Let’s be real for a second… Nobody has any delusions that a family session with a small child is anything but chaos.
BUT as the mom of a two year old who works at a photography studio… I’ve seen (and experienced) it all. And hey – at least your child won’t be crying at your coworker the way mine did! But, after following these steps myself for my boy’s second photoshoot, I can tell you that they really work. The evidence is below…
1. Be strategic in your timing.
Studio Session Timing 101: I believe most little ones have a typical routine they need to stick to to survive the day to day. KEEP IT THE SAME. Do whatever you can to make sure there is as little disruption as possible. Therefore, the photoshoot becomes just a small addition to their day, instead of being something that throws everything off. For Christmas photos I elected to schedule Benny’s session at 1:00….1:00 is the time he usually goes down for his afternoon nap – IT WAS A POOR CHOICE. Benny cried for most of the session, he did not want to say cheese, he did not want to sit still. My generally mild-tempered little boy was not pleased, and I was frustrated. But then I thought about it and realized I asked my little man to do something he is not used to at a really hard time in his day – a mistake that could have been prevented even if I had just scheduled his session an hour or two later. Now, learning from that experience, I scheduled his birthday shoot at 3:30 – post-nap and it was glorious!!!!!!
Beach Session Timing 101: Although we can all agree that keeping your child’s routine can be an important piece to a successful photoshoot there is one scenario that breaks the rules a bit…Beach sessions. Now the beach has its own unique challenges, and the biggest one is the limited window of time to get that perfect family shot! 99.9% of beach portraits are taken within that hour prior to sunset which is typically between 7-8pm, in the summertime. Those summer evenings are late and every person knows we are asking a lot of little guys at that hour. However, the one thing we cannot control is mother nature. But that doesn’t mean we steer shy of beach portraits… we just call an audible! Try to keep your littles routine as normal as possible in the morning and make sure they are full, clean and ready to party a little past bedtime in the evening. This may mean it’s not the best day for your family to do a pontoon ride to Crab Island or deep sea fishing excursion. But if your little one is well-rested and generally-active in their routine leading up to the evening, you should have no problem managing the 30 minutes or hour post bed time. More on how to make sure you don’t miss a single photo with your little one in tip #7!
2.Bring your support system
Michael…that is the name of the saint, also known as my husband, who continues to put up with my obsession to photograph our son a minimum of 3 times a year…if not 4. He is there for all of it, but not because I make him (although bribery works on husbands like it does on children – see tip #4) but because our sessions work better together. The power in numbers is a real thing when it comes to entertaining and wrangling little ones. Bring along one of your friends that your child is comfortable with, your spouse, grandma or grandpa and let them know that their job is to be a calming presence and support system for you and your kiddo! Someone to color with them while you are changing clothes or occupy them while you take a sip of “Mommy’s juice” from the wine-glass-shaped sippy cup.
3.SNACKS….BRING THEM ALL.
PACK ALL THE SNACKS. Snacks are great distractions and can calm a fussy child in seconds. Sessions take time – there are set changes, consultation times and outfit swaps. Snacks take time to consume, make kiddos happy and if parents are stress eaters it soothes their souls, as well!
4.Bribery… Get the good stuff.
Snacks are good but not as good as TREATS!!!!!! Don’t worry, our Benny rarely ever gets sugar or treats (he tends to turn into a wild man) EXCEPT on photo day. Now photo day requires more than your average treat…the goldfish package they get in their lunchbox or cheerios in their daily snack cup are not treats…M&Ms are treats. I prefer M&Ms because they do not take a long time to dissolve in their mouths (your photographers will thank you for not having to edit out gummies and goldfish from their grins) and are small enough that I feel less terrible about the quantity of treats its takes to get all of the shots! The other plus is that when that sugar kicks in so do the big silly grins, the funny facials and all the personality!! Let the sugar work for you, people!!
5.Always do a test run.
Try on those outfits. There is nothing more frustrating than showing up to your photos with a perfectly pressed gingham outfit with the perfect peter pan collar and realizing you have to leave it half zipped or unbuttoned because your little one has grown since you ordered it. Equally as frustrating is realizing that your little one does not want to wear the cute outfit because it has a hat or a bowtie and they do not wear them regularly or the tag itches…you get it. When Benny’s outfit comes in I get all excited, and make sure to tell him how excited mommy is. Then I convince him to put it on and run around in it for a short time (in a safe area where stains are preventable). This helps him to feel comfortable in it and helps you make sure it fits!
6.Set the Tone.
Children are emotional individuals. There is so much we can do to prepare them for their big photo day by just checking ourselves. In the week leading up to photos make sure you talk about them getting their picture made in a really happy and fun tone. Making them excited helps to relieve any stress and preparing them on the front end makes it easier for them to recognize what is happening in the moment!
I said daily “Benny, on Wednesday we are going to mommy’s office and taking pictures! Isn’t that going to be so fun! Can you show me how to say cheese? You are so good! I am so proud of you!”
Then on photo day, I said the above affirmations over and over again. While we were getting ready, while we were in the car, and between M&M’s, while we were at the studio! We got big smiles, happy giggles and no meltdowns! But try to remember, even after all that prep… kiddos are still kiddos. They can be so unpredictable and sometimes they have bad days just like grown ups..try in the moment not to get upset but to just roll with it. Those moments usually make for really amazing outtakes that you can store away to show at opportune times as they grow up – birthdays, graduations and weddings..the list is endless!
7.Prioritize your photos and plan accordingly.
Each season brings on a new set of priorities for our family pictures. For example, at the holidays I dream of a perfect family portrait and at birthday times I crave the silly pictures that perfectly match whatever wacky and tacky birthday party we are throwing that year. I say this because your priorities and your “dream” photo should be well thought out prior to arriving to your session. If you are doing true family photos with all of your extended family, start with any photos that must have the youngest children in them so when they are done they can exit. If it is the holiday and you really want a photo of your family together save the individuals of your kiddos for the end. The moral of this tip is that when your kiddo starts crying and is no longer having it, it’s time to stop. They have reached their limit and it’s only going to get worse from here. Take a step back, recognize all the amazing photos you have gotten and be done. Instead of lamenting over how your little one cried, you will leave with a great experience and appreciation for the one shot that you know you got!
8.Prep for the environment.
Pick the location wisely. I prefer to take Benny to our studio for a few reasons but the biggest one is the distractions and stimulation are minimal compared to a busy downtown park or street. It is safe, comfortable and really can be whatever you want it to be! That being said, if you want great photos downtown or at our amazing beaches, we absolutely encourage you to do so! However there is one thing I recommend you do if you are planning a beach shoot…take your kiddo to the sand before! Sand is weird – It sticks to your feet, gets in your eyes, and hurts if it is blowing too hard. If your kiddo has never experienced those things before they could be scared of it! If your test visit at the beach ends badly do not fret. Beach portraits can still happen. We would then just recommend you bring a little blanket for them to sit on or hold them during the session! Also, don’t pick the park with the playground your kid frequents on the weekend. They will just want to play at the park, and you can kiss your family photos goodbye.
9.Embrace the Tears.
This may sound awful…but I am pretty sure there are some parents out there that feel the same…I LOVE THE CRANKY PHOTOS. They are hilarious, they get posted on the catchy holiday cards and they make other people smile. THEY ARE REAL LIFE. There is nothing wrong with them, so we say embrace them!!
10. When you are done, count your blessings.
Congratulations… you’ve done it! Now, go get some wine, put your feet up and pat yourself on the back. Tackling family photos with adults is hard enough, but add in toddlers and you are asking the universe to grant you a wish that only a genie can fulfill. So when it happens, revel in your success and wait patiently for the thing you will cherish forever… memories made with your family.