Have you ever done a family photo shoot? We haven’t done one in a while — our last was back in the fall of 2014 — but I love them. It can be a daunting process, however, requiring some planning in advance in order to make it the most enjoyable experience possible. It’s totally worth it when you get those photos back, though!
My friend Jamie is a great family photographer based in Boston. I’ve known Jamie a long time — we went to junior high and high school together! — and I think her work is amazing. A mother of two and a professional photographer, Jamie knows what it’s like on both sides of the camera. She’s offered some tips on how to prep your family for a photo shoot to make it fun and enjoyable:
Prepping Kids for a Family Portrait Session
- Let your kids know about a week in advance that you’re having a portrait session done. Really explain what that means for them, but keep it brief: “We’re having our photos taken with this photographer named Jamie. She’ll be taking photos of our family at a park near our house. We’ll put on a nice outfit and sit for a few minutes while she takes our photos.” Make it sound fun!
- Remind them casually every few days and add in a few more bits of information. Avoid making it into a photography lecture though — you don’t want them to dread it before it even happens! “We’ll take photos all together. Some with just the kids. And some of each of you alone.” The more information they’re given, the more likely it is that your children will enjoy the process. As you’re explaining, tell your kids how important these photos are to you — you always want to remember how they look just now, even when they’re all grown up! If your kids know why the photos matter, they may be more agreeable with the process.
- Be honest. You can tell your kids that it might take a while and they’ll really have to listen to the photographer’s instructions. You can tell them that it may not be the most fun they’ve ever had – though any photographer worth their salt will try hard to make it a fun experience – but that cooperating is the best way to ensure the session is done fast and is successful. “The sooner we do this, the sooner we can be done” is a good line for a reluctant kid.
- Bring rewards for good behavior. I’m never above a good bribe! Should you bribe your kids with donuts and M&Ms to get their homework done and clean up their rooms? Probably not. Is it OK for a one-time bribe to get over a rough patch mid-session? Absolutely! Of course, it depends on the age of the children involved, but if you sense resistance there’s nothing wrong with setting out a reward for good behavior. And if you don’t want to be the briber, ask the photographer in advance to offer it instead of you. Many times, I’ve been told the favorite treat of a client in advance and brought that bag of fruit snacks or a handful of munchkins to a session – I’m happy to do the dirty work if a parent doesn’t want to set an example of rewarding with sugar.
- The Most Important Tip of All: Keep your cool and go with the flow. (Easier said than done, I know!) Sometimes parents start to get frustrated mid-session. If I ever see a parent start sweating or gritting their teeth, I immediately take a break by suggesting we pick a new location/backdrop in whatever area we’re in. The process should not ever be dreadful and the kids will, at some point, lose their patience a bit. (And you may too!) But try, try, try your hardest to understand that kids are just that: kids! Forcing any pose or smile is only going to result in the child pushing back. We’ll take our time, try out different poses and methods to get a great, genuine smile, and we’ll have fun. The only one that should be sweating and hustling around is the photographer. If we can keep the mood light, the children are MUCH more likely to stay calm and happy.
- Secret Photographer Tip: Follow steps 1 – 4 with any dads, grandfathers, or uncles that may be involved! Often times, I find it’s the dads that are feeling the most resistant (read: shy or embarrassed) throughout the session. If you let them know how important it is to you to have a great family photo – and maybe have a good bribe thrown in too – it may be just the trick to get him to open up and smile a bit.
I know from experience that family photo shoots can often start out fun, but that the kids can lose patience pretty quickly. Jamie’s advice is really great — my favorite part is the tip for reluctant dads! You can check out Jamie’s work on her website or follow her on Facebook. (And any of my Massachusetts people looking for a family photographer should definitely talk to Jamie!)
Have you ever done a family photo shoot? What other advice could you add?