I'm the type of person who likes to know what to expect before I jump into something. It helps me to have a general idea of what will happen so that I am prepared. My oldest daughter is like this too and I've learned that life is better if I give her an idea of our plans before we embark on an outing. So I thought maybe I would try to write about what to expect at a family photo session, in case some of you feel the same way.
The problem is that while my sessions do follow the same general flow, the tone can very greatly depending on who your family is and what kind of things you've told me in the questionnaire I send to clients before a session. I put a lot of thought into our session before we even get there. I take into account things like the age of the children, how many children there are, the personality of the children (this is where answering the questions on my questionnaire is important), and the location of the session.
I generally start out each session trying to get some family photos with everyone in them. Then, I alternate the rest of the session between letting the kids run free while I capture candid pics, and a little more posed pictures where I place them either together or alone in certain places and lighting conditions to capture photographs. I do not do much specific posing, such as telling you exactly where to put each limb, hand, etc. I prefer you get into a position that feels comfortable and natural, and then I will adjust small things if need be (this usually means asking you to move your hand/arm so that it's not cut off in a close up portrait.) If a child seems to lose interest, I will suggest a change in location and we will take a little walk. That's often enough to reset them.
While it may seem as if we are just going with the flow during a session, I do have an agenda. I keep a shot list in my head (and on Evernote in my phone in case i need to refer to it). It reminds me to try to capture a variety of shots such as family, sibling, individual portraits, candids, action shots, detail shots, shots with interesting light, etc.
I also play games with the children, and ask them to do things like run, jump and act silly. There are two reasons for doing this. First, I want them to act natural. My goal is to capture them being themselves and having fun...not stiffly posed for the camera. Second, and probably more importantly, I want them to have a good experience. I don't want them to think of family portrait sessions as a chore, or something that they need to be bribed to do. I want them to see them more as playdates and fun outings than something to dread. I feel like I've succeeded when a child leaves a portrait session with the attitude that they would like to do that again soon. The final product (the photos) is important, but to me, so is the experience.
What can vary greatly depending on the session is my general tone and the way I approach the children. Let's take 2 year old Rowan from last week for example, and compare her session for the one for 8 year old Henry in the session below. My main goal for Henry (whom I've known all his life) was to get him to loosen up and act naturally for the photos. Kids his age notoriously plaster fake smiles on their face and stare blankly at the camera because they've been conditioned to think this is what they are supposed to do. So to break them of that, I have to act ridiculous. Henry's session was lively, with lots of joking and teasing. I may have forced his parents to "shake their booties" behind the camera to make him giggle. There was lots of action..running, jumping and playing in the leaves. I may also have encouraged him to pummel his father....anything for a picture.
Sweet Rowan's session was much different, since she was very shy and apprehensive of me. I was very quiet during her session and careful not to overwhelm her. Mostly I tried to hang in the background and quietly direct her parents to engage her in certain tasks while I photographed them from a little farther away. I had bubbles for her to play in, but merely turned them on and stepped away so she could decide when she wanted to play. Slowly, she warmed up to me and by the end of the session we were playing. But if I had approached her session in the same way that I did Henry's, it would have been overwhelming to her.
So that's why it's hard to explain exactly how your family session will go, but at least maybe I've been able to explain the thought process that goes into how I approach a session.
And can I just say what a gorgeous family this is? Diana and Brian have been dear friends of mine since college. For a while they lived in Spring Hill, but then they moved to White House and we don't get to see them nearly enough, but it was so much fun to hang out with them during the session.
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