I am pretty sure you’ve had this client, too. Maybe more than once.
You know the one. The sweet mom who wants images of just her kids because it is all that matters to her, and because she doesn’t want to “ruin the pictures” with her unphotogenic self.
I get it. I hate being in the photograph, too. The first thing I always tell her is: “Oh, I can so relate!”
However, as much as I understand how she feels, I am not going to let her stay out of the photo session. Or at least, I am going to try to convince her with all my heart.
Don’t get me wrong, I love photographing kids alone, capturing their mischievous faces and infectious personalities. I could do it all day long.
But this picture of the self-proclaimed unphotogenic mom, looking at her laughing child with this fabulous expression of blissful happiness on her face? This image is always going to be my favorite one from the whole gallery. The one that makes my heart skip a beat when it appears on my computer screen.
It’s not just about capturing a sweet parent/child moment. My duty is to give every single parent an image with their child that is simply oozing joy and happiness.
Why, might you wonder? Life isn’t always joyful. Childhood is not pure bliss. Why obsess so much about happiness and laughter?
Families who come to me for a lifestyle session always tell me that they want to remember “who they really are” and that they chose me because of my natural approach of family portraiture. It’s part of the truth.
The real truth is that they want to remember how happy they are right now. They want to get butterflies in their stomach when looking at these images in the years to come. They want joyful memories to cherish for a lifetime.
Life is sometimes hard and much too serious. Parenting is a tough job.
I strongly believe that being able to reconnect to your joyful memories, at least for a second thanks to a fabulously happy image hanging on your wall, you are more likely to face life’s challenges with serenity and humor. This is my own little battle!
Now, how do you get those laughter-filled parent/child images in a family session? Here are a few tips to set the mood.
Before the session:
After years of experience, I can tell you that the success of a joyful family session lies in how much (and how well) you’re prepared. Do you homework!
Joy is infectious, so if you are setting the mood your subjects will follow. And believe me, you cannot be happy and cheerful if you feel stressed and unprepared.
I always carefully prepare each session, making sure that I know the location and light I am going to work with and writing down a list of shots and situations adapted to the composition of this specific family.
Let’s be honest here, most of the time I do not follow the plan and I go with the flow while the list remains in my bag. However, feeling ready when I arrive is what helps me be comfortable enough to improvise and feel in charge.
Take good care of yourself.
Infusing joy in a family session requires a lot of hard work from the photographer. I give a LOT during my sessions and always end up physically exhausted but I receive twice as much so it’s truly worth it, I promise.
However, to be the locomotive of the session you need a full tank of energy. Do not start a shoot with an empty stomach and remember to get a full night’s sleep before!
Prepare your clients.
This is the most important thing of all. I don’t care if you are having this conversation on the phone or if you are meeting them in person but a pre-consult is absolutely necessary.
You should never underestimate how nervous parents can be before a session. If you have ever been on the other side of the lens with your kids, you know how nerve-wracking this is, right?
Parents know that their kids will not sit still or smile happily on demand but they assume that this is what the photographer is expecting. So they think that they are going to be judged, that their kids are going to misbehave, that the images they are dreaming of might never happen.
Address the parents’ fears.
Worried and anxious parents are your worst enemy because you want the parents to be happy and relaxed in your images and also because a worried parent will most likely lead to a nervous child which is where the trouble starts.
You absolutely need to address those fears before the session, whether the parents actually voice them or not. Strangely enough, the parents who don’t ask questions can be the most anxious ones, they are just too shy to tell you in advance how scared they are of how their kids will actually behave during the session.
This pre-consult is the moment to tell your clients that you do not expect their kids to be “perfect,” whatever that means. That you want them to be exactly the way they are, even if they are wild and full of mischief. That what you are going to capture is the essence of childhood and childhood is full of energy and movement.
I talk about my own children a lot, too, during this conversation, telling funny anecdotes to make my clients feel that my kids don’t follow directions either and are just crazy little humans sometimes. I want my clients to believe that I will love this time with their children no matter how they behave. I promise that you will feel the parents’ relief after this conversation!
During the session:
Now that you’ve done all the hard work by carefully preparing yourself and your clients to be relaxed and joyful when the session starts, you only need two things up your sleeve to make the magic happen.
Make them laugh.
I know it may sound daunting at first. How on earth do we make people laugh on demand, especially when you’re not a natural goofball and when all your well-prepared jokes tend to fall flat? I’ve been there.
It’s actually much easier than you think. Just ask the parents what makes their kids laugh.
Their answers will usually be pretty simple, such as “when I tickle him,” “when his father makes funny faces,” or “when I run after him to catch him.” Now you’ve got a plan. Ask them to do it for you!
We all know that laughter is infectious, but when the laughter comes from your own child, it’s absolutely irresistible. Your child giggles and without even realizing it you start giggling, too. And it’s the beginning of a perfect circle because kids LOVE to hear their parents’ laughter so they will feel even happier. It will spread from kids to parents, then from parents to kids.
Start the laughter and it won’t stop!
Now it’s your turn to fuel the joyful mood with your own laughter. Hearing you laugh and seeing you smile is validation for your clients. It means that you are happy with what is going on in front of your lens and that the session is a success.
It will help them relax even more and loosen up. People are more likely to express their emotions in front of you if you express yours authentically. It’s difficult to be relaxed and happy in front of a tense, emotionless photographer. You need to give before receiving.
Movement is my magic wand. It’s unbelievable how much it can help during a photo session. Just try to get a natural, joy-filled family portrait by asking your clients to pose and stand still in front of your camera. Good luck!
However, if you use movement, everything will flow incredibly easily. Always give your clients something to DO. It will make them forget about the camera by focusing on the action and the movement itself will relax their body and release endorphins!
The possibilities are endless. Here are just a few examples if you need some inspiration to get you started:
Such an easy trick! It works with 99% of the kids. You can then ask the child to take his revenge by tickling Dad, another priceless reaction, too!
I use this one almost every single time because the result makes me smile so big. It works with just one kid and one parent, with the whole family, indoors or outdoors. Anytime!
The idea here is to create some extreme physical proximity between your subjects which is a surefire way to make them giggle. Rubbing noses, kissing necks, cuddling cheek to cheek – anything works!
Asking Mom or Dad to twirl with their child creates a fabulous combination of movement, excitement and connection!
Playing loud music is a fabulous way to set a joyful mood!
Another favorite of mine. Can you see why?
Don’t you love the sound of children laughing when someone runs after them to catch them? I could do this all day long.
This is what we call this game in French! Ask the whole family to hold hands and run in line. Be prepared to do it several times in a row as every single kid in the family is going to want to lead the game!
One last tip: If you’re like me and love tack sharp images, you need to make sure that your shutter speed remains over 1/500 for all the images listed above. Using a dynamic AF-mode will definitely help too (AiServo for Canon, AF-C for Nikon).
Last but not least, you need a lens with a very fast AF. My lenses of choice when capturing movement during a family photo session are:
- Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II is my go-to lens, I have a true love affair with it!
- Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II when I need wide angle shots.
- Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L II IS when I want creamy bokeh and lovely compression.
Can you tell I’m a zoom girl?
There is so much more you can do than the examples listed here: running, jumping, holding the kids upside down. The sky is the limit!
Now grab your camera and have FUN. Infusing your work with joy and laughter will nurture your soul, and you will create priceless memories for your clients in the process!
Words & photos by Lisa Tichane, member of the Click Canon 12