How I Shoot: What to Expect During Your Family Session

I am in true denial that Summer is coming to an end soon (my kids start their new year of school August 12th! WAY too early!) But, that time of year where we all start thinking about our family sessions for holiday cards is coming up quickly.

I know that doing a family session isn’t everyone’s favorite thing. I know from setting up family sessions for my own family that it can be stressful! Finding something to wear for everyone, getting to the location on time, trying to make sure all the kids will be in a good mood… It can be work to get ready and can be enough to just put them off indefinitely. But, with a good photographer, none of that will matter and you’ll end up with some special photos regardless of what you wear or how much your kids put up a fight. Because beautifully preserving this moment in time for you, your children and all the future generations to look back on in the future is such an amazing thing to be able to do, and it’s worth the little effort it takes.

I know firsthand the anxiety that can come with setting up a session for your family so I hope to help alleviate those feelings and help you realize that a session with me can be fun and fairly easy! It’s all about coming to the session to show how you love each other and letting me worry about all the rest. 🙂

Here are 6 things to know about how I run a family session and my philosophy behind why so that you can come to the session knowing what to expect and knowing that you’re in good hands.

  1. Planning is important. When I book a session, I always book based on how the light will be at that time of day. Sessions in a client’s home can be done at almost anytime during the day. Sessions in outdoor locations are best in the early morning and later evening for the prettiest light. So lighting will always dictate when and where I schedule a session. Once the session time and location are scheduled, the next part of the plan is to develop a plan of where exactly I’ll be doing photos during a session. To do this, whether the location is a client’s home or an outdoor/public space, I usually arrive at least 10-15 minutes early to scope out certain spots and develop a little timeline in my head of where we will take the photos throughout a session. For example, in a client’s home, we may plan to start with images inside (master bedroom or living room, or both) and then head outside. Arriving early for a session allows me to scope out where light is best, where we should start based on light and what the client wants from the shoot, and about how much time we should spend in each space to make sure we have time for everything in the session. The same applies to outdoor spaces. I like to move around during a shoot to try different things, so I usually like to have three setups for a shoot planned before I even take out my camera.
  2. Let’s get comfortable. Once I have my simple plan, I take a few minutes to get to know my clients, or to catch up with them if I’ve photographed them before. The reason why I love this career is that it allows me to connect with people, so talking to my clients at the start of the session not only makes them more comfortable with me, but it also feeds my soul to ask questions about my client’s story and get to know them as people. Even if it’s only for a few minutes, I believe that establishing a bit of a rapport with clients (especially if I’ve never photographed them before) is very important to making sure people feel comfortable. If people feel comfortable, they look comfortable, and that is KEY to getting great portraits.
  3. Smile for the camera! 🙂 I believe every session needs at least a couple images where everyone is smiling and looking at the camera. I LIVE for the candid images and the images that show clients connecting with their kids, them laughing, playing, loving on the parents and each other… Though my goal is to capture many of those images at each session because they show the connection that really matters in a family, I can’t feel great about leaving a session without that holy grail image of everyone smiling looking right into the lens. This image can be hard to get sometimes, so I start a session slowly with a few casual and candid shots. This is where I’m testing my light, joking around with everyone, giving very simple and minimal direction when needed, all to show everyone how easy this session will be. 😉 Then, I ease into a few more directed portraits where I try to get that shot of everyone smiling looking at the camera. This usually yields many more candid shots of parents snuggling in, kids trying to run away, parents being silly to get kids to laugh… they all show fun and connection but hopefully I’ve also got those few images I want of everyone smiling at me, too.
  4. Keep it Moving. It’s important to me that I keep the session moving along so that nobody (especially the kids) get bored or restless. So, we quickly move onto to something else once I do that posed portrait. If it’s an outdoor session, I’ll have the kids lead the way to “explore” around the area. If it’s an-home session, I might ask the kids to jump on the parents bed or show me some of their favorite toys. I’m trying to get them to have a little fun and continue to get comfortable all while giving them direction that will lead to images with connection and great expressions in good light. 🙂
  5. Take a Break. I have two kids (ages 7 and almost 4) and I know kids can lose interest quickly! If the kids start to lose interest (especially toddlers) I find it helps them to get re-engaged with the shoot if I take a break from being the photographer and instead sit on the floor with them and have them take some photos of the parents. We get to direct the parents together to do something silly and I let the kid hold the camera (with help) and let them press the shutter button, which ALL kids love to do. A little time with this usually gets them back on track and will allow me a little more time to photograph them. Other things I can do during a family session that helps keep kids attention and everyone relaxed and having fun:
    • Once again, let the kids explore without direction and just see what they do.
    • Stop for a snack. Sometimes kids are just hungry and having a little snack (or treat) helps a ton so I always tell parents to bring a snack or treat for the kiddos for when it’s needed.
    • Sing songs to the kids or with them. I have a horrible voice, but most kids don’t care. 😉
    • Simply put down the camera and play with them a bit until I think they’re ready to move on with the shoot.
  6. Yes, it’s about the photos. But, it’s also about the experience. My full family sessions are typically about 1.5 hours long. However, I know that I usually only have about the first 45 minutes to an hour to get all of the important shots before people lose interest (and that’s not always just the kids! haha). So, my goal is to get all the important shots in that first hour. That way, if the kids or the parents are getting tired, we can end the session a little early and it doesn’t sacrifice the quality of images I’ll deliver to them. I’m the kind of photographer who could shoot forever and not get bored during a session, but I know that clients don’t always feel that way. The client’s experience is very important to me so I want them to leave feeling great and like they had FUN, not exhausted. If I’m feeling like the clients are ready to be done after an hour, I take the hint and we wrap the session. By then I know that I’ve got all the important images and that the clients will be happy with the collection of images I deliver having also loved the experience of creating those images with me. 🙂

I hope that all this insight into how I run a family session will ease some anxiety about scheduling yours. Having your family beautifully documented is not just a nice thing to do for a holiday card… I believe it’s a gift for your children and all the generations that follow so that they can see a glimpse into this moment, right now, and have it preserved forever.

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