“Nothing photographs more clearly than discomfort.”
That insight is from Andrea Raney, co-owner of Raney Images, Inc., a traveling photography studio based in Chicago. Usually, she doesn’t have to worry about her subjects feeling uncomfortable—she and her husband, Matt, regularly photograph weddings, birthdays, and engagements, intimate moments when people are too busy being happy to feel awkward.
But when it comes to a family portrait session, things can get really awkward really quickly. As parents themselves, Andrea and Matt have a unique understanding of how families can make their shoots go more smoothly. (They even keep a list of dos and don’ts on their website. Do: get a manicure and a hair trim. Don’t: “go ‘Extreme Makeover’” right before the shoot.)
So we sat down with Andrea for pointers on getting stellar family photos without Photoshopping new faces on everyone.
Before the Shoot
Choose your photographer based on what they’ve done, not what you think you can get them to do. Review their portfolio, and if you see something you like, let them know you want something similar. But never, never, never ask a photographer to duplicate another person’s work. “If you want something that another photographer did, you should hire that photographer,” Andrea advised.
Meet with your photographer. This is a chance to get to know each other and to go over any questions or concerns. Some things you should ask: How soon will my photos be ready? How many outfit and location changes are included? Will the rights of use belong to me for all photos or just the ones I purchase? Do we need to get permits for a particular shoot location? Can you turn my photos around in time for the holidays?
Take the whole family to the shoot location. This is especially key if you’re shooting with small kids. “You never know what’s going to freak them out,” Andrea said. Let the kids roam around and get comfortable, and if they gravitate toward any part of the space, make sure to mention this to your photographer. The photographer does not need to join you on this jaunt. “A good photographer will be able to do anything in any environment as long as the kids are comfortable,” Andrea said. At a park, for instance, test out the slides or the swings if you want your children to be photographed on them, especially if they’ve never tried them before.
Consider shooting at home. This could be the best option, especially with young kids. Toddlers can be difficult to corral, and being at home makes the entire process less stressful. “Also, if the child needs a nap, a snack, a certain toy, everything is close at hand,” Andrea said. Like Raney Images, plenty of photographers can bring along lighting and other equipment for indoor shoots.
Raney Images, Inc.'s traveling photo studio.
Try on potential outfits. “The photo shoot should not be the first time everyone’s wearing these clothes,” Andrea said. Put them on and move around in them; make sure they fit well and comfortably. And never forsake comfort for color coordination. “If dad hates his shirt, it’s going to show up in the photos.” To that end, don’t wear anything that draws attention from your face. This means no crazy prints, day-glo colors, or shredded fabrics. Prints might work against a white backdrop, but in other locations, especially outdoors, they compete with an already busy background.
During the Shoot
Look at the camera, not your kids. “Everyone who can look at the camera should be looking at the camera,” Andrea said. Parents should focus on smiling and let the photographer coax the kids into a good pose. “We’re going to keep snapping away, and we’ll capture that two seconds that your child is looking at the camera. In that two seconds, if mom and dad are focused on their child, they’ll be the ones who ruined the photo.”
This is halfway to being the perfect shot.
Relax! Stay relaxed and open. “Those are really the two most important things,” Andrea said. If your toddler won’t sit still, go with it—you never know how great action shots might turn out. Besides, your kids know when you’re ill at ease, and keeping calm is the best way to get your child to chill.
Photos courtesy of Raney Images, Inc.
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Read more advice on photo shoots in the Groupon Guide:
How to Take a Selfie Without Shame
Tips for Composed Portraits