You have your camera in tow. Your clients are dressed to the nines and the big session date has arrived. Sometimes as photographers I believe we get so caught up in the normalcy of family portraits since this is our job and we photograph them all so frequently we forget how exciting and sometimes scary family portrait sessions can be from your 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. There is simply so much that goes into a photo session on a client’s end. Figuring out what to wear and styling their family. Finding the right photographer for them. Getting their children to cooperate. It is really all incredibly overwhelming. 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 for them and we are going to do absolutely everything in our power to give them not only memorable and beautiful photos but an equally memorable and beautiful experience. As a fairly introverted person in “real” life though as a photographer I do get nervous as I am sure many of you do. I think… a lot. And all the disastrous scenarios run right on through my mind. 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! There really is a lot of give and take on both ends. 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. Why I chose this as my profession. As our livelihood. There are some things I do however to really prepare for my sessions. I thought I would pass a few of these tips on to you to possibly help you as well if this is an area you struggle in or even if you are looking for a way to freshen up your work.
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. I do everything in my power to get my clients to open up to me. I am not a formal kinda gal in life so it wouldn’t make sense to approach my clients that way either though. I don’t take myself to seriously. I don’t get all crazy with the technical jargon. I don’t bark orders at them. I am simply just myself.
These are somethings I stand behind and believe yields fabulous results and has helped me tremendously.
-Before the session even begins and your clients initially email you for information of any kind you want to have some form of client education on hand. Whether you designate a special section of your blog for it or have a PDF designed try to compile as much information about YOU and how YOU work that they can utilize. Right off the jump you want them to know that you are here for them. That you value their time. You want them to have a good feel for how you work and what your expectations are. Right away I send information on my pricing so they know what to expect and their is no sticker shock involved. Also in the information I send I include my perspective on photography and why I love what I do, a bit of background on me 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 make sure to fully answer any questions that they have. I do this as much for me as them. I want to build a relationship and more then anything I want my clients to feel like they can trust me. I want them to have a sense for who I am because I really want them to go into their session as comfortable as they can. I try to dismiss any stigmas and sooth any insecurities. I also let them know they are welcome to bring a change of clothes if so they so choose. I tell them what kinds of snacks to bring or what they should pack in their bag. I encourage them to bring anything of sentimental value. I want them to know that I want this to be as seamless for their family as possible.
-I am not afraid to post “personal” posts on my blog. I share lots about my family. Despite what some feel I personally 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. It aids your creative vision and perspective. 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. What comes about from my work stems from who I am. 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 investments 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 as I mentioned 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. Aside from not wanting too much going on in my frame I want our session to be as distraction free as possible. Especially if there is small children or multiple children in the family. My husband comes to every single session with me. He is a God Send. 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 well my security blanket but he also has an amazing purpose. He helps 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. I know from personal experience and not having Wes there I had a really hard time getting the dads to open up or be comfortable. My goal as mentioned is to get the family to act as naturally as possible and interact together. Wes being there is fabulous because he chats up the dad. 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. I don’t have to carry a ton of things around while trying to shoot. My hands are free and I can capture everything as it comes. If you can’t bring your husband try a friend or assistant. It gives me one less thing to stress about.
-Your clients have now arrived. Right away I try to be warm and open right up to them. I get down on the children’s eye level and introduce myself. I want them to know that I am a friend. At this point I have hoped that the parents have somewhat familiarized their kids with me so they aren’t afraid of this big weird stranger. 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. I already know most the questions because I try to ask the parents well in advance but most children are like mine. They love to talk about themselves lol! Which I honestly find adorable. 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 nerd but I own it lol!
-I am not a HUGE pose-y person. I do give a ton of direction especially for the family portraits. We just kind of go from there. 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 etc.) 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 though. And most times it gets the dad chatting as well. I usually bring along a blanket or ask my clients to. Our sessions actually often feel like one big hang out session. If the light gets particular 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 lol! 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 too. I don’t push. I am not a pushy person by nature but my goal is to capture them as they are. Not how I want them to be! The parents know this way up front so they tend to be totally okay with that!
-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, 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.
Anyhow I hope this helps a little. These are just a few things I have done in the past that have helped me a million percent with my clients. Not only does it yield amazing results with their session but it keeps them coming back. We really do bond. It really is a beautiful thing!