It’s 10:30am and I can feel my plans for the day falling apart. My 2 year old is refusing to get dressed and I’m cleaning up the coffee I just knocked off the table. We were supposed to be at the beach by 10 so we’d have plenty of time to play and grab lunch before picking up my little nudist’s older brothers from school. At this point we’ll be lucky to make it out the door at all…
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I can feel my shoulders tense while making my 100th plea for him to “please come here so we can put on some pants”. As I struggle to reclaim even the tiniest bit of control over this morning, I look up and see how happy my son is, playing with his toys with no exact plan or agenda. He is completely in the moment and it suits him just fine.
With a laugh and a last glance at the clock, I pour another cup of coffee, sit down on the floor with him, and proceed to have one of the best mornings in recent memory. My goal was to have a fun day with my son, and though it didn’t look the way I thought it would, we completely accomplished what I intended in the first place.
It’s funny that I still find myself learning this lesson in “real” life, even though I surrendered to it in photography long ago.
I used to be the girl who would spend hours before a session soaking up “inspiration” on other photographers’ sites. I’d make a mental checklist of poses and note the location and light. When I met up with my families I would direct, coax, and even “trick” the children to comply with my vision, even if it felt all wrong. Sometimes parents would bribe, once in a while they would threaten to take away the thing they were using as a bribe, and most often they would direct, encourage, and plead with their kids to “smile” and “look happy”. In retrospect, it all seems like such a backwards way to get the thing we were all going for: genuine, joyful smiles and connection. But you don’t know until you know!
These days my sessions are completely different and it makes me incredibly happy! If you are craving sessions that are truly fun for everyone and still result in beautiful, joy-filled photos my best advice to you is this: let go. Stop forcing and start feeling. Make a plan, yes, but know that it will likely fall apart. Learn to let go of expectations to create room for the good stuff that you can’t ever really plan for.
Not sure what that even looks like? No problem! I’ve got a few ideas that will work for both hobbyist and professionals…
No.01Create a loose game plan.
Rather than having a Pinterest-worthy catalog of ideas decide on a few must-have shots. If your subjects are used to a certain set of poses, discuss this with them ahead of time.
For example, I personally want one great close up and one great full body shot with the entire family, a shot of all of the kids together, and a handful of other key photos that are part of my signature style and experience. I love to take these early in the session if possible, but I really don’t care when they happen as long as everyone is having a great time!
No.02Communicate, communicate, communicate...
I truly believe that you can make a photo session whatever you want it to be, as long as your subjects are on the same page. If you don’t ever want to take another posed, “everybody smiling directly at the camera” shot you don’t have to!
If you have a business, don’t show those on your website, social media, or anywhere online and make sure to communicate this to people who inquire with you. Eventually you will attract the people who want the spontaneous, fun photos you are showing!
Every once in a while I will still get an inquiry from someone who wants more traditional, posed photos. I LOVE referring these potential clients to other photographers who specialize in this. And I appreciate that I get referrals this way, too!
No.03Let the little ones lead.
I really can’t emphasize this one enough. Most kids are going to have their own ideas about where you should go and what you should do during your time together.
If you are at the beach and you want to shoot by the water, they will most likely want to play in the dunes. And vice versa. I’m sure there is some law to describe this phenomenon! However it plays out, enthusiastically do the thing that they want to do!
I may be in the minority, but I will always take happy people in less than optimal light over a grumpy, frustrated subject standing in “the” spot.
In a world of mostly bossy adults, kids love the opportunity to be decision-makers. Give them this freedom and you will establish instant rapport! I’ve taken some of my favorite photos in the ugliest locations because my new little friends led us there. Rise to the challenge. I know you can do it!
No.04People first, everything else second.
I know we all want to shoot the most stylish, perfectly put together subjects on mountain tops at sunset, but how many families do you know who can fulfill this vision? I know mine can’t, and I wouldn’t want them to anyway!
The most beautiful things about people have nothing to do with outfits…it is the emotion and connections between people (you and your subjects included!) that will truly make or break a photo. Be genuinely interested in your subjects and how they are feeling, stay flexible and have fun and I promise that your photos will reflect that!
We live in a world that wants us to believe that perfection should be the end goal. Let’s not be so preoccupied with creating perfect photos that we miss the opportunity to capture some really great ones. Family life can be messy and unpredictable, and I believe that’s reason for celebration!
Happy shooting, friends.