Tips for Professional Family Photography with Kids
By Honey DeLapa
So you've decided to have professional portraits taken of your kids or your whole family. Congratulations, because done right, professional photography—a dying art—brings a whole new level of permanence to your memories. But you want to make the most of your opportunity, so follow these tips for a picture-perfect experience.
As you select clothing for your children and family, remember that simple is better:
- Collars on infant clothing usually pop up during the session and expressions are lost while trying to fix them. Too much bold color, or frills and fluff around the face, will detract from the beauty of the child. Solid white diapers are best or a white cover to place over them.
The bottom of shoes will most likely show in a young child’s portrait.
- Make sure the bottom of the shoe is not decorated with brightly colored characters or decorations. Although sneakers are the most popular shoe of our time, they are very distracting in photographs. Try to find a shoe that coordinates with the clothing. Be careful that the shoes fit well so that they're comfortable. Of course, bare feet make great timeless portraits!
Try on all the clothing before the session.
- Check for fit while both sitting and standing, and if the look is not pleasing you will still have time to change your selection. Professional photographers, good as some are, cannot make clothes look like they fit if they are not the correct size.
If your toddler refuses to wear something you have chosen, bring a back-up, but otherwise ignore it until you get to the studio.
- Your child might react differently when the photography session begins, and studio staff may be able to help. Remember, the expression is more important the the clothing the child is wearing.
Hair and accessories
For older children, do not try a new haircut or hairstyle the day before a session.
- If you don't like your hair, there is nothing a professional photographer can do to make the hair more pleasing to you. I know, it seems obvious, but you'd be surprised.
Guard that precious little face!
- If your child uses a pacifier, try to limit use prior to the sitting. A pacifier can leave a red ring around the mouth, which can show up photographs. With older children, do not give them candy or juice with coloring on the day of your photo shoot. The purple lips or green tongue may last for hours.
This may seem counterintuitive, but do not try to bribe your child or make promises of rewards for good behavior.
- A child learns early that a bribe comes when you want them to do something they don’t want to do. They will automatically have a negative feeling about the photography session. Do we photographers think enticement is a bad thing? By no means. We use it during the session to get desired results, but the reward will be more immediate. Such things would be a small snack after a few poses or a ride on the swing before we move to a different area. A reward must come fairly quickly after the offer is made. A 2-year-old is not going to be patient and wait for 2 hours; he wants it NOW. An impatient, fussy toddler is not the mood you'll want to immortalize in a portrait!
Don’t use up all those smiles!
- That may sound silly but an infant or toddler who is played with a lot prior to a session can tire of being happy. They need rest. Don’t worry about keeping your child happy prior to a photography session. They will be ready when you get to the location.
Do not tell younger children that they are going to have their picture taken unless it's necessary.
- If there is any one thing that causes stress and anxiety in a child going to have a portrait made, this is it. If you are meeting a photographer at another location, just tell them them they are going to the park (backyard, beach, etc.) to play, but don’t build it out of proportion. You can tell them a friend (the photographer) will meet you there. Many times a child is finished with a session and is unaware they have been photographed. How many children have to be bribed into playing? Automatically, they are more receptive to the idea of going out to play with a friend. That will not only help us, it makes things easier on you.
And most important...
RELAX, RELAX, RELAX!
- The calmer you are in preparation for a photography session, the calmer your child will be. Your mood and temperament can be detected by your child. If they detect stress, anxiety, or frustration in your tone, it will affect their mood as well. A family photograph is a lovely thing, but in the scheme of life it is not important enough to get upset about. The point is to make memories and have a good time. So your job is to get to the session, and leave the rest up to your photography! Everything will almost certainly go smoothly, and if it doesn't, well, professional photographers are used to crying babies. Trust me.*
*Editor's note: Even when you don't really believe it is going smoothly, it is! We were shocked, after an exhausting and at times frustrating photo session with a toddler, a preschooler, and two parents who were trying to cope with them, to find that there were so many good prints we didn't know which to choose from! That's what makes the difference between a professional family portrait and grandpa behind the shutter begging all of the children to say "Cheese" at the same time. Really, you CAN relax. -DR