc. and then resume. This often helps. If parents take that time to explain why they are doing this session - to have fun and get to hang the memories on their walls at home, kids begin to understand. Be understanding, “I know this may not be your favorite, but I know you can get through it because I think you are amazing!” Consistent encouragement rather than threats are always the way to go! :)
b. Everyone in the family can make a silly or grumpy face for one photo. This could be a really neat photo in a set of a few canvases and usually ends in erupting laughter anyway, so the next shots are awesome!
c. I forget that particular pose or moment move on. Sometimes I move on to a different pose or will do a lifestyle session. This allows the family to walk around together, enjoying life and forgetting that I am there while I just sneak around and capture your interactions!
d. Just capture it! Let's face it, you might not hang it on your wall, but it is a memory. Life is not all smiles, sometimes it holds grumpy faces and tears. Life with children is precious and I enjoy remembering moments of tears for my kids just as much as the smiles. In fact, below is one of my favorite out takes of my boys - and it is on my wall!
I hope these tips will help you and your family prepare for our photo shoot, and I look forward to helping you preserve some of your family’s special moments!