Please Don’t Say Cheese: And Other Things Your Photographer Always Wanted to Tell You

Meltdowns. Tantrums. Tears. We’ve all been there with a photo session gone wrong. It’s stressful, embarrassing and such a disappointment. And then add these same reactions from our kids? It’s the pits.

However, having not only been in this boat myself, but having photographed hundreds of children and families, I’ve learned a few tricks to preparing for the sweetest, most natural session possible, and I guarantee your photographer has always wanted to share them with you.

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Do Your Research: With the plethora of options within each budget, there is more to finding the right photographer than the monetary investment. You are opening your most precious moments to someone. Browse their Facebook page, website and blog to see if you are drawn to them. Does their website make you want to get to know them as a person? Do you see their photographs and hope for something similar? Do you emotionally connect with their work and their vision?

Talk to friends and family members who have used the photographer to see if he ore she delivered on promises.

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Understand your priorities: Looking for timeless, classic work? Review their website to see if their work has the same feel. Lots of young children in your family? Look for someone who understands how to draw children out of their shell. Love the natural lifestyle look? Make sure their work demonstrates this same inspiration. Know for a fact you will not feel like getting out of the house a few days after you’ve had a baby? Locate a newborn photographer that comes to your home.

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Additionally, remember nap times and bedtimes when planning your session time and communicate accordingly. Many photographers prefer the “golden hour” for dreamy sunlight and flattering shadows but often this can be a stretch for young children’s bedtime. Planning your session for spring or autumn can mean cooler temperatures but early sunset hours and may be worth considering for not-so-night-owl children. Share your hopes and considerations to your photographer ahead of time, and listen carefully to how they respond.

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Trust Your Photographer: Once you’ve found someone you connect with, trust their input. Even if you have a gorgeous spot in mind, your photographer needs to understand the way the light hits it. Even the most beautiful waterfall at the wrong time of day will not photograph well, and you won’t be happy with images where you are squinting in too much sunlight. Photographers love offering feedback about wardrobe, locations, props and following their advice not only makes your job easier, but theirs as well!

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Plan your outfits ahead of time. There’s nothing more stressful than waiting until the last minute to find an outfit you feel great in. Multiply that by however many individuals your family includes and the pressure increases exponentially. Do yourself a favor and start the planning early. Lay them all out overlapping on the floor and look at them in natural light. Watch for certain colors or patterns that distract rather than coordinate. Ask your photographer where you will be shooting to help you plan appropriate outfits. For instance, stilettos and business suits may not fit a fielded setting as well as an uptown shoot. A palette of greens tends to blend in with a manicured lawn. Reversely, if you have a great inspiration palette of colors for your outfits, share your thoughts with your photographer for further thoughts on location. Photographers see the whole picture (no pun intended) and can offer expert advice to help you not only look your best but feel confident as well.

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And try everything on ahead of time: Many a smart mom has bought their child’s clothes in a size for them to grow into but for pictures, it’s sometimes better to be on the smallish side of sizes for children in order to show off the curve of their toddler bellies or rolls of the baby wrists. When you try on our own outfit, look at it from all angles. Check for unwanted lines, see-through fabrics or slipping straps. See more on choosing the most flattering ensembles and sample ideas here.

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Pack a Tricks Bag: I’ve seen many a session saved by a mom who knew what she was doing. Consider the following for your tricks bag:

  • Pacifier or other soother
  • Sippy cup (full!) for refreshment
  • Goldfish or other small snack for hungry tummies
  • Smarties for rewards (the best treat because no crumbs, and no colored lips!)
  • Wipes (and some extra diapers just in case!) for Murphy’s law of messes
  • Lovie or stuffed animal for comfort
  • Blanket for snuggling (bonus points if it’s photogenic)
  • Bandaids for inevitable scrapes

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Leave room for the photo session the day of the photos session: Let’s face it, stress brings out the worst in us all. Packing a day full of activities, skipping naps or squeezing it in between activities makes everyone feel hurried. Taking the time to prepare for your photo session allows the day to unfold naturally.

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Let The Expert Be the Expert: Let the photographer know you’ll help however they need you to, but otherwise let them get the children’s attention or direct the poses. Save the punishment and threats (let’s face it, what child has a genuine smile when there’s an “Say cheese or else” command),  and let the photographer work. Along these same lines, grant yourself grace. Professional photographers understand how to pose individuals in flattering manners. Although most of us wish some things about our appearance were different, the most beautiful images are not because of physical perfection, but because insecurities are let go and connection is present. It’s tough, but letting go of expectations, frustrations and (gulp) control, and using picture sessions as a time to step back and let someone else be in charge will be worth it.

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Embrace authenticity: In looking back on these photos, you will remember the behind the scenes emotions. Starting the day with a knock-down-drag-out fight with the significant other or threatening discipline for ornery attitudes will not bring out anyone’s best sides. Focus as a family on the reason you are doing this. Talking to even the youngest children about how this is going to be a fun time to play together while someone takes pictures that they can give to their grandparents or hang in their house for years to come takes away the pressure to perform.

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Trust me, in doing so, the beauty, the brilliance and the best (including smiles) will naturally happen.

Photos from Allison Corrin Photography in Kansas City.

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