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Picture Perfect

Shoshana Junger

The key to an amazing professional photo session is knowing what you want. Tips from the pros

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

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Think which pictures you’ve seen that made you say, “Wow! I want that for us!” Sift through photos from the past and from others for inspiration to figure out what style you love most for your own family

C onfession: When I first started out as a professional portrait and commercial photographer, I’d never been to a photographer for a personalized family photo session. It wasn’t something I grew up with, and ... wait for it … I’m camera shy (!), preferring to stay on the other side of the lens.

So, although I regularly take pictures of my children, it’s rare for my husband or me to be in the frame with them.

That needed to change. I needed to experience being a client, in order to understand the process that my own clients go through — whether with wardrobe stresses, making sure the kids behave, or worrying about looking good.

So, a few months ago, I finally braved it. I got the family together and we trekked over to a fellow photographer. Boy, did I learn a thing or two. The tips below are based on my experiences on both sides of the lens.


Why Am I Doing This Again?

One major factor in ensuring a successful photo session — and by successful, I mean walking out with something you’re happy with and feel was worth your money — is knowing what you want. Before booking a photographer, determine the purpose of your photo shoot.

Are you looking to create a wall design to fill an empty wall with artistic photos of family?

Do you want a photo book of the session to sum up the season in one album?

Are you just updating the grandparents with some prints of your family or some enlargements?

Whether you’re interested in formally posed family portraits, or more modern, natural lifestyle images, tell the photographer your vision and she’ll make it come alive. Some people have many ideas and styles that they like but they don’t know which to settle on for their own photo shoot.

My suggestion? Think which pictures you’ve seen that made you say, “Wow! I want that for us!” Sift through photos from the past and from others for inspiration to figure out what style you love most for your own family.



Clarify your needs before the money is spent on the session time and the pictures already taken, and you’ll avoid dissatisfaction and frustration. It helps your decision making when it comes to choosing pictures, since you’ve envisioned what you want. Also, you can then gauge how much you’ll be spending on prints, so the final cost doesn’t upset you and dectract from your enjoyment of your pictures.

Speaking of budget, bring that up with your photographer before booking so that she can help you balance your wants with your wallet. Too many times people spend money on the sitting fee for the photo session and don’t go home with anything because they didn’t factor in the cost of prints or they can’t decide what to do with the pictures.

Photography is a luxury, not a necessity. Bear that in mind and put aside the money if necessary; you’ll value your art so much more. 

Dress the Part

Rule #1: Always consult with your photographer regarding wardrobe.

And if you’re a bit of a rule-breaker, and you won’t talk to your photographer pre-shoot (Argh! Please do!), here is the cheat sheet of what I’d most likely say:

You’re generally safe if you go with the two “S”s: simple and solid. This lets the subjects stand out without getting lost in a fashion fiesta.

Clothes that you wouldn’t wear as an outfit, like plaid and stripes, should not be worn by any two subjects in the same frame. Family doesn’t need to be matchy-matchy, just simply coordinated enough to please the eyes.

Choose clothing that fits well and is comfortable — don’t wear those heels that will make you want to quit the photo shoot the moment it begins.

Baggy or tight-fitting clothes are distracting. Make sure to iron clothes that are obviously creased.

Ideally, hair should be styled away from the eyes, especially overgrown bangs. The eyes have the power to draw you into the image, and photographers love to utilize that.

Contrary to popular belief that clothing should “pop,” your choice of clothing should match the setting. (You really are going to have to call that photographer!) For a high-key setting, such as the beach and snow, light colors work best. For low-key backgrounds, like greenery and brick walls, wear darker tones. The idea is to contrast the point of interest, which is most likely the faces of your family, with both the background and clothing. The greater the contrast, the stronger the attraction to the face.


Day-of Dos and Don’ts

First and foremost, please feed yourself and your children before a photo shoot! A satiated child is so much more likely to cooperate than a hungry, thirsty one.

Avoid scheduling your session for just before your baby naps. If your children are well-rested and fed, we have the best shot at good photographs.

Be on time. I know it’s hard with kids and makeup and food, but it’s hard to get the shots you really want when everyone is rushed.

If you are going to bribe your child with candy or a snack, save it for when we’re done. If the child insists on instant gratification, bring along something that won’t get him dirty, sticky, or take a long time to eat (e.g., licorice bites, winkies, or candy corn).

Wipes and water bottles are good take-alongs.

 We love hearing your suggestions for poses or photo spots. Bear in mind, however, that an awesome idea doesn’t always translate into a nice photo. A lot of calculation goes into the images, such as the light in that area, distracting objects in the surroundings, and how the pose will complement the subject.


Meltdown Time?

Aside from hunger, bathroom needs, and tiredness, one key reason kids don’t want to cooperate is because they feel pressured to perform. So let me suggest you relax and your photographer will use all the tricks in her bag to capture the kid’s true essence.

One trick I use all the time is letting children be the photographer. That lessens the anxiety of being the subject, as I help them look in the viewfinder and shoot either a sibling or whatever is in front of them. We make a deal that it’s my turn after theirs, and they are usually thrilled to play along. Sometimes we take a few “turns” until they realize that it’s all fun, and I’m not a threat.

Music is another great tool to ease tension as I coax them to dance and sing along.

We play tickle games, tell funny stories, and play tag. I love using elements that demonstrate childhood — like water to splash in or snow to throw, bubbles to pop or teddy bears to hug.

Instead of having the child stand in one spot and say “Cheese!” when I snap, I try to give the kid something else to do. The end result is giggles and smiles, a joyful image, and a child who has fun memories of the session.


A Matter of Trust

If you’re satisfied with your home snapshots, you probably don’t need a professional. However, for those who value the skill of the artist, you’ll benefit from our quality, style, experience, and, of course, equipment. That said, when you come to your session, leave your stress at home and trust your photographer to get the job done.

Most photographers who work with families have two loves: kids and photography. We have lots of tricks to ensure that your children look naturally happy.

Shouting “Smile!” will elicit (at best!) a nervous grin to satisfy their stressed-out mom. Same with pulling out electronics; your phone or camera will distract your children from the photographer’s efforts. We want to capture the giggles, the joy, and the connections in the family.

The greatest pleasure you’ll get from trusting your photographer is an enjoyable stress-free session. When parents are chilled, the kids will have fun and their personalities will show.


Embrace Yourself

Family portraits are usually more formally posed, while lifestyle photos are meant to represent who you are as a family — the laughs, the connections, and the story of you. Yes, we can thin people out, change eye colors, chop off big ears and long noses. We can add hair, remove freckles, and do virtually any plastic surgery you ask. Our expertise is in making you look your absolute best, whether through photography or retouching.

But what I learned from the other side of the lens is that sometimes it’s great to simply embrace how beautiful we are without changing anything.

Let’s love ourselves for who we are and our children the way they are. That’s the ultimate key to satisfaction with photographs... and life.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 599)

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