Tips for a Successful Photo Session (with a toddler in tow)
Before I began documenting wedding and baby stories, the business really began with my photographing families. Over the years, I've gotten to work with over 250 different families and to say that I've learned a lot throughout that time is a bit of an understatement. This blog post is for you, the green photographer, dipping your toes in family photography or for you, the experienced photographer, struggling with those unpredictable toddlers during your sessions, but it's especially for you, the worried mom and dad, prepping for your upcoming portrait session with some level of panic setting in that your little one might lose their mind (and possibly their clothes, why do our silly toddlers do that??) during your session.
Well, first, stop panicking. Do as you tell your little one to do and take a few deep breaths, inhale, exhale, and inhale, exhale. Kids pick up on and often match (or exceed) the level of anxiety that parents have, so let's help them start out on a calm foot.
Next, shop online for your outfits. Shopping with a post baby body (now matter how long it's been since having your little one) can be horrifying, add a potentially hungry and cranky toddler to the mix and it quickly turns to a "hit the Starbucks drive through on your way home while you blast Rihanna to cover up the screams of your angsty toddler as you yell your latte order to the barista and yes, dammit I want three cake pops and they are all for me because I'm WORTH IT!!" kind of afternoon.
So yea, speaking from experience, shop online and start with yourself first. If you end up spending the entire budget in yourself only, don't feel bad, especially if you find something that you feel amazing in. Oh, you came here to read about how to have a successful portrait session with a toddler? Well, it starts with the parents. Try to exude confidence and calmness at the start and we are in much better shape for the entirety of the session. So, choose something that fits well and gives you confidence so that you can focus on the family and not on pesky strap that won't stay on your shoulder.
Now let's talk about our little angels. Know that these tips don't work every time and it's important that you listen to what your child needs over my advice here. I have started sending a quick survey before family sessions to learn more about your children and what makes them happy, so please use that to your advantage! If your child has a disability, its best to have a conversation before our session and talk about what you're doing at home and what makes your child thrive.
Our goal for your portrait session is to create a comfortable and fun space so that the images show the love and closeness you all share together as a family, the inside jokes, the special glances and kisses that only you guys know. I try to start at a pretty even temper and scale from there, following the child's lead on that. Toddlers tend to sail away from us if we let them get a little too hyped up, so my main goal is to keep us all in that happy place without going to far.
With that in mind, here my tips that will allow you to have a successful portrait session with a toddler in tow:
(1) Lower your expectations. The best photographs are captures of real moments, the unplanned. So don’t sweat it if the plan changes or if your toddler wants to only wear rainboots instead of the new shoes you got them, enjoy the spontaneity and the memories of what your toddler loves! I want you to trust me that the images we capture will document your toddler and your lives together as best as possible, but the best way that I have found that we arrive in that happy place is by starting with an open mind and trust that together, we can handle whatever might happen.
(2) Don't bribe your kids. I recommend leaving candy and bribing children with treats out of every photo session related conversation. This approach can work during a session, but I only recommend it in dire circumstances and I have Skittles and things to use during that time so you don't need to worry about it!
(3) Try to plan everything you can ahead (nap, feeding, travelling to a photo-shoot location, outfits). For naps, I know for my son the first rule is make sure that he has enough sleep and is not hungry. Try to book your session AROUND nap times. If I suggest a time that is during nap time, you have to tell me! I can't tell you how many times I've been mid session with a melting down toddler and mom or dad says, "well it is nap time." I am more than happy to plan your session around naps, so please communicate that to me ahead of time! When traveling to your session, make sure to get to the location 10 minutes earlier. This way you won’t be nervous about running late and even if you are, we are in good shape for starting without nerves.
(4) Hold off on snacks. With our little one, if we start giving him snacks, the snacks will end up all over his clothes and he will be focused on snacks the rest of the session. Feed your child a snack thirty minutes or so before the session, close enough to session time so they are not hungry, but far enough out that we don't have to pry Cheetos from their super strong toddler grip.
(5) Don't ask your child to say cheese at any point during our session. If I really want a "cheesy" smile I might say it, but more often than not, I will say "SAY SNEEZE!!" This approach will more than likely get the sweet, real smile that you know, love, and surely want captured from your little one.
(6) Don't ask your child to do anything, really. I know we want them to be good listeners and kind people, but our short time together won't make or break the way you want to parent your child. I have found that the most successful sessions are those that follow the lead of your child. I read where they are at emotionally throughout the session and recommend activities that will work best depending on their mood. If we are getting off track, I like to take breaks and just chat or watch your child play. Speaking of which...
(7) PLAY. More than anything, your role is to play and interact with your child. I will guide you in where to stand, sit, place your hands, etc...but throughout the session, your child just really wants to interact with you and the world around him or her. The more playful and content your child is, the more comfortable you will be to open up and just relax, simply enjoying a nice day together as a family while I document the beauty of it all behind my lens.
Because I believe in these tips so much and I believe in the art of film photography, I am running a Summer on Film special for families and couples throughout the month of June! Summer on Film sessions are shot entirely on beautiful medium format film and include a box of archival prints ($150 value) for just $375.