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My Family Session Workflow - Northern Virginia Photographer

Family photography is a special kind of beast. See, photographers usually specialize in a particular area. Weddings, Seniors, Families, Newborns. A few other categories in between. For say a wedding photographer, who normally works with beautiful adults dressed in their best, working with families and unpredictable young children can be daunting. Working with children takes practice and not all photographers have the patience for it.

Over the past few years, I've grown to love my families. It's what I specialize in, even though I branch out and cover different areas of photography. I've learned a lot a long the way about what works, what doesn't, and just how ridiculous I will be in an attempt to get that smile out of that kid!

One of the most important keys to a successful session is having a smooth workflow. I have a mental list of shots I attempt to get at every session: family, siblings, just boys (also with dad), just girls (also with mom), single shots of each kid and some of mom and dad. With this long list I work in a particular order:


I start with the family shots first because that's why we're here! If nothing else works, if we run out of time or the kids aren't having it, I want to make sure these are the first shots we get. A family session isn't complete if I've got great single shots but none of the whole shebang. Having Mom and Dad tickle the kids always gets real smiles from the little ones!

Next, I work with the siblings. The kids are already in place, happy and posed, so Mom and Dad lift out really easily. I usually ask the kids to give each other a hug, or squeeze each other as tight as they can. "Squeeze! Harder! Harder! He doesn't look like you're squeezing enough!" This usually creates a genuine smile or laughter between the kids. I sometimes tease the little kids a bit. "So who's taller? I bet she is", when clearly, she's a foot shorter than her brother. Kids love to correct me and prove to me that I'm wrong, and they usually have a laugh teasing brother or sister as well.

Then it's time to grab the solo shots of the kiddos. My sister in law has replaced the pop up stores at the malls with my portraits of her kids each year, so I know how important those individual shots are to parents. Every member of the family should get to shine a bit in the session. I usually ask "Who wants to do their solo shot first!?" I try to get the kids excited about their one on one time by giving them a few options of where they'd like to sit or stand, and a few options in the way of posing. I show them myself by getting on the ground or into position to help them visualize what I'd like them to do.

Why don't I ask a kid "Where do you want to take your picture?" Well, that's too broad for a 5 year old. They also don't want to answer the question "wrong". It opens the door for them to become self-conscious. By leading them and giving them options, they can narrow it down and find something that works while still feeling "in charge".

Giving the kids a break, while letting them take over for a bit. Future photogs maybe?
What happens if the kids argue about who goes first or they start to get restless while I'm shooting a sibling? I engage them. "Hey, do you want to come take a picture of your brother?" I will actually pass over my camera (don't worry Mom and Dad, I'm still holding onto it tight!) to one of the kids and let him take a couple pictures. We look at the back of the camera and you wouldn't believe how awesome they feel having taken pictures at the session with my big camera! It's a great way to pull kids back into the session. Seeing if a sibling can dance, tell a joke or give me bunny ears while I'm shooting is also a great help!

I have sessions last anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. That's why I move quickly and try to get in everything back to back, quick, quick, quick. At this point, the kids may be done. No matter how tricky I am, how many bugs attack me (kids love this) or stuffed animals I throw and later drop (then try to rescue and give mouth to mouth) and kid tells me when he's done. I don't like to push and never want the parents to create tension by becoming frustrated as well.

Once the kids are done, it's the perfect opportunity to grab some shots of Mom and Dad. Parents tell me so often that they haven't had pictures taken together since they're wedding. For some families, that's well over 10 years ago! While I'm photographing Mom and Dad, I'll sometimes ask the kids if they can dance or make silly faces to get a smile from their parents. Again, it brings them into the session and helps Mom (and especially Dad) relax a little bit. Otherwise, the kids are having some down time nearby while we wrap up the session.

Now, there's no right or wrong way, but I can tell you that engaging the kids is key. If you are taking too long, or doing too much back and forth with no real order to your shots you can lose the kids and it's hard to get them back. If you're a parent, when your kid is "done", you know they're done. The same applies to a session. When we're not shooting or we're walking to another spot, I try to focus a lot of my attention on getting to know the kids in my families. Asking about their favorite shows, what they're being for Halloween, when their birthday is, what they had for lunch... You name it. Just think about the Doctor or neighbor that gushes over your kids when they see them and how well your child responds to that. Exact same thing. And, I'm genuinely curious if they love Spongebob.

After I've nailed all the "must have" pairings, I try to mix it up again with different back drops if I can. By "if I can", I mean if the kids are still up for it. Some sessions I have kids that are eager to pose and sit in front of the camera and other times I have kids that are praying I've forgotten their name so I can't bother them anymore. If the kids are still up for it that's awesome, we'll have a lot of variety, but if I've covered my main workflow of images I know I'm safe.

So, while this may not work for everyone, I hope you can gain something out of this behind the scenes look. Whether you're a future client wondering what to expect or a photographer looking for some guidance when working with families. Best of luck, and thanks for reading! =)

1 comment

  1. This is a great little tutorial...thank you! I've only done a handful of family sessions but I am already seeing that it is really effective to have a good workflow!

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