Hiring a photographer to take lifestyle portraits is a fantastic way to capture natural, “unscripted” moments. As you can imagine, the cost for a personal family photo session usually exceeds a one-size-fits portrait chain. So, when you four-year-old sobs through the entire session or your matching outfits end up looking like an ill-advised family uniform, it’s easy to feel disappointed.
If you’re going to pay for a personal photo session, it’s a good idea to have a game plan (and not make some of the mistakes I’ve made in the past).
Heather Pszwaro of Heather Michelle Photography specializes in family and first-year photographs and offers the following advice for families investing in lifestyle portraits (along with a few mom tips from me for maximizing kid cooperation):
1). Have Clear Expectations
Professional photographers have varying fee structures. Some charge a flat sitting fee and an additional fee for prints and electronic files of select images. Others are “shoot-and-share” photographers, who charge one combined fee for the session and all digital images. It is then up to you to have the images printed through vendors such as mpix, Shutterfly, or Snapfish.
At a minimum, your agreement should clearly state the approximate length of the session, fees, and who has the right to print images. You should also be given the option to sign or refuse a model release, which either grants or denies the photographer permission to use your images in an online portfolio or elsewhere.
As with anything where kids are involved, it’s also a good idea to ask about rescheduling or cancellation fees.
2). Schedule Your Session for the Best Time of Day
This is a two-front battle against Mother Nature and your kids’ natural schedule. According to Pszwaro, the “Golden Hours” of light are two hours after sunrise and two hours before sunset. While these are best times to take photographs outside, depending on the time of year, the two evening hours could be smack in the “Witching Hour” or, as I like to call it, that stretch of the day when everyone, including me, is cranky.
To capture the best light and kid behavior, we hauled ourselves outside at 7:30AM on a Sunday and took pictures while the grass was still wet with dew. Sure, I’d rather sleep in and have the whole day to get ready, but I’ve found it’s easier to Photoshop out a few strands of wild hair than a screaming two-year old.
3). Think About Your Clothing Selection
“There’s a fine line between coordinated and matchy-matchy,” Pszwaro cautioned.
Select outfits in similar or coordinating color pallets to create a cohesive look without being overly matched. I’m both color and fashion challenged, so I spent hours the day before our session playing with outfit options. Eventually, my five-year-old took over as stylist with far better results.
“If you’re taking beach photos, wearing white is the worst thing you can do” Pszwaro added. “The combination of sand and white fabric creates too much natural reflection. It washes everyone out and makes it difficult to pick up the colors in the sky.”
Image courtesy of Heather Michelle Photography
4). Consider Where You Want to Display the Finished Product
This tip never crossed my mind, but it makes complete sense to coordinate your outfits with the wall color and décor of your home.
“If you intend to invest in a large canvas, you want it to be a seamless addition to the space,” Pszwaro said
For color-challenged folks like me, an alternative is to print black-and-white versions of the images.
5). Unless You Have Your Heart Set on a Location, Let Your Photographer Choose
A professional photographer who works extensively in your area knows the best locations and the best time of day to capture them.
“Some photographers have secret spots. If you see a location in your photographer’s portfolio that sparks your interest, ask if you can have your session there,” Pszwaro advised.
However, don’t discount your own back yard. With small children and an early morning shoot time, it made sense for us to stick close to the house. I treasure the images we took celebrating our first year in our “forever” home. My kids felt more at ease in their own environment, and there’s no place on earth with more cherished memories.
“If you’re photographing inside your home, consider where the natural light will be at the time of your session,” Pszwaro cautioned.
Next year, when my youngest can handle a 7PM instead of 7AM session, I’m going wherever Pszwaro tells me. My yard is awesome, but there’s only so many times you can pose in front of the same dogwood tree.
6). Prepare Your Kids to be Photographed
This tips goes beyond brushing out tangles and wrangling toddlers into tights. You want your kids to feel at ease with the photographer and location, so they cooperate.
“If you have a shy child, arrive to the location early to meet the photographer while he or she sets up,” Pszwaro suggests. “That way you’re not cutting into the session time.”
7). When all else fails, BRIBE
Consider it positive reinforcement. The promise of a post-photo munchkin can do wonders to coax a smile. Don’t worry, it’s our little secret.
Following the tips above won’t guarantee fantastic pictures, but with any luck at least you can avoid looking like a dysfunctional cult on your next holiday card.
Images courtesy of Heather Michelle Photography
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