Sometimes as photographers I believe we get so caught up in the normalcy of family portraits, we forget how exciting and sometimes scary they can be from the client’s perspective.
Despite the pre-session consultations, emails and phone calls, getting in front of the camera is just not natural for everyone. I can attest to this personally. I am so often behind the camera that when I get in front of it I freeze up. My heart literally races, my palms sweat. I stress. I believe as photographers it is our job to help and reassure our clients. To hand hold and let them know that you are going to be there and give them not only memorable and beautiful photos but an equally memorable and beautiful experience.
As a photographer I do get nervous, as I am sure many of you do. I think… a lot. What if they don’t love their images? What if they don’t like me? What if I do something embarrassing? Yes, I do think like that! Of course once I get to my session and begin working that unbelievably manages to fall away. I get completely immersed in my work. I remember why I love this. There are some things I do, however, to really prepare for my sessions.
My goal coming out of a session is to have images that tell a story. I want my clients to look through their gallery and have every single photo resonate with them on a deeper level. I want them to see their children as they see them. Not just as I see them. These are a few things I stand behind and believe yield fabulous results:
- Before the session even begins and your clients email you for information, you want to have some form of client education on hand. Whether it’s a special section of your blog or a PDF, try to compile as much information about YOU and how YOU work. Right off the jump you want them to know that you are here for them, that you value their time. I also send information on my pricing so they know what to expect and there is no sticker shock. I include my perspective on photography and why I love what I do, a bit of background so they know just who I am, helpful tidbits on styling their session and anything else I can think of from booking a session to how my ordering system works. I also let them know they are welcome to bring a change of clothes if they so choose. I tell them what kinds of snacks to pack or what they should bring in their bag. I encourage them to bring anything of sentimental value. I want to build a relationship and more than anything and I want my clients to feel like they can trust me. I want them to have a sense of who I am because I really want them to go into their session as comfortable as they can be.
- I am not afraid to post “personal” posts on my blog. I share lots about my family. Despite what some feel, I believe that photography is an incredibly personal business. We pour ourselves and our hearts into our work. I want my clients to have access to the kind of photographer they are hiring. Not just as a professional but also as a person. Think about it. Our style and our vision but also WHO we are makes up our work. It is what sets you apart from other photographers in the field. My tag line for years now has been “Heart Inspired Art.” As cheesy as it may sound, it pretty much sums up my view on my work. I also feel that the more my clients know about me the more comfortable they will be on our big session day.
- I follow up. I answer ALL emails from my client and I do my best to be reassuring. The closer the day comes the more the anxiety can build. Photography is an investment. I want my clients to feel that they really are getting their investment’s worth. I don’t just mean investment in money, but time. Time is of the essence with family photography. Our children grow and change every day. A lot of thought and planning does go into these sessions. I want them to know that I appreciate not only their time but THEM.
- Now it is time for the big day. I try to arrive early so I can scope out my location. Even if I have been there a million times before I like to walk the grounds and get a good feel for what the light is doing that day. If it is a busy location, I try to find areas where it isn’t flooded with people. I know how uncomfortable it can be trying to act natural when there are literally people staring at you and I want our session to be as distraction free as possible. My husband also comes to every single session with me. I know this isn’t possible or practical for everyone but if you can make this happen, try it! I love having Wes there because he is my security blanket but he also has an amazing purpose with the men. The dads. YES, I know some of you can relate. A lot of times trying to interact with the men can be tough. You want them to be comfortable. With Wes there, the dad isn’t watching the clock or huffing loudly. He is enjoying himself! Wes also helps me with my gear so that I don’t have to run back and forth and scramble for lenses. If you can’t bring your husband, try a friend or assistant.
- Your clients have now arrived. Right away I try to be warm and open. I get down on the children’s eye level and introduce myself. I want them to know that I am a friend. I do NOT take my camera out and shoot right away. I give a good fifteen to twenty minute warm up period when possible. This is also why I choose not to time my sessions. I do not want anyone to feel rushed. It is a process. I joke with the mom. I ask the children a ton of questions about their interests. They love to talk about themselves (lol)! Some common topics are family pets, school, television show characters (I.e Oh you love Dora?! I love Dora!) I have even been known to break into full tv show theme song. Du-Du-Du-Du DORA! I am a nerd but I own it!
- I am not a HUGE pose-y person but I do give a ton of direction especially for the family portraits. I let them know right away that the first fifteen minutes or so WILL be awkward. It will feel odd. I also tell them that my favorite photos are always towards the end of the session. Time seriously flies. Once we are set up I get to chatting. I joke. I ask a bunch of questions (“How long have you been married, “Where did you meet?” etc.) and I do this all while they are in position. It really helps them be less aware of my camera. They focus on each other. I love the way a wife looks on her husband as she recalls their wedding day or how she goes on about the day her child was born. I do ask personal questions. It does wonders. If the light gets particularly gorgeous in one area, I will let them know! Communication is a million percent important. I want to make their job as easy as possible. If they kids seem to be getting overstimulated, we take a break. I tell my clients way in advance it is absolutely okay if your children get cranky. We let them run around and explore and play. If it is okay with the parents sometimes I will even take their kiddos aside one by one and spend a little time with them. They tend to be way more comfortable in front of the camera without an audience. I have had sessions where I have made flower crowns with the girls or practice ninja moves with the boys! I am a big kid at heart so I let them know we are here to have FUN! If the kids are shy, that is okay too. I don’t try to make them be something they aren’t. If they aren’t all smiles, that is okay. I don’t push. My goal is to capture them as they are not how I want them to be!
- The session is winding down. These are my favorite shots. When shooting families, I let them know it is important for them all to be touching in some way. They don’t have to do anything over the top or cheesy but interaction and connection really comes through. I also let them know to let me know right away if they feel uncomfortable. That will show in the images. Usually the end of our session is a free for all. We hang, we laugh, we gab, and we twirl. We let the kids do their own thing. When it is time to part ways, I remind them of how things will work from there so they are reassured. I call this the “honeymoon” period. The other upside to approaching sessions as I do is I find the parents are more relaxed. They are better focused on their family. The interaction has been way more genuine.– Sarah Cornish, My Four Hens Photography