How to prep kids for a documentary style photo session

There's this running joke in the photography community, photographer's children hate the camera, anything to do with pictures, and will act like wild animals if they even sense the camera turning on. Back when I did portrait photography (seems like a lifetime ago), I would always chuckle and cry because I knew it to be so true.

But then, oh glorious day, I made the decision to do a 180 and follow my real passion- capturing authenticity. That's a whole other blog post I'll write one day, but for now, just know that my kids no longer have "photographer's child syndrome". Which is awesome- I feel like they feel respected and appreciated just the way they are, in their natural habitat. And I am over the moon because I get real, meaningful portraits of my kids. Portraits of them just the way they are and exactly how my heart will always remember them.

So, let's get to it. What are some ways YOU can prepare your kids for a shoot with me? Here's 5 easy ways to help them (and you) prepare for your awesome family storytelling session with me!

  1. "The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club." Just kidding, talk to them about it, but talk to them in a way that emphasizes that it's not really about the pictures- this is REALLY important. That way, they don't have the preconceived notion that they are going to need to sit and pose for a picture. There's not going to be props or backdrops or fancy lighting equipment. Honest to goodness, I can remember the dread I used to feel going to get my pictures made. My sessions are different, I promise! We do a lot of playing and a lot of hanging out. I like to think I'm adorably awkward, so just think of me as an old friend coming by to hang out and catch up with the family. I recently had a little guy whose family hired me for a Day in the Life Session- so I was there for 8 hours. About 6 hours into the shoot, he said to me something I'll never forget. He said, "You know, I thought my mom and dad hired you to come take pictures of us. I wasn't expecting this, like, at all. It's kind of like you're our friend and are just hanging out with us today." Man, that kid. I wanted to grab him up and hug him! I just told him I absolutely was his friend and I was happy to spend the day with him.
  2. Make a plan for your time with me- or don't. If you are a family that normally plans your days in advance, then let's do that. Or maybe you are a family with lots of activities and commitments- I'm along for the ride (just make room for me in the car!) If you are a family that lives your life without schedules and plans and lives moment to moment, let's do that. Do not change things on my account! Sometimes it is helpful to plan at least one activity- but one that truly has a place in your daily life. Maybe it's cuddle time on the couch with a book, maybe it's a board game, or maybe it's a walk around the block with the family dog. Maybe it's throwing the ball around in the backyard. It can help keep things flowing and ease any jitters.
  3.  To further emphasize point 2, I really want to stress this point- and we will talk about it in your pre-consultation (on the phone, via Facetime, or over coffee)- what is it you want to say? What memory is it you want preserved? What story do you want to tell? This has everything in the world to do with how you prepare them for the shoot. Whether it's documenting a milestone, a certain event or life change, or whether it's just a season of life you want to remember- these things are important for me to know and important for us to talk about. I want to know the things that are meaningful to you. What's important to one family may not be as important to the next family. That's part of what makes us unique.
  4. This tip is more for the parents than it is for the kids- but it's an important one. Just let them be. They don't need to be on their best behavior, they don't need to be perfect. They just need to be. I want nothing more than for you to have a level of trust with me (and I work really hard to earn that trust). When I earn that, honesty flows through the lens- and it's so, so good. There's no judgement here from me. I am a mom of 3. There's not much I haven't seen during my time as a mother and it doesn't phase me at all. I'll shoot the good with the bad and I'm happy to do it. It's all just a part of this life we live. And by doing this, we're emphasizing that they are enough. They are perfect the way they are. We value them and appreciate what they bring to us. 
  5. Tell them that they don't need to smile. I think a lot of anxiety when you tell people you're going to be shooting them all day is that they feel like they have to be "on" and be smiling all day. That. Is. Exhausting. Let's just agree now that this photo session is not that. It's different. I value the whole spectrum of human emotion. You don't need to be aware of the camera the whole time- better yet, I'd like it if you weren't aware. Treat it like it's not there, it will fade into the background, I promise. 

girl with easter bunny glasses standing in front of the garage with aunts and mom behind her in suffolk, virginia