Lifestyle family sessions require gentle, creative direction in order to capture natural expressions that are also flattering. When my clients look back on their images from a session with me, I want them to feel something about that season of life and themselves in it. The photos should feel genuine, not forced.
There’s a very fine line between being confident and in control vs annoyingly bossy.
I don’t want to be annoyingly bossy. I do want my clients to feel amazing and trust me enough to let loose and be themselves.
When I was in school to become a teacher, I would often think of myself as an actor on stage when I stepped into the classroom. No matter what was going on in my personal life, I had to shake it and become the teacher my kids needed.
It’s not only my job to step onto the stage with confidence, but to prepare my clients to know what show they’re seeing. In other words, preparing your clients beforehand to know what to expect is KEY in a successful approach once you’re all together.
It sets them up for success to respond without shock when you begin to do your thing.
Encourage, encourage, encourage. Most people are not used to being in front of a camera for more than a second, so kids and parents alike need tons of encouragement to loosen up. The very first time they naturally laugh or you see something through your lens that really works, RAVE about it.
“Oh that was amazing! You look so happy! Oh my goodness, you guys are the sweetest! Wow, that was magical!”
The more you encourage early on in your session, the more they will begin to understand realize “I’m doing it right!” and engage more like that on their own.
Instead of telling them to “stand here, put your hands like this…” I use games, actions, and conversation starters.
Sometimes these start with poses and directions, like arranging families on a blanket or standing in great light, but once I have the building blocks, I’m free to push the limits so it will fall apart.
Other times, like with couples for a maternity session, I’ll have them tell me about how she shared the news about baby. Sometimes, giving a topic starter and giving them space will allow for the tender shots to unfold.
One of my favorite prompts to use with families is something I call “the bear hug” – I ask the kids to stand closer to the camera and have parents to take a few steps behind them. I tell them to sneak up and surprise bear-hug the kids. It always gets everybody close, embracing, and for-real-belly-laughing.
This one is an extension of the previous tip. You have to be careful about not only what you say, but how you say it.
There’s a huge difference between “Do that again!” and “I love how you just leaned your head on his shoulder, that was so beautiful!” The second approach is encouraging and says, “you’re doing a great job, we want MORE of that!!” without a bossy or directive tone.
I will never say “oh that wasn’t what I was going for,” or “that’s not working, let’s try something else,” because it immediately stirs up self-consciousness.
I always want my clients to leave a shoot feeling confident and beautiful.
If I want a radient mama to flip her hair over her shoulder like a shampoo commercial, I’m going to do it myself first, no matter how silly it feels, because:
I’ll get down on the blanket and show dad how to sit before we pile kids on top of him.
I’ll demonstrate “freeze face” vs. “relaxed face” if they’re getting hung up on cheesy smiles.
Showing is always the most efficient means to communicating the vision in your head and breaks the ice way better than words alone.
Remember how your favorite teacher was the one who was fun but also firm? You have to find the balance between keeping the session engaging while also staying in control of the room.
A cranky kid can turn the attitudes of everyone else pretty quickly if you let it, so it’s your job as the photographer to provide quick pivots and keep calm no matter wht happens!
That’s why it’s imperative to make sure you’re not flustered, even if things seem to be erailing. Remember that everything is an opportunity for creativity ; adjust and roll with the punches.
I hope these tips help take your next session from stale to vibrant and help you capture natural expression, connection, and energy for your clients.
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