Family picture season is over for most of us, but many of us (including me!) are waiting til the spring for their annual family session (or fall of 2017! ). Either way, I believe this blog post is timely and relevant. The idea for this article has been brewing in my mind for months now, particularly after I shot this family and just fell in love with the results. In this article, I’m talking to the families…what you can do (and not do) to have a candid and fun photo session.
Let’s face it. Any photographer or any individual with a “good” camera can use their tool, figure out the settings and take a decent picture. Being technically good is a must – yes! But really, a great photographer becomes great when the shots are more about the people and less about the camera. I feel that I have really tried to hone in on this craft, with lots of self-critiquing and really using my “Mama skills” – for lack of a better term – to understand how to facilitate shoots that are more casual, fun and candid in nature. And there are lots of articles and tutorials and classes for us as photographers to become better at this. But, I realized that there might not be as many resources for the families to help with this type of shoot. I had an ephipany. What did I do or actually not do to help facilitate the candidness of this shoot? And what did this family do that made it one of my favorites ever?
Families (Moms AND Dads)…here’s are the tips that I came up with!
- Forget about Pinterest. Nothing stifles me more than when a client comes to me with pictures to try and recreate from Pinterest. And they will even say, “Well, it doesn’t have to be just like this, but…” But for me, and I think that I am speaking on behalf of other photographers, too, I can’t get the image of the exact shot out of my mind. (And this is really why I don’t get on Pinterest much, unless it’s to find a recipe or craft to destroy with my kids.) I become very caught up on recreating an image pixel by pixel which is basically a creative buzz kill. This family came with no list, and no plan, except to capture them as a family. Focusing more on interacting with your children and spouse, and less about recreating a shot you’ve seen, will keep your stress level low! You might even be amazed that the shots your photographer captures are even better than your Pinterest board. I know, everything on Pinterest is perfect. But your family’s pictures will be perfectly imperfect when you forget about the “musts” and the “recreations” and just. be. you. and try to have fun with it.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. So much planning goes into the outfits and accessories. And I know, it is important and it helps set the tone and look for your shoot. Plus, the navy bow matches the pillow on your living room couch. But guess what, you are dealing with humans who DON’T CARE. There will be so much smeared snot on those expensive, navy pillows before you even have those canvases ordered. If Grace does not want to wear her bow, and James does want to wear his suspenders up, deal with it, Mama. This mom did not get upset that he didn’t want to wear his suspenders the correct way. She would’ve preferred it, yes, but she knew it really wasn’t worth the fight. We pick our battles everyday with our kids…what makes us think that picture day will be any different? The accessories are adorable. But a crying 2 year old for the entire session because we’ve fought with them about wearing their accessories we stressed over for weeks, is not very adorable. Anyway, you get the point. My best friend and I have a motto for life and it keeps us happy…or at least, sane. MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS. Stressing over the little details will make you and your spouse grumpy, and it will trickle down to your kids. Don’t fret over the minutia.
Be spontaneous. This is a very loaded tip, and I know you’re already rolling your eyes. Kinda like when someones says to “just act natural.” So how can we just be spontaneous? What if we’re that family who plans everything? Here’s what I mean. Don’t wait for the photographer to tell you exactly what to do. I know that this is tough because I often have families who have their pictures taken seldomly and they are unsure of what they should be doing. But my advice is to just play around with your kids and try to forget about the fact that the photographer is fiddling around in her bag looking for a lens. When my clients are not expecting it, and I start shooting…these become the best shots! This family just started playing in the field together and chatting with each other as if I weren’t there. And then when I was ready and wanted to get a particular shot, then I directed them and steered them in a different direction. They weren’t so hung up on asking me, “Now what should we do?” They were low-key enough and trusted that I was going to get shots that they would be happy with and that when it was time for “something else”, I would let them know. Your shots are only going to be as fun and candid as you are willing to be. A good photographer will definitely help facilitate this, but he/she can only do so much. She won’t move your arms for you and she doesn’t know those inside stories that make your pre-teen belly laugh or those ridiculous noises that totally send your preschooler into hysterics. Take the initiative and have fun with each other without necessarily being directed with every move. And this is the one day that I encourage you to not be so bossy to your kids – let them lead. It will encourage their spontaneity – and yours – too. 🙂
Do your homework. Ask around and really research who you want to hire to photograph your family. You need to make sure that the pictures you are expecting are the pictures that you have seen the photographer post on their Web site and social media sites…AND their galleries. I know this is kind of a trite piece of advice, but I see it happen with clients and the photographers they’ve chosen in the past. Are their shots mostly posed? If so, and you’re wanting more candid shots, then that probably is not a good fit for your style. Also, before booking, I would ask the photographer if you can see a gallery – or two – of a recent family session. I am happy to let potential clients see my work from an entire session so that we are both on the same page. Just a sneak peek of 1-2 images will not give you a true picture of what an entire session is like with the photographer. Seeing a full gallery can help you know the flow and style of what a “typical” session looks like. Also, go more off recommendations of friends/family who’ve used them and not just on Facebook reviews or site testimonials from people you don’t know. It will give you a better idea of the personality of the photographer. This family hired me based on a recommendation from another client who has used me for many sessions over the course of 3 years. She did her homework, and felt confident that I was the right one for the job. (And I am not saying I am the right one for every one or every job!)
Avoid the mini session. Don’t get me wrong, I love offering mini sessions. I do it every year. It helps me to book sessions because it’s what clients want. It’s also faster and easier for me post-shoot than a full session. BUT, a mini session is quick and it is more about just checking things off – family pic-check!, pic of just kids-check!, pic of individual kids-check!. I mean, you already have that Christmas card chosen and you need to fill those rectangles. 🙂 Mini sessions are perfect for getting those 5-7 images. But it’s not going to give you the time you need for taking it easy and being spontaneous and relaxed like a full session will allow. When I don’t have a session before and after, I know that I can take as long as we need to get as many images as possible. We aren’t rushed and we can shoot until we run out of light. I think that most other photographers would agree that while minis are necessary in certain seasons (fall, mainly), they aren’t adequate for capturing many of these candid moments that might not emerge until the last 10 minutes of that hour and a half session, or images that aren’t on your “checklist.”
I realize that there are lots of factors and other variables not covered. This article is not intended to be scientific or all-inclusive. Rather these were just some thoughts that came to me on what made this session so special and resulted in so many lovely images. I hope that your next family session with whomever you hire to shoot it, will be fun and candid and that the art in your home will be a perfectly imperfect reflection of that. ♥
© Allison Andrews, J Allison Andrews Photography
I have known Miss Kaylee and her family for several years now and they are very special to me. Her dad was my oldest daughter’s soccer coach, and an amazing one! He taught her so much more than just soccer, and for that I am very thankful. I respect him very much as a man, and I know he is a wonderful dad and role model to Kaylee.
I took Kaylee’s older brother’s senior pictures a couple years ago. Blake and his dad came for the end of Kaylee’s shoot and made sure to give us all a painful play by play of the Texas A&M football game, and their almost disastrous finale to Tennessee. Multitasking at its finest! Kaylee’s mom and sister and grandmother came along for the entire shoot and we enjoyed catching up and shooting simultaneously. Good dialogue always helps us get such great candid shots and really bring out the personalities for the seniors. I got so many great shots of Kaylee just with natural smiles and laughs – ones that I love. I had the hardest time narrowing down the images for her gallery!
Kaylee is a God-fearing, sweet, ambitious, athletic (big time basketball player!) and intelligent young woman who plans to make a huge impact on the world. Her light is radiant and I am so blessed to know her and her family. Thank you, Kaylee, for choosing me! I can’t wait for your future.
Dallas Christian High School | Mesquite, Texas
undecided on college plans
major: Elementary Education
in 15 years I will: be married and hopefully be teaching and maybe have children.
dream vacation: Europe.
favorite meal: soup and salad
People would be surprised to know that I: am not a very good driver.
My most prized possession: my Bible
my best talent: art and basketball
most influential person in my life: My basketball coach, Warren Southers. He has taught me so much and is like family to me.
I’m happiest when: I’m with my boyfriend.
best childhood/high school memory: going on adventures with my friends.
If I learned one thing from this shoot it’s that senior guys can care as much about their hair as senior girls. And let me tell, Blake did have some model hair. 😉
Although he wasn’t really up for modeling – Mom had already warned me many times that he was very anti-pictures – he did really well for me! And I am truly appreciative of that. I know that taking pictures can often times be out of someone’s element, but I do my very best to make it fun and for it not to seem like the painful process that it’s often envisioned to be.
Blake’s mom and I go way back. We used to work together at a couple different elementary schools and we have been great friends since Blake was little. Since I have been busy with my own kids and working so much, we haven’t been able to see each other enough and I haven’t seen Blake in forever. To see him now as a handsome, sweet and mannerly young man is so refreshing. We talked about how ambitious he is and how some of the students in his graduating class are not quite as goal-oriented as he is…I know his parents are so proud of that. I just kept thinking about how much I hope that my kids are the same way when they are high school graduates. And that my husband and I are instilling those same type of values and morals into our children that have been instilled into Blake.
I think it’s a job well done all around. Keep dreamin’ and doin’, Blake.
Rockwall High School | Rockwall, Texas
plans to attend University of Texas at Arlington
in 15 years I will: be a nurse practitioner.
dream vacation: Black Forest in Germany
favorite meal: steak
People would be surprised to know that I: play the piano
My most prized possession: my car
most influential person in my life: My parents. They’ve taught me morals and values.
I’m happiest when: I’m with my friends.
best childhood/high school memory: receiving college acceptance letter
If you’re a high school (female!) senior, what’s more fun than the day you get to get all fixed up and model and laugh and pose for 3 hours and take your senior pictures? The day that you get to do all this with your VERY BEST FRIEND since kindergarten! Yes, a senior best friend photo shoot happened, and these were my first seniors for 2017!
When McKenzie’s mom contacted me about doing this, she originally wanted to schedule the session for mid to late summer. I advised that maybe we wait until the end of September hoping that we might see a little bit cooler days. Unfortunately, that did not happen. It was a record 100 degrees for mid-Sept., but we did have sunny skies and a beautiful sunset. And the most beautiful girls with the prettiest smiles and biggest personalities.
McKenzie (left) and Taya (right) did everything I asked. I even found a field full of these beautiful – but spikey – purple thistles and they trampled through them for the most amazing shots at the end of the night. I should also mention that they were full of bumble bees, too. But hey, it’s like I tell my own girls – “Like beauty – getting a good shot – is sometimes pain.”
Caddo Mills High School | Caddo Mills, Texas
college plans: undecided
In 15 years I will: have a college degree, a stable job, a child and my own house with my family.
Crandall High School | Crandall, Texas
plans to attend Letourneau University (playing softball!)
major: Elementary Education, minor in Kinesiology
In 15 years I will: hopefully be teaching little children in an elementary school and be a coach.
(McKenzie) most influential person in my life: My mom. She’s my best friend and the person I can tell everything to.
(Taya) most influential person in my life: My mom. She’s always there for me and knows exactly what to say when I’m upset.
(Taya) I’m happiest when: I’m with my family and boyfriend.
(McKenzie) I’m happiest when: I’m with my family. They make me smile!
(Taya) best childhood/high school memory: traveling with all the girls in my family to New York on July 4th weekend.
(McKenzie) people would be surprised to know that: my nickname is Ethel. It is not a family name. My aunt made it up when I was a toddler. People think it’s my real name.
(Taya) Dream vacation: The Bahamas or Hawaii
(McKenzie) Dream vacation: Going to Australia, sitting on the beach and getting tan
(McKenzie) favorite meal: grilled cheese sandwich with sweet potato fries.
(Taya) favorite meal: Chick-Fil-A
(Taya) my best talent: playing volleyball
(McKenzie) Most prized possession: My necklace I got for my 17th birthday.
(Taya) Most prized possession: My senior ring and letter jacket.
(Taya) people would be surprised to know that: I was diagnosed with scoliosis the summer before my 7th grade year, and I wore a brace for almost two years.
(McKenzie) best childhood/high school memory: going to Disneyworld for the first time on my 6th birthday and getting to eat breakfast with Cinderella (my favorite Disney princess).
(McKenzie) my best talent: baking!
All the best, McKenzie and Taya!
No children were harmed in the making of this photo shoot.
But one of them came a little close.
My goals for the night were to test the lighting with my “clients” and figure out where exactly I wanted to conduct my mini sessions in the next few weeks and then to celebrate my husband’s 42nd birthday – all in the Bishop Arts District. The Bishop Arts District is in Oakcliff, an old area of Dallas that has been revitalized with the coolest shops and hippest restaurants. It is charming and trendy yet still maintains that sense of old Dallas – not stuffy or pretentious. The streets are lined with trees and lights adorn some of the buildings….lots of orange brick, colored doors and painted murals. It just feels so alive.
But back to my clients. My kids – minus one. My oldest daughter takes a theater class on Wednesday evenings so she wasn’t able to join us for the mock photo session. “Lucky me!” she said as I dropped her off and got ready to drive to the other side of DFW with the rest of the kids in tow + Dottie, our 11 month old Sheepadoodle. Unlike the vibrant and enthusiastic feel of the neighborhood, my three are quite the contrary. They aren’t really too pumped about helping me out…and mainly I’m talking about my Camille. Really, it just takes one to set the mood for the rest of the bunch. Isn’t that right, Moms?
GOOD-NESS! If looks could kill, I would not have made it home.
We continued shooting. And we did get some cute shots. I think I bribed Camille here with a replacement Apple Bloom (My Little Pony) since Dottie chewed off the other one’s leg.
All was going pretty well until raindrops came out of nowhere – out of this bright, sunny sky. If you look closely in the picture above, you can see them. Soon, it was raining pretty hard so we took cover across the street at Tillman’s Roadhouse. (If you ever get the chance, eat here! The ambience and menu are both unique and delicious.)
We ended on a happy note…playing in puddles and leaving soon to go meet Daddy and big sister at Gloria’s for a birthday celebration.
My plan was to also take a few pictures of my oldest, but it was getting too dark and I was exhausted. Because of course, the work for this started early in the day.
Like giving the dog a bath.
Yes, just the dog.
I wanted to show off more spots, but the rain put a damper on that. For my clients who have mini sessions scheduled here, I think you are going to love the colors and textures. There are cute little alley ways and other areas off the beaten path, too, that caught my eye as we were leaving that I think will be great spots. Hopefully these few pics give you some idea of what the area looks like of where we’ll be shooting.
And regarding clothing…always the important question! I think shades of blue would work well here. It would contrast well with the orange brick and with all the trees and greenery. I would probably avoid oranges or reds because you don’t want to blend in too much with the buildings/surroundings.
And, of course, if you have a dog bring him/her! I love including the family dog in your session. There are several restaurants with patios that allow dogs if you plan to go out to eat afterward. Why wouldn’t you? Everyone deserves a good meal after 25 minutes of hard labor.
So my overall review is that The Bishop Arts District is a great place to shoot, even with clients who can be a tad stubborn. 🙂