Mini sessions are a great way to squeeze multiple client sessions into a short period of time. While this can be profitable when done correctly, it can also be really stressful! My trick to keeping things running smoothly is to stick to a set mini session flow of poses for every single session.

I’ve been offering fall mini sessions for six years. My current mini session set up is to run three 20-minute mini sessions in one hour. For each 20-minute session, I am able to create a client gallery of approximately 25 images. To make sure I create enough variety in each gallery, I need to stick to my mini session flow so that I can spend my creative energy on what matters — creating authentic, gorgeous images.

1. The whole family

I always start out photographing the family together. This is their comfort zone! You can start with whatever pose you feel is right for you and your style, but I do feel like it’s important to start with the clients as a whole family. Being all together helps the kids warm up to me while their parents are close by. Here’s my typical flow for the family shots:

Everybody smile
To get them warmed up, I always ask the family to look at me and smile. Will this be their favorite shot of the session? Maybe and maybe not. However, this is what people are most comfortable doing and it’s a great way to start them out.

Once we get some smiles and giggles we move right into the “unposed” images. This is where I tell them to look at someone in the family, make them laugh, tickle them, sing to them, hug them, whatever they know makes them happy as a family. If I’m having trouble with the first “everybody smile” shot and am not getting authentic smiles, I jump to this unposed shot first and then go back and try for posed smiles.

Next, I have the family line up as if they are about to walk. Then I tell them to freeze, take the shot, ask them to walk, take the shot, and then ask them to look at someone in the family and make them laugh.

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Mini session posing for photographers
Mini session posing for photographers
Mini session posing for photographers

Here’s the secret to authentic smiles (even in posed photos):

The real secret to capturing authentic moments during mini sessions is to get your clients having fun with each other before moving into posed photos. Have your clients interact with each other, play and move around until they are laughing and having fun. Then ask them to stop and look at the camera. This way, the joy and happiness from the unposed photos will carry over into the posed shots and you’ll end up with genuine smiles without disrupting your mini session flow. You’ll also be able to get a ton of variety in a very short time by simply switching from unposed to posed and back again.

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2. Siblings

Sibling poses are next in my lineup. I basically follow the same pattern as with the family shots. I usually talk to the kids quietly, as if I’m giving them a little secret. This gets them giggling. I might tickle them or tell them how absolutely adorable and sweet they look. I like to give a little compliment on something I know they will care about, too. Then, I slowly back up and keep talking to them. I take my shots as they are looking at me and then I tell them to tickle each other, hug, dance in a circle, or play ring around the rosie. I can easily get three to five great shots out of this series.

Mini session posing for photographers
Mini session posing for photographers
Mini session posing for photographers

3. Each child individually

After the children and I have had some fun, I quickly break them up and take a shot of each kid individually. I use the same tricks as with the siblings together — I compliment them, tell them jokes and just keep talking to them. Kids always love to tell me about their favorite show. This is great information because I can hold their interest by talking about the characters they love. As I’m talking, I’m always moving around to capture different angles.

I always use a portrait lens for individual photos. I’ll get a full body shot and then move closer and take a close-up of the child’s face. I always ask them to jump or dance so I can capture movement as well. It’s easy to get four or five shots during this series of individual poses.

Pro Tip:

During individual photos, I keep the family nearby and have the mom and dad make sure the next kid is ready to go. I tell the family the order in advance so that there is no arguing or delay in deciding who is next. I usually go oldest to youngest or vise versa. Sometimes you just have to feel out the family and see who is being the most cooperative at that moment, and who might need a little break.

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Mini session posing for photographers
Mini session posing for photographers
Mini session posing for photographers
Mini session posing for photographers

4. Parents only

Sometimes the parents are totally caught off guard when I tell them it’s their turn, and sometimes they are ready for it. This is actually a nice little break for the parents because they will have a moment to just laugh and even kiss each other. What couple doesn’t enjoy that? I start with the same pattern of them looking at me and smiling and then I start to give them some fun prompts: I tell them to look at each other, kiss, dance, whisper something funny in the other’s ear and then I just step back. If they seem a little frozen I’ll start to give them the prompts one at a time. My goal is to have them laughing by the end so that I can catch authentic smiles and close-ups of them hugging or looking at me.

Mini session posing for photographers

5. Each parent with the children

Parent and child poses are so fun and I know the parents treasure photos. I usually start out with something fun, like dad tossing one of the kids in the air or mom and the kids twirling around because I like to capture movement and the emotion it creates. Once they’ve had a moment of fun I tell the parent to pick up their child or put their arms around the child (if the child is older) and look right at me. The smiles are perfect and genuine because they’ve just had fun together.

How to choose an ideal mini session location

1. Look for a variety of backdrops in a small radius. Walking from space to space slows down the flow of your session, especially for kids. During a mini session, you want to create variety without having your clients move very far. For example, in the session I’ve shared here, there is path right next to a barn, making it really easy to change my backdrop in just a few steps. A wooded path is ideal because it creates great color and nice leading lines.  

2. Make sure your location isn’t a crowded place. You don’t have time to wait for people to walk through your shots or for space to clear.

3. Choose a location that is easy to get to. You don’t have time to wait for your clients to find parking or to find you. And, you don’t want anyone starting off their session stressed out.

4. Find a location where the parking lot is close to the photo area. This makes it easier for people to find you, since you won’t have time to go back and meet each family in the parking lot.

Mini session posing for photographers
Mini session posing for photographers
Mini session posing for photographers

Use just one lens for mini sessions.

Using just one lens gives your small gallery of images a consistent look and saves you time in switching lenses. This helps me keep my mini session flow moving along. I like to use my Tamron SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD lens, or if I need more focal range I’ll use my Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2. Both of these Tamron lenses are tack sharp, fast, and reliable.

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What’s your best mini session tip?

Mini sessions can be so much fun or so much stress (sometimes both, right?). What’s your best tip for keeping mini sessions fun and fast? Do you have a mini session flow? A go-to location? A favorite prompt? We wanna know!

Oh, and we thought you might like this amazing list of 26 style tips from our Click Pros. With this pro advice, anyone can look amazing in photos!

Photos by Marcie Reif