How to Plan a Truly Great Family Photo Session (Part 3: The Attitudes)

In this series about planning a truly great photo session (click here to catch up) I’ve decided to really go at it on this one because this topic is incredibly important! When I say that “The Attitudes” are very important to having a truly great family session, I mean the attitudes of all the family members involved. No, this isn’t an “attitude is everything” speech and I don’t even mean everyone should be happy (although that would be great as well).  What I mean is that there is a lot of pressure and expectations for family picture day. So many in fact, that those things alone can actually ruin picture day… and the pictures that go with picture day.

So when I say attitudes I’m talking about your attitude about the session. That is what will REALLY set the tone for the day.

So let’s talk about the Cottrell’s attitude towards their session
I mentioned in the first post that Nicole came to me with all sorts of ideas and most of it was based around a family photo session done by another photographer that I had shared on my personal Facebook page because I loved it so much.  The thing with this session was that this couple’s SEVEN children were all super well-behaved, seemingly expert fashion models who all apparently came out of the womb with the ability to hold their own unique poses for as long as a photographer requested.  Seriously, these kids snapped into poses so difficult that even adults can’t do them and held them long enough for the photographer to get several great shots from it… it must be genetic or something.  Whatever it is, it is definitely a high standard to base your photo session on… which we made the mistake of doing.

Only, it wasn’t actually a mistake because it happened to turn out great for one reason and one reason alone… the parents let go of their expectations in the very beginning of the session.

Sure a perfectly poised, well manicured group of little ones is quite a stunning site… but a slightly off kilter, very rambunctious set of siblings having a blast together is even better than a “perfect” photo.

(This picture of her dad trying to prevent her from crushing her brother’s head makes me literally laugh out loud every single time I see it. See, Scottie just now came in the room to see what I was laughing about).

I think we all know that natural is better, but for some reason it’s still hard to believe it and we still try to get the kids to sit and behave like angels for a good hour and a half.  Not going to happen.

Even if it does work out from time to time, I’m not totally sure that’s the way a family photo session should be!

Every once in awhile, we are able to get some cool posed shots with kids, like this one of The Ellison family…

(Best signage ever!)

…but I STILL like the ones where they got to be themselves much better!

So here is Nicole and Jon trying to pose their munchkins into perfect little manicans while the kids continue to jump and bounce right out of their hands.

I’m not kidding, that little girl bounced around CONSTANTLY.

I felt lucky that we were able to get at least some pictures without her red curls standing straight up over her head!

So I was sooo relieved when I saw Nicole and Jon just throw up their hands and say “whatever, let’s just let them do their thing”.

(I totally love this picture where both kids are unhappy and Jon and Nicole are just cracking up about it! Chip and Kay have a similar photo below from their session where both kids are crying and they can’t stop laughing because they’ve just chosen to enjoy every second of it no matter what).

Below is the photo series where you can actual see Nicole making the choice to relax and let go!

Ha ha I LOOOOVE IT!:-)

I remember a lady I used to babysit for had 3 GIANT prints hanging in her hallway and each one was a photo of each of her kid’s screaming, crying face filling the entire frame!  Awesome.

I’m not a mom yet, but according to my mom, you just miss your kids being little. 

That means you miss their little feet, their little hands, their ever changing personalities at different stages… even maybe the way they looked when they cried.  That was who they were then and it was your whole world for a time… and you might not have a single picture of it. You might wish you could remember their pouty face, but you just can’t quite recall it and you wish you had a picture of it.

(or you’ll miss their little mischievous face… like the one this little guy is showcasing for us!)

No one with grown children has ever told me they wish they had more pictures of their kids smiling at the camera or sitting up straight in green grass. That’s not life, it’s not them, and it’s not you. You, your kids, and your family in this particular stage you are in is what we’re trying to capture.

Another important note on this point is that… WE DO NOT JUDGE YOU!!! 

Sometimes I think half of the reason parents spend majority of picture day trying to wrangle and control their kids is because they’re embarrassed by their kids “bad” behavior.  Just so you know, most people in this world (including kids) don’t love picture day. Which means we’ve seen it all and it seems like at almost every single photo session the parents have said to us, “I just don’t know what happened today, they never act like this! Of course it would happen on picture day!”

Yeah, of course, because when else are you commanding them to do things they never actually do in normal life, or getting in huge fights and then smiling like it’s all OK 15 seconds later, or punishing them for being shy, or yelling at them for not being happy?!  It’s a weird thing, picture day is!  And kids don’t like it anymore than adults.  But it doesn’t have to be this way!  It can be MUCH more natural and relaxed and even actually… fun (gasp)!  Sure, we’ll try to get at least 1 or 2 photos of the whole family sitting, smiling and looking good and we don’t want ALL the pictures to be them crying and screaming! We want a balance that shows who you really are!

Sometimes that means you are all posed so we can see your faces to just know what you actually look like, and sometimes that means you are upset, and sometimes laughing uncontrollably.  Don’t limit yourselves to only show one side of your family on picture day.  Especially when it comes to your kids… let them be themselves, not the version of them you want them to be that you’re excited to show off to people.

(As you can see in the following two pictures, upside down is as good a side as any to show off … maybe even better than right side up at times!).

Stop worrying about how everyone is perceiving you…from the family members who will see the pictures, to your photographers themselves… none of your memories matter as much to any of us as they do to you.  Relax and allow us to capture the meaning in your life, not the vision of a perfect family that you have in your head.

(Uh oh, someone’s about to be in trouble!)

So while I just went on and on about relaxing and being “real”,  I know there is still some level of order and organization that needs to go into a family photo session, so I say, follow the Cottrell’s example and bring along a third party to take care of all that for you.  Nicole and Jon brought along the kids babysitter on family photo day. So when it came time for clothing changes, rounding them up, making sure they don’t run straight into the busy street that was 2 feet away…. all of that was handled by the babysitter so that Jon and Nicole could JUST HAVE FUN with their kids!

When you are chasing them around and digging through the bag for their snacks, while trying to smile and look all put together… the stress and tension in you does show up.  We have had several family sessions in the past where it has been difficult to get a single photo of the parents smiling.  That is so sad!  We want you to remember the moments that we’re capturing as some of the best times your family ever had together! I know that real life does get in the way and prevent you from spending fun, quality time with your children as much as you’d like to, but that’s why you bring along an assistant to take care of the real life stuff to allow you to be your real selves with each other (not just the jumbled balls of stress you tend to turn into) and truly enjoy your family without all the junk getting in the way that makes it difficult.

So while you’re working on planning the timing and style of  your session… make sure you take time to think about your expectations. Having a plan is good because we’ll at least start with that.  But once things get rolling, take a deep breathe and let it go… and then start laughing out loud a little bit and I’ll bet that will make everyone else start laughing out loud a lot. And you’re on your way to a truly great family photo session.

In Part 4 (click to read it!), I talk about how interactions affect family photo sessions.  Click here to start this series from the beginning.

February 6, 2012 - 8:43 am

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