Family sessions can be very nerve wracking for photographers—especially in the busy fall season. I love family session and know that they can also be fun if you have a good plan in place for running a successful family shoot.
1. Communicate With Clients about Clothing
The client is looking to you for guidance in everything about the session. This even begins before your session when you can help your client decide on what to wear. Often the outfit choice can make or break the session. Some clients will be 100% on board with your ideas, while others will have ideas of their own.
Part of being confident is being sure to speak up about things you have experience or knowledge about that will affect the portrait session. Some things you might want to speak up about include lighting, locations, and choosing flattering colors that don’t contribute to color cast issues on skin.
I always let clients know that bright pink and neon colors often cast color onto the skin. I share with them that large logos will keep the images from being timeless. It’s also a good idea to know if your shots will be standing or sitting, so you can advise the ladies about skirt or dress length.
2. Communicate with Clients about Kid Behavior
So often, clients are concerned about their children's behavior. It's a good idea to let clients know not to “prep” their kids by telling them they have to look at the camera and smile. Sometimes kids show up to the session upset and already dreading looking at you. I like the candid type of shot best, and sometimes that requires not looking at the camera!
Be sure to let parents know that their kids behavior is fine. Although sometimes the kids are out of control, as long as you are getting the shots you need, reassure mom and dad that they don’t need to reprimand the kids. A crying kid is way harder to get a shot of than one who is just spirited. I am constantly saying “they are fine”!
3. Give Direction and Capture all the Moments
Once the session starts I often tell families to just walk over to a spot to “get ready”. I'll mention that I am adjusting the camera and getting the light right. Many times I am actually already taking photos. The more unaware of the camera they are, the more relaxed they are.
Next, I begin giving the family a series of instructions and am sure to tell them they don’t have to look at me! I have noticed if I give a string of direction, they tend to relax somewhere in the middle of it. I say things like “Walk over to that tree, turn around, pick the kids up, swing them around twice, and then walk towards me.
When we are doing sitting on the ground shots from overhead I use directions like “make a dog pile, tickle mommy, everyone sneeze” or other silly things to make the kids laugh. I often tell mom and dad to look at one another then back to the kids. Then I will shout look at me, and they all will, because I have not been telling them to say cheese for an hour!
ONE MORE TIP! The way that I shoot families, I try not to worry about limbs and such being cut off when we are doing the sitting together or from above shots. As long as everyone in the family is in the photo, a foot or arm out of the frame is fine! I do always get a farther back group shot as well so we have both to choose from. I also don’t automatically delete out of focus shots when shooting the up close “piled up” shots, and honestly sometimes they end up being my favorite.
4. Be a Confident Shooter
Shoot what you are presented with. Let go of your strict ideals about how the session should go. A plan is always great, but sometimes it doesn’t work out exactly like you planned it. Don’t get overwhelmed. Roll with it and keep shooting—you will be glad you did. Kid picking their nose, dad falling out of the tree, kids lifting their clothes up or peeing in a bush—these are some of unexpected shots that will have you and the families you are photographing laughing for years to come.