The holidays are just around the corner, and that means it's time for holiday photo sessions to start gearing up. Whether you're planning on mailing out seasons greetings or you're just looking for an updated portrait, this guide should help ease the stress of your family photo session.
WHAT TO EXPECT
No matter what time of year it is, my family sessions always follow the same pattern. I start with the entire group in the frame to begin with, which usually helps everyone to feel more comfortable-- you know, strength in numbers! And as the body language starts to loosen up, I start to break the group down (ie just dad & the kids, just mom & the kids, just the kids, individuals along with individuals plus the parents, just the parents, etc etc). For mini sessions, there is only so many photographs we can get in 30 minutes, so a lot of the focus lands on the whole family as well as just the littles. For full sessions, we have a whole hour to play, which keeps the the vibe light and laid back, giving us the opportunity to get more creative & focus on subgroups.
A big element to my work is it's natural & organic vibe. There will be times where everyone is going to be looking directly into the lens, but most of the time I'm going to encourage your family to play & enjoy each other. Don't worry about the camera; I have that part covered! The most compelling component about family portraiture is all the relationship dynamics that make up your specific family-- every single one is different, so I want to capture that for you. And I totally understand that not everyone is completely natural in front of the camera from the very beginning and might become hyper aware if they're not looking directly into the lens-- that's rare & you're totally not expected to be 100% natural from the very first shutter click, don't worry! I will help guide you by making suggestions, giving you "activities" and by encouraging your kids to be kids.
KEEP IT FUN
This is probably the most important thing when it comes to family photo sessions. I know that's easier said then done with children in tow (trust me, I'm in the thick of it with a 5 year old & a 3 year old), but as long as the kids are encouraged to be themselves, play, be silly, move around, they'll stay engaged & in turn you'll get some beautiful photographs that aren't stale and stiff. If mom & dad are feeling stressed, the kids are going to start feeling that & in turn will clam up & shut down. My mantra for family sessions is "if it isn't working, it isn't working". It's better to move on than to force something. If a particular setting/pose isn't working-- the kid is trying to wiggle out of frame or out of dad's hands-- the best thing to do is just switch it up. Move locations, switch positions, do something fun that will redirect the attention and energy. My aim is for your session to feel like a family outing, not a stiff nobody-move-for-an-hour twilight-zone-esque memory that will make your kids dread the next time they take family photos.
The more go-with-the-flow we are, the more beautiful the photographs will be.
HOLD OFF ON BRIBERY
As a mother to two wildthings, I know the power of gummy bears. But like with anyone, it's easy to become impatient when all you have is ICECREAMICECREAMICECREAM on the brain for 30-60 minutes. It starts to feel like there's no end in sight! I've noticed the longer littles have to wait for the reward, the more likely meltdowns will occur. And if we start giving in with the candy in between shutter clicks, there's going to be much more of a struggle since we've revealed a bargaining chip than if we just redirect. And that's the last thing we want to have happen, right? A candy-for-photo stand off? So the longer we can hold off on bribery, the smoother the session will go, especially if we're keeping it fun & light-hearted. Who knows, you might not even need to mention the I-C-E-C-R-E-A-M!
Luckily we live in a particularly diverse area in terms on location variety, so it's fairly easy to find a good fit for your family. The biggest hiccup I see when it comes to locations, is picking a location that might be distracting, like the beach if you're not wanting the kids to play in the water. The ocean is like a magnet for little kiddos, so you can see what kind of struggle that might be if the kids are told they are going to the beach, but they can't play in the water or in the sand. I'm personally a big fan of littles playing in the ocean for photo sessions, but I know not every parent wants to carry a dripping soaked kid all the way back to the car. So with that in mind, I feel like when picking a location, it's important to think of the possible distractions, or temptations, there might be for your little one.
If you're at a loss and unsure of any location you possibly might want to have your portraits taken at, email me! I have a list of San Luis Obispo locations ranging from Santa Maria all the way up to Paso Robles & San Simeon areas that work particularly well for family sessions.
WHAT TO BRING
I'm all for clients bringing along whatever they would like to incorporate into their sessions. Depending on the location, I usually bring along one or two throw blankets (for you guys to lay/sit on) and maybe a small crate for the kiddos to sit/stand on if we're shooting at a place that doesn't have anything that could serve as seating. I like to keep things natural, so I try to use what the location has-- rocks, trees, benches, whatever it may have. If you'd like to bring along books, maybe some favorite toys or a fun little activity (like bubbles), be my guest!
Bringing along some simple snacks & a water bottle is always a good call; we have a lot of fun during the session, even mini sessions, and usually the littles could use a water break from time to time. When packing snacks, avoid anything with dye so that teeth do not become stained or we get drips of red potentially down someone's front. Also, wipes or tissues are another good call!
WHAT TO WEAR
Think: Complimentary Colors. Instead of going matchy-matchy and being an amorphous blob of navy where it's hard to tell where one individual begins and another one ends, find a color story that has multiple shades that all compliment one another, but will give your photographs depth. Black, which I personally have a wardrobe that is 90% black, is not an ideal color when it comes to photographs. Black has the tendency to loose texture & depth as well as dominates the photo-- you don't want the first thing your eye goes to is Dad's black button up, you want your eye to go to your faces! Neons or super bright colors-- like salmons & turquoise-- are also some shades to avoid. Neons especially create color casts, which essentially makes your skin a different color and in this case neon yellow. Color casts are difficult to correct in post production & processing, and can leave your photos with off-coloring.
I've found that jewel and earth tones photograph the best, 100% of the time. That's your burgandys, plums, olives, navies, creams, greys & browns.
Patterns & textures always help to add another layer to your photos. The main thing with patterns is you want to make sure whatever the pattern is, it isn't fighting with the rest of the outfits. Plaid is always a safe bet-- plaid flannels always photograph well and break up solids so nicely. Sweaters, jackets, cardigans-- all great as well to break up solids and to give a little bit more depth!
Accessories & jewelry tend to give the photographs a "polished" look, so for that I'm a big fan of clients accessorizing. Scarves, hats, statement necklaces, all great things that can really add another level to your family portraits.
But above all, whatever you decide to wear, make sure you're in something that makes you feel comfortable and is also practical! We move around a lot during a family session-- remember, I highly encourage kids to play-- so if you are wearing something restrictive or something you're not 100% at ease in, the uncomfortable-ness will show in the photographs. And if we're shooting your portraits on a hill side complete with long grass & quite a few rocks & squirrels holes, wearing stilettos is probably not the best shoe choice. Definitely consider your location when coming up with the wardrobe.
TRUST THE PROCESS
And most of all, you have to trust the process. We're going to be walking, jumping, playing, chasing, laughing, throwing kiddos up, doing piggy-back rides, dancing, all that good stuff. And while it may seem silly (I'm looking at you, dads!), it's all part of getting those genuine photographs that truly showcase your family's unique dynamic. The majority of the time, sessions are packed with so much activity, it's hard for the parents to imagine that magic was created during all the perceived chaos. But rest assured, I've never had a session where I didn't walk away with handfuls of beautiful photographs. NEVER. So, believe me when I say that I'd never ask you to do something that wouldn't photograph well, no matter how silly it makes you feel. :)
EXTRA HELPER ON HAND
Starting to feel overwhelmed just thinking about your photo session? That's okay! There might be the perfect solution to calm your nerves and help you feel more prepared even after all this reading-- bring along an extra set of hands! Grandmas are usually the best when it comes to helping ease the stress & tension of a family photo session, especially if you're juggling more than two littles. They're a friendly face, a reassurance for maybe particularly shy children, as well as someone who can magically get the biggest smiles, the best laughs & the sweetest cuddles out of even the most reserved of kiddos. They definitely have a magic quality, so why not utilize it during a session?! Grandma can always hop in a few frames too!
If Grandma isn't available, any familiar face will do! Maybe a fun aunt, uncle, close family friend... I've even had a family bring along their nanny for backup! The more helping hands you have, the more mama can focus on having fun & stop stressing about the little things!