When preparing for your family or newborn photography shoot, viewing online portfolios of peaceful sleeping newborns and angelic smiling children, you could be forgiven for thinking that family photo sessions are always a relaxing peaceful experience. Where are all the cranky toddlers, the obstinate teenagers, the hungry babies who refuse to sleep?
Well, the truth is, it’s very rare that a photo shoot goes involving babies and children goes off without a hitch. Most issues are surmountable, most are short-lived, but it’s part of working with kids to expect these hiccups and find strategies for dealing with them.
So, what can you do to make sure you and your kids get the most out of your session? The following tips might help:
1. First and foremost, try to have no expectations. This is the biggest blunder of all. Coming into a child photography session with a shot list of must have shots, having a clear picture in your minds eye of what you want because a friend has a similar thing on her wall, and drilling best behaviour into the children before hand is a recipe for disaster. The truth is, even the most well behaved child can be shy of strangers, have an off day, or simply feel pressured that they are not quite sure what is expected of them. The best moments spring from a developing relationship between your photographer and your children, and they are skilled at bringing out the best in them. So, your shots might be a little more ‘candid’ than you expected, or the kids might not all be looking at the camera at the same time. But they will be more relaxed, and more authentic, if you can also relax your expectations and enjoy the surprise of what might come.
2. Make sure your kids are well fed and rested. It goes without saying that kids who are hungry, thirsty or tired are more likely to grizzle and become distracted.
3. Promising a reward for good behaviour can work well during a difficult session, but please, do not make this reward food oriented! Handing a child a chocolate biscuit half way through a shoot is not only time consuming, but very messy! Offering to play with a ball at the end, use some bubbles, or listen to some music, works just as well.
4. Give careful consideration to your kids’ clothes. If they are not clothes they are used to wearing, they won’t behave like themselves. Button down shirts tucked in with belts and shoes/socks don’t really make kids feel relaxed as this is not their usual play gear. Even if you are after more formal shots than play shots, it’s still a better idea to dress young kids in clothes they can relax and be comfortable in. Simple solid colours in soft fabrics will help take the attention away from the clothes and back on the kids.
5. Expect your child to act a little differently than normal. In the case of babies, they are out of their routine, and with younger children, they struggle to understand exactly what is expected of them. A normally smiley child may be a little more reserved. A sleepy baby may be a little more awake. Professional photographers are used to this and have strategies for dealing with it.
6. Be prepared to be surprised. A great deal of the shooting happens mid song/dance routine, or waving a toy above our heads, or hanging out of a tree. It’s common for parents to feel it’s all going a bit pear shaped, but your photographer will know what he/she is doing. It’s rare that these spontaneous moments don’t produce some fabulous family images.
Of course, if your child is ill, or unhappy, always reschedule your session. You want them at their very best, but accepting that nobody is on their best behaviour full time, and that sometimes the unexpected brings the best results, is the key to really relaxing and letting the session unfold with the energy of your children. It’s really just all in a days’ work for your photographer.