My Tips to Beautiful Natural and FUN Family Sessions!

It is a gorgeous day today, and looking out window on the beautiful spring weather, the green leaves, the budding flowers, I am excited that I will be outside again tomorrow capturing my first outdoor family session of 2016. Up here in Montreal (Canada) it has been a looooong chilly spring so I am really super pumped to get out of my studio. I didn't always feel like that. Family sessions were very scary to me, as I was consistently anxious about the possibility of running out of ideas, what to do if the kids don't want to cooperate, what if I forget my camera settings, etc, etc. 

I realized that I wanted to share with you guys my tips to getting beautiful natural images in your family sessions and having FUN while doing it! These are tips that I developed through my years of photographing families and learning from my mistakes what worked for me and what didn't. I'm so happy I get to pass these along to you

#1 - Patience is the key! 

The sad truth is that 9 times out of 10 Mom's the only one who really wants these pictures done, Dads are mildly annoyed at best, and kids are normally just doing what they are told. My tips to my clients is A LOT of patience. I work on the kids' schedule - and if there is a meltdown, the worst thing to do is to lose our cool. I have had Dad's lose patience at the first sign of a squirmy kid, saying the photos are just not going to happen. It is my job as a photographer to let him know that it's ok, this is normal, and that if we stick with it I will be able to get them a shot (or fifty) that they will love. For the kids bribery is a great friend to every photographer, although I do not bring candies to my session, I let my parents know that if they want to bring bribes that they are for the END of the session (so I am not stuck editing crumbs and chocolate off of mouths for hours after the session!) I don't bring candies to the session because I don't know what is best for the child or if there are allergies. I feel it's best to leave what we use as bribery up to Mom and Dad. 

#2 - Cycle through ALL of the possible groupings. 


I always start every family session with the family image, its a safety net for the kids, especially if they are young or shy, that way the first time I am pointing my camera in their direction is when they are safe in Mom or Dad's arms. Then I photograph all of the kids with Mom, each kid with Mom, all of the kids with Dad, each kid with Dad, and finally a group sibling shot and a shot of each kid on their own. If the kids are old enough to sit on their own and be safe I will get a bonus shot of mom and dad together as well. If there are extended family there include generational shots, grandparents with the kids, all the women in the family, grandma with her adult kids, etc. Achieving all of these shots gives your client the kind of variety with the images you deliver, so they don't feel like anyone was missed. 

#3 - My 3 TOP SECRET ways to get natural smiles.

- With children aged 1- 6 I will make comically loud sneezes to get giggles... and trust me parents can't keep a straight face either. With the younger and shy-er babies make sure to work into the loud sneezing so you don't scare them (cue the meltdown), and some children might not find this funny at all, but when it works, it's TONS of fun! 

- With the family images I will get everyone seated, then count to three out loud and then say "tickle mommy time!!!" or "tickle Timmy time!!" and normally that results in fits of giggles (everyone loves it when it is tickle Daddy time so I normally save that for last). The key of this is to say "ok, ok, everyone back to their spots! lets see who is next!" and then the kids sit back up and are looking right at me, grinning, waiting to see who gets the tickles next which gives me a great shot of the kids smiling at the camera. Nothing makes a family image better than an image of a family playing and laughing together. 

- If the top two haven't worked (I have had tough crowds before, haha!), or if I have kids that are trained by Mama to say cheese and then smile with all their teeth, I will say "no, no, I don't like cheese, saaaaaaaay STINKY FEET!!" or "Poopy Diapers!!!" I will especially play with the boys saying things like "ooooh wait a second, I smell stinky feet! Who has stinky feet??" (Do not be surprised to have kids answer with"Dad!!") I had one especially shy and sweet 5 year old girl in front of my camera once, that I could not get to smile for me until we started talking about stinky feet (apparently mine were stinky that day.... haha!!) I have no pride, toilet humor (to a degree) is always a winner when everything else fails, especially for the older kids. 

#4 - Give them something to do.

Like the tickle fights above, I find families doing stuff, or children doing things the prettiest  and most interesting photos in the whole gallery. I love asking little girls to twirl in their dresses, or have boys run towards me - siblings doing "ring around the rosy" is lots of fun, especially for the fall down part! I have parents toss their children around, spin them, hang them upside down, everything. Sometimes the best thing is to capture the beautiful chaos that their family truly is. For the quieter families I will sit them down with a book, and have Mom or Dad read to the kids. 

#5 - Get the technical stuff right.

I always use the rule of using the same f-stop as the amount of people in an image. I learned from this AWESOME and informative blog article that I should focus on the person closest to me as the depth of field will include what is behind the focus point more than what is in front. Keep people in the same focal plane as much as you can, but do not be afraid to work with a more narrow aperture (higher number) to ensure you get everyone in focus. 

Make sure you are not over exposing your images. If your histogram on your camera is mostly on the right - you are over-exposing your image - and unlike when you under-expose, if you over-expose too much, even with raw images, information can be lost, and the image cannot be saved. 

Try and put your families in compositionally pleasing poses. It is hard to keep things completely uniform when you are looking for a natural image, but I always find moving myself, coming in close, interesting angles, etc. tend to make for beautiful images. Don't get stuck in the rut of only photographing your clients from afar, get in close, shoot from above, and even shoot from the side. I find the best time to do this is to do it when you have them doing something else and not looking at the camera, sometimes I just tell my families to just ignore me and chat. Give it 30 seconds, and you will be forgotten and they will relax and just hang out with each other. 

I truly hope this has helped you for when you head out to your next family session, whether it is in your studio, their home, or out in the park. If you have any questions please let me know in the comment section below! 

Much love, Reina

P.S. All of these images are mine, and I edited them with The Magic Look ACR Presets and Simply Artiste II.