You've been swooning over family portraits on Pinterest for months. You still remember the photo that graced your college friends' Christmas card from last year--all 3 kiddos looking like GapKids models and happily hugging your perfectly groomed friend who had zero remanence of goldfish crumbs from the car left on her shirt as she lovingly holds the hand of Brad Pit/oh wait, that's her husband. The last time you were in front of the camera with your whole family was four years ago when you tried out a new photographer's mini session special and your tot screamed through the entire 20 minute nightmare.
You've decided it's time to hire a professional and get some real family photos taken- photos that are flattering, fun, and wall-worthy all in one swing. Is it possible?
The answer is YES OF COURSE. GO FOR IT. YOU WILL NEVER REGRET IT.
But before you get too carried away with planning the perfect outfits and sketching out your shot list, take a gander at these tips to be sure you're not unknowingly ruining the experience before 'picture day' even begins.
1. Withhold information from your photographer
The less she knows about your family, the less likely she is to run for the hills because your bunch is seriously impossible. If she knew what your last photoshoot was like, she’d probably pay you to never book her again. Yes, it’s better she be blissfully unaware of the chaos about to ensue and keep her Pinterest-perfect dreams of your sweet, loving family alive.
The less she knows about your family beforehand, the less likely she’ll be able to prepare, navigate the situation, and adjust. Be open about concerns you have, issues you’ve had in the past, or specific attitude triggers that could make or break your childs’ mood.
Billy is potty training? Doesn’t seem like a big deal until she chooses to take you to Narnia for the most magical backdrop and Billy immediately has to pee. Oh there’s no Baby Bjorn in Narnia? His pull-up is a soiled from shot one? This is not going to be good….
Suzy screams like a waterlogged banshee when you try to touch her hair? Your husband gets camera shy and looks like Frankenstein on a first date when he’s uncomfortable? These are important details to note. A professional will be able to handle those situations with grace, as long as she’s aware in advance.
2. Schedule for nap time. Or lunch time. Or snack time.
Whatever’s best for the light - you want those dreamy, golden fall pictures you see floating around of a family that stepped out of an Anthropologie catalog, hugging and laughing like they’re next season’s cast of Glee.
Even though the ideal time to shoot is in the evening hours just before sunset, it’s not ideal if it means your kids will be cranky, hungry, or tired. Be up front about nap times and meal times so that you and your photographer can coordinate a time and location that will work for your schedule, not against it. Again, a professional can make adjustments to achieve a beautiful look regardless of the time of day, but she can’t photoshop your child into being happy. The best images come from authentic interaction, so if your child only wants to interact with his plate and a pillow, it doesn’t matter how perfect the light is. You’ll have a beautiful backdrop and expressions that say “my parents are monsters and this is my worst nightmare.”
3. Bribe them with electronics during your session.
Because your little tornado always settles down and sits still when she’s watching cartoons on the iPad. It’s the only surefire method to keep her from turning into the Tazmanian Devil.
I’m not here to judge any parental decision you may use in your free time, but during your one hour photoshoot, electronics are black holes that suck the life out of children’s eyes and remove all other surrounding stimulus. Once they see an iPad emerge from your bag, they become instant inspiration for the next zombie transformation in The Walking Dead. Removing said iPad when “it’s time to take a picture” will undoubtedly result in noises only dogs can hear.
If screen time is a motivator or reward, wait till the very end of the shoot to bring it out— otherwise you will make it the end of the shoot, regardless of what other tricks your photographer may have up her sleeve.
4. Try to make everyone sit still and smile.
For the love of God, all you want is one picture with everyone looking and smiling beautifully in their ironed, clean clothes — posed enough to look like you didn’t take it yourself in your backyard, but candid enough that no one suspects you’ve injected your whole family with botox. Is that too much to ask?
These kinds of photos are dead. You might get lucky enough to snag one, but honestly, is that really what you want? Think about it. Is that how your kids really look? Is that how you act together? Like a stiff reenactment of the The Sears Portrait Studio commercial?
Honestly, if you utter the dreaded words ‘say cheese’ even once, you might actually make your photographer throw up a little in her mouth. Even if you’re feeling desperate and are secretly wondering if the gift store at this adorable pumpkin patch sells spiked cider by the barrel, forcibly grabbing your child by the shoulders and placing him on an apple crate with strict instructions to sit still and smile big, will almost certainly result in
A. erratic tears of shame
B. thrashing of limbs and jumping like an audition for the Blue Man Group, or
C. the statue treatment, complete with crossed arms and a protruding bottom lip that turns your sweet toddler into the image of an angry gorilla.
Let go of your expectations and let the photographer worry about how to get the great photos she promised. It’s her job, after all.
5. Hype it up.
These are the first family pictures you’ve ever had taken professionally - meaning you’re paying good money for someone else to capture your whole family looking beautiful and prepared instead of a phone selfie of you with your kid in his Lego tee and left over chicken nugget in his teeth. You love that picture, too, but it’s not wall material. So you want to make sure that everyone is well aware for days beforehand that picture day is going to be a perfect, glorious, occasion and if they are well behaved and do everything you and the nice stranger lady ask without complaining, they’ll get an ice cream cone the size of their face when it’s all said and done.
By building the anticipation and expectation of picture day to Mt. Everest proportions, you are also building the anxiety of it. Kids can smell your stress no matter how well you try to disguise it with rainbows and unicorns. The repetition of an epic bribe will reinforce the occasion as something that requires incentive to behave— like going to the dentist. It says, “I know I’m acting like this is going to be cool, but it’s actually going to be like walking barefoot on hot coals so just do your best to not act like a maniac and you’ll make me so happy I’ll literally give you Candyland.”
Instead, try reframing your expectations that it actually will be fun. If you’ve found a good photographer who specializes in children and family portraits and whose style is consistent with what you like, you can have confidence that you’ll get great images. Avoid major hype in the days leading up to your shoot, and instead, frame the experience as a family adventure with a new friend. And then, actually have an adventure with your new friend (who just happens to be holding a camera). The less stress involved with your session, the more likely it is your photographer will be able to connect with all involved and get the images you truly wanted all along.
When was your last family shoot?
Want to know more about a Firefly family session? Send me a note and let's connect to plan your next shoot with minimum stress and images you can love forever. :-)