I've been wanting to write a blog post about this topic for a while now. Every time I have my own family portraits done, I am reminded that getting family pictures done when you have small children (like I have) takes bravery. It isn't for the faint of heart. Beforehand you have to figure out what everyone is going to wear, and it should all coordinate to some extent. This sounds relatively easy, unless your child is like every other child and they have strong opinions about what they will and will not wear. For example, my son won't wear a top unless it is made of T-shirt material. My daughter just HAS to wear her sparkly red shoes every single day, even though they in no way match her outfit. I'm sure most of you have one of those kids. Maybe they refuse to wear the awesome dress you picked out because it itches. Or they just HAVE to wear their Mickey Mouse ears. And let's be honest... you're a little scared about arguing with them on picture day for fear that THIS happens...
Then there's the day of the photo session. Not only do you have to ensure that your kids are happy, well-rested, and fed (to minimize that potential melt downs that may occur during the photo session), you also have to make yourself look awesome. If you're anything like me... that's no small feat. I wear eye make-up approximately once a year. So not only do I have to manage the fragile emotions of my three small children, I have to make myself look hot. That takes time, and time is often something I don't have.
What about those parents who have kids with special needs. They may have an autistic child that refuses to look at the camera. Or perhaps a child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder that will refuse to listen to the photographer. Or how about a child with Sensory Processing Disorder that freaks out in new places. What about a child with ADHD that never stops moving? What about families with twins and triplets, where you may be photographing multiple toddlers? It can be VERY daunting for parents of these children to brave a family portrait session for fear of "spending all that money for nothing".
So now that I've pretty much convinced you to never have family photos done, let me give you some pointers that will make your photo session run more smoothly.
1. Do your research on photographers.
Most photographers have certain strengths. Some love the photo-journalistic nature of shooting weddings.
Some prefer shooting fashion and glamor because their subjects don't
run away from them. And some photographers absolutely love working with
small kids and relate well to them. Pick a photographer that connects
well with children. And if you don't know them, go meet them before you
hire them. Bring your kids and see how they interact with with him or
her. And don't forget to look at their portfolio and make sure you like their style of photography.
2. Pick out your outfit first.
Even with our children's picky fashion sense, I can guarantee you that our fashion sense is even pickier. If I look into my closet, there are only a handful of outfits that I feel I look AWESOME in. And if I don't look awesome in the pictures, I will never like my family photos. Never. So, find something you feel fabulous in, and then use that outfit as the basis for your color palette to dress the rest of your family in.
3. Remember your children's preferences.
When you pick those coordinating outfits for your kids, don't forget to take into consideration their idiosyncrasies. If your child refuses to wear hats, trying to get them to wear one for a portrait session is probably fruitless. They will probably end up in tears. And don't forget to include them in the shopping process to get their "buy off" on the outfit. You'll find it will be less of a battle to get them dressed on picture day! When I include my kids in the decision they just can't WAIT to wear their "special picture outfit"!
4. Consider the time of day.
If you're shooting outside, pretty much every photographer will tell you that the best time of day to shoot is during the first hour of sunlight, or last hour of sunlight. We've even given that last hour of sunlight a name... "The Golden Hour". So realistically, if you want that beautiful photo in a grassy field with golden light... then you'll want to shoot at that time. But if you think your kids are going to absolutely melt down unless you shoot between 10:00 a.m. and noon... then be real with your photographer about this. You will NOT get that jaw dropping golden hour photo in a field, but perhaps you can somewhere that has a lot of shade and still get some great pictures! Just make sure that your kids are well rested and fed.
5. Be upfront about any special needs.
Be upfront with your photographer if you have a family member with special emotional, physical or sensory needs. Most seasoned children's photographers will have dealt with most of these issues and will have tools and tricks to get the best pictures possible. But if you don't tell them before hand... then they won't be equipped.
6. Prep the night before.
The day of your photo session will be WAY less stressful if you get prepared the night before. Get everyone's outfits ironed and ready. Get a cadre of snacks, sippy cups, and/or bottles prepped. And please don't forget to pack your bribery.... yes I said "bribery". I don't care if it's stickers, treats, or a promise to go out to a movie afterwards... but bribery works.
7. Get your spouse to help.
You are going to need time to make yourself look drop-dead gorgeous the day of the shoot. Do NOT neglect yourself because you will not like your pictures if you're unhappy with how you look. Trust me on this. So that means your spouse will have to be on board to manage the troops so you have time to get beautiful. If you don't know how to put make-up on, find someone who can do it for you. I highly recommend hiring a professional make-up artist. The first time I had my make-up professionally done I almost fell OVER with how good I looked. But that means hubby has to help and watch the kids so you can beautify. Warn him ahead of time so he knows what to expect the day of the shoot. Do not assume he can read your mind and will automatically know you need help to get everyone ready. Kindly ask him to lend you a hand. And if you don't have a spouse/partner... get someone else to help you.
8. During the shoot, focus on the photographer... not your kids.
Your job during the session is to follow your photographers directions and look at the camera when needed. Please don't yell at your kids to smile or to listen to the photographer. That just upsets the kids and tears don't work in family portraits. By this point you should have done your research and hired a photographer that is excellent with small kids, so now you just need to trust their ability to get your kids to engage with them during the session. Arrive at your session ready to have fun with your family... it's those tickles and cuddles and snuggles that get the best photos.
9. Remember... they are kids.
Your kids may cry during the session. They may not behave like little angels. They may melt down. Don't worry about it. They are kids and your photographer has most likely seen it happen before. That is why most photographers allow for ample time during a session to allow for breaks if need be. Sometimes a moment to eat a snack or play can make a world of difference. And don't forget that most children photographers have children of their own and understand that kids are unpredictable.
10. Don't worry... be happy.
Stay calm. Force yourself to be happy, even if your kid is acting out. If you fly off the handle, they'll just melt down more. I'll say it again... stay calm.
It is a lot of work to get nice portraits done with small children. But if you've done your homework and prepared adequately, then the work it SOOOO worth it. I have a million photos of my kids. That is probably not an overstatement. But the ones that I truly treasure are the photos I have where I'm with them... cuddling, tickling, laughing and happy. Don't be that parent that writes yourself out of your family history by always being BEHIND the camera. Now go get a family photo done! Here's my family (photo taken by DeAnna Gallardo Photography)!