What has been missing from your portrait sessions? I’ve seen your Pinterest boards, I know what images you share on facebook because they are too precious for words. They are full of whimsical and romantic and syrupy sweet moments that look like they're torn straight out of a magazine. But that’s not what is hanging on your walls—yet. They have them, why can’t you? You can. However, there are a few things that you need to commit to in order to make them happen. The simple answer is to hire an artist capable of producing the quality of artwork you want. That’s the most important factor but there are just a few more things you should know, too.
How do you get that beautiful story telling moment? How does your family get the shot of mom laughing, dad looking adoringly at her and little man acting like a big shot?
First thing’s first: they actually have to happen! Shocking, I know, but when people are disappointed with group images it is typically because it is a picture of individuals simply standing in close proximity to one another. That is not much of a family picture. That is people awkwardly sharing air and a gene pool. Interaction and connection are what differentiate a “pose” from a “moment.”
Potential new clients often come to me thoroughly disappointed by their last family photo experience. As easy as it would be, I can’t always blame the photographer before me. If the technical aspects of your last session were correct but there was simply a little bit of soul missing, you might have played a teensy role in the issue. (Hear me out!) Did you connect with the photographer? Did you trust them to lead your action when you were unsure? When they prompted your actions did you cuddle? Did you snuggle? Did you tease? Did you laugh? Did you tousle that darling freckled boy’s hair? Did you give your precious baby girl a sweet kiss on her forehead? If it didn’t happen, then there’s absolutely no way it could have been captured no matter how skilled the photographer you hire.
Sure, the past photographer is on the hook for allowing bland photographs to continue instead of trying different approaches to get the quality of interaction that makes for sentimentally strong images. I can certainly direct motions play-by-play to replicate an exact pose, but more often than not the image is going to fall flat because it lacks authenticity if the subjects are only hesitantly cooperating.
Our session is going to be more effective if I can observe your natural interaction and tweak it with simple suggestions to make a better shot. I can lead you there. But me telling you to put your arm around your child is going to have a very different outcome than if I say, “C’mon Mom love on that boy!” and see how that plays out for you. From there I can always say, “Alright, hold that, now glance this way, slow down…” And make minor adjustments to what is already happening all the while keeping that genuine moment alive.
My whole goal as a professional is to get you the pictures that you want! I want you to have the beautiful conversation-starting, awe-inducing images to display lovingly in your home. I take cues from you as to how much or how little direction you are looking for in your session. I don’t mind coaching that is an important part of my job. But you, also, have to bring it.
Yes, I said it, and I mean it: Bring it. Bring positivity, bring energy, bring flexibility, bring joy! I assure you I will always do the same. That is my partnership promise. No matter how introverted or shy you may be, as long as you bring a genuine happiness to our session it will shine through your images.
You as the client have to be present in the moments. (Not stressing out over arriving late, your hair not working quite perfect, a little muffin-top overhang or whatever other stress is on your brain as a parent.) Just be present, be playful and enjoy the moments together.
This is so much easier when you genuinely connect with and like your photographer. There are so many choices out there for you, there is no reason to settle on someone that you don't "click with." You choose whom you give your business, why not support someone that you genuinely like as an artist AND as a person? (And you know what, that might not always be me--and that's fine!) A photographer could be the most talented artist, but if they don't value your time or treat you with respect does the end product override the experience? Or you may know the sweetest person ever, but their shots aren't in focus or are never lit properly. Will you be satisfied with those images? You are paying for a service, expect it to be provided professionally.
Another question to ask yourself when your past images have fallen short of expectations: Did you communicate what you wanted? If you are seeking a specific style does that fall in line with what you’ve seen from your photographer’s portfolio? Were you confident that they are technically capable of what you are seeking? It can’t just be a great idea. It also needs to be in the wheelhouse of the artist behind the camera. A lot of photographers welcome the use of inspiration boards, as long as there is an understanding that images will not be replicated detail by detail. That is plagiarism and is a no-no. Hire someone because they have the ability to see what inspires you and bring their own version of that to your session.
Now back to the fun stuff, those magic moments of interaction! A lot of it is about opening up your personal space. Some families are naturally extremely playful and a photographer might not even need to direct any of the action. Not all families are blessed with natural comfort in body language but that doesn’t mean those images can’t happen for them. Simply create a task or an activity to bring them together naturally.
Working together on a task will generate a range of interaction that can bring about those special moments. Pick something you think would be fun to do together as a family. Make & decorate cookies, build & fly a kite, have a picnic on a blanket in the park or sit together and read a story and prepare for bedtime. These types of activities are commonly featured in “lifestyle” photography.
Are you still not exactly comfortable with the idea of getting close on camera? I’m going to give you homework: practice. If you are not naturally a cuddly person, for the week leading up to your photo session start with small physical contact and get yourself more comfortable with a casual touch. This could be brushing the hair out of your daughter’s eyes, or giving your child a shoulder squeeze when they bring home an awesome art project.
This applies to parents, too. Sometimes we fall into separate lives and the first things to slip are those darling little displays of physical attraction that melted our hearts in our early dating days. Make eyes at your partner. Squeeze his bicep as you pass in the hall. Give her a gentle “good game” on her booty. Whisper a secret to your spouse. Hold hands. Put a hand on his thigh as he drives. It doesn’t have to be a big overt action, but take those moments to become physically comfortable with one another again. Not only will it improve your images at the end of your session, it’s going to improve the quality of your interaction as a family at home.
And the last but often most important rule when it comes to being photographed: Relax and laugh. That’s it, if you remember nothing else, just be willing to laugh! Something might feel completely awkward, and the best genuine reaction is simply responding with a lighthearted laugh at how ridiculous you feel. You laugh, others laugh; you share a moment. It will be beautiful because you are living a lovely, blessed life. That's it, those are the secret ingredients. Let's create your own personal magic moments!