A friend recently posted on Instagram about her upcoming family session, asking for tips on how to make the event run smoothly with two small children. A bunch of people posted about ways to keep toddlers in check, offering bribes, coaxing and cajoling, and general encouragement that you can in fact have relatively stress-free family photos.
They were mostly well-meaning fellow parents trying to ease the stress of managing small humans with agendas of their own, and making the most of this likely infrequent occasion. I understand where this advice comes from, but I had to jump in with a slightly different approach.
I totally get it. You’ve invested in professional photos, something you do probably only once a year, maybe twice if you’re lucky, and you really want it to count. A multi-kid meltdown doesn’t feel at all conducive to good photos, and you want to put your best foot forward for the stranger (but not for long!) behind the camera.
This might sound a little counterintuitive, but hang with me. My best advice is to just let the hiccups happen and let me take the lead in the recovery. Just keep smiling and breathing through whatever the kids throw at us.
You Have Nothing to Prove
I don’t mean to suggest this is easy. There’s so much conditioning in the world that says good parents don’t let their kids meltdown in front of other people. That’s dumb. Kids are people and people have feelings, and sometimes we have them in public. And all the professional photography accounts on the internet (including mine) generally post only the happy, or at least serene, photos so you don’t see every other mood represented by any given session.
But I’m here to tell you sessions run the gamut of emotions, and the “perfect” ones are not the only ones that make timeless and beautiful photos. Doing what you can to let go of those expectations will only lead to better photos and a better experience for everyone.
I’m not here to judge your parenting skills. Quite the opposite. I’m here to validate you. I’m here to capture the beauty in the chaos, to show you the best of yourself and your family.
Go With the Flow
With that in mind, the last thing I want you to do is try to stop your kids running amok. I love amok. Amok is my favourite. It makes for dynamic photos, happy kids, good variety and more natural poses.
After some trial and error I honed my current approach to stress-free family photos. It’s called Do Whatever the Toddler Wants to Do. Again, hang with me for a minute.
As a former journalist and a person more inclined to observe than to jump in, I tend not to give more direction than necessary. I like to let things unfold naturally and create space for everyone to do their thing. You know who has no qualms about taking space and doing their thing? Toddlers.
Flexible Sessions = Stress-Free Sessions
This approach serves two purposes: First, I want to capture you in action, and more often than not, toddlers are on the move. Second, the person most likely to throw a wrench in any Stand Still and Smile plans you might have is the toddler. If your family doesn’t have any toddlers anymore, I just follow the kids’ lead and the same principle. By taking kid cues, our sessions will be fun and a bit spontaneous, the pressure is off you to perform or curate, and the kids are happy and engaged. Win-win-win.
This approach also ties into why I love at-home family sessions. It’s also why I’m such a fan of wearing your own clothes and spending time doing things you love in places that are familiar. The fewer things that pull your attention away from just having some fun with your people, the more you’re setting yourself up for stress-free family photos.