We all want great expressions from our kids in during our family photo sessions, right? Why is it that perfectly delightful children can turn into an unrecognizable basket case when having portraits made? It’s one day of the year when we would do almost anything to get their cooperation and nothing seems to work. The usual song or dance. The preferred bribe. Nothing.
Any of this sound familiar?
After 8 years of photographing children and families I’ve seen quite a bit. In the process I’ve learned there are a number of reasons why this scenario can happen. The good news is there are a handful of things you can do to increase the odds that you get those smiles and happy expressions during your session.
Of course when this happens you get great images to enjoy for a lifetime. Great images aren’t the only goal though, right? At least that’s not the only goal for us here at Acorn. We definitely want to photograph beautiful imagery but just as much we want everyone to enjoy the process.
A portrait session is an opportunity to make fun memories as a family. And for me the experience and memories part ranks right up there with great images. What I’m about to share will set you up not only to get everyone to cooperate during your session but to have fun doing it.
1. How To Talk About Your Session.
First things first, when you begin talking to your family about having portraits made, talk about the process and experience in the positive. You don’t have to get overly hyped up about it, but talk about it as something fun you get to do as a family.
Not only is this important when you’re speaking directly to your kids about it, it’s also important when mom and dad are talking about it within ear shot of the kids. If one parent is less than excited about having a session and treats it like a chore or something you have to do, rather than get to do, the kids will pick up on it.
Just like dogs can sense fear in people. Our kids can sense when we’re not excited about something. So getting cooperation from everyone starts with you.
If you lead with, “You better cooperate and give good smiles”, you’ve already started to plant seeds of resistance and positioned the experience as one that might be a power struggle. I get that the motivation behind instructions like that are because you want them to be on their best behavior so you have great photographs, but the effect is often the opposite.
Another way to approach it is talk about who your photographer will be. So if you’re doing a session with us here at Acorn you can say (with a smile), “Mrs. Erin or Ms. Brittany are going to take our pictures and it will be a lot of fun. We’re going to do whatever she asks us to do.”
When you approach it that way it’s now about what the photographer wants you to do, not about what mom or dad want you to do. And if your kids are anything like mine, they always seem to cooperate better for other people than me.
2. Throw Out The Discipline.
Right now you may be thinking I’ve lost my mind and if you actually did this I have no idea the circus that would show up for your next portrait session. Hang with me for a second. I heard this from another seasoned photographer a number of years ago and once I started to recommend this approach to our parents before sessions I noticed a difference in the flow of the session.
During the session is not the time to raise moral, obedient children. If you can get agreement from all parents involved that discipline will be suspended for the time that you’re at your session things will go much more smoothly. By throwing out discipline for the short time you’re at your session it removes one more reason why there could be a power struggle between you and your child.
The key in this is to let your photographer know this is your plan and make the request that they call for back-up from you as parents if needed. First, this puts you and your photographer on the same page. It also allows your photographer to get silly and play with your kids, helping them warm up, without interjections from mom or dad for the kids to calm down or behave. If the kids are getting mixed signals from the photographer working to interact and elicit expressions by being silly one minute and then mom or dad are telling them to behave and calm down the next, they often shut down and don’t cooperate for parents or photographer.
Trust me, I have my own children and any photographer that has worked extensively with kids will not be shocked by anything that your kids might do. You might be mortified at something they do but we will not. Promise! Life with kids is messy and hard and that doesn’t change during the hour that you have your portrait session. We get it!
3. Let Your Photographer Engage Your Child.
Getting great expressions out of your kids is always top priority during a session. But if there are several adults at a session and everyone starts calling the child from different directions in an effort to get them to smile, it can be a bit of a circus show.
While you might be able to get the expressions out of your child that you want, they won’t be looking at the camera, they will be looking at you. Instead, let your photographer be the one to call out to your child and work to get the expressions out of them.
If they aren’t getting the smiles you’re hoping for and you know of something that your child might laugh at or will get a smile, let your photographer know. If they ask you to help get the smiles stand directly behind the photographer at camera level. We all want the same thing, photographer and parent, we just need to work together to get it.
4. Well Rested & Well Fed
If your children are nap age be sure to schedule the session at a time when they will be most happy. Don’t upset regular nap schedules when scheduling your session time.
Hungry kids make for grumpy kids so be sure everyone has had a snack and is nice and full before your session. It’s also a good idea to pack some snacks and bottled water just in case. Just be sure the snacks make minimal mess and any drinks are clear and won’t stain clothing.
If you have a studio session with us here at the studio we keep a stash of snacks and bottled water in case anyone needs a quick snack break mid-session.
It’s easy to forget the common sense things like this that make for happy kids in the midst of getting everyone ready and out the door. It’s nothing a little planning ahead won’t solve.
If you follow these guidelines you will be well on your way to a great session! If you have particular concerns about cooperation from specific family members, be sure to talk to your photographer about it so they can approach the session in a way that will get the best results for the personalities included.
I hope this has been helpful! If it has will you share it via one of the share buttons below?
If you would like more tips on how to have a successful family portrait session, check out our free Stress-Free Family Portraits Series.