A Fun Family Session with a Toy Family
As soon as the Plastico Family arrived at our session, I knew that I was in for a wild ride.
That little one jumped out of her car seat (she unbuckled herself) and there was no way that she was letting go of that Teddy Bear. Luckily, mom had followed my style guide to a T, which included information about taking along a color-coordinated toy, just in case.
Well, it definitely was "in case". I knew pretty quickly that this bear was going to appear in pretty much every photo with that little minion. And it did.
So, I started our session as I do each session: Checking faces for donut residue, looking for dots of coffee on Dad's shirt, doing a booger check, and watching for spinach in teeth (just in case dinner was something like a spinach bacon turkey egg white wrap at the donut shop).
After making sure that everyone looked presentable, which they did--- OMG, do you LOVE their color palette???? And her hat?????? (I mean, I can't even wear hats because my head is so enormous)--- I gathered the parents and just went over priorities and expectations. Of course, I had this in writing from our survey sent earlier in the week, but I wanted to clarify. I also reassured them that as a teacher of 24 years, I could totally handle their children's behavior, and that they definitely should not worry. Their kids WOULD act up. I COULD handle it. If I couldn't, I'd let them know. But the most important thing was to let them have a little fun so that they could get some genuine smiles. It might look chaotic, but I had it under control.
Then, after I talked to the parents, I pulled the kids into a meeting. I showed them my camera and I set the expectations.
My teacher magic always seems to work, as long as the parents let me do my thing.
(iPhone BTS Photo)
So we started off, as always, with a few shots that are just to get warmed up. They weren't going to appear in their gallery. The smiles were fake. The tension was thick. So we played some silly games and did some "lame things" as the teenager said. The little ones were still wound up, anxious and nervous. The teenager was still annoyed. But it gave me a chance to build up some trust and a relationship. Families who have been with me for years can just jump right into it, because I am familiar---and hopefully, a favorite--- but new families need to allow this process to happen.
(iPhone BTS photo)
Pretty soon, we were ready to go. I almost always start with a whole family photo, because it's usually the priority, and you never know when the youngest one (or oldest) is going to have a meltdown.
People always ask if they can bring a dog. The answer is yes, but only if I can love and pet and squeeze and hug your dog. And also, you need to bring a friend to handle your dog and take it for a walk for the rest of the session. But give me all the doggos.
Then, I got individual portraits of each child. This was a critical step, especially with shy children and a moody teenager. This was the trust-building portion of the day. This was the time when I proved to them that this wasn't going to suck as much as they thought. For the little ones, it involved play and songs and silly phrases like "stinky diaper. For the older one, I took him away from his embarrassing family and gave him a few minutes away from his mom and dad who were going to tell him that his smile was fake. As soon as I got him away, I got a real smile. And look at that gorgeous expression on that teenager in orange. He wasn't having any of this until I told him that I agreed that this was kinda lame, but I hoped he would just play along and be done quickly.
Next, we moved into breakout groups. This is where I usually get mom with each kid, dad with each kid, mom or dad with all the kids (sometimes everyone cooperates), and parents with each child. This is a time of constant movement. Dad said, "I did more squats than I have since varsity baseball!" Movement is good. Sitting still is not when you are dealing with children.
About this time, the attention span was falling apart. The teenager was off climbing walls after fighting with his sister, and the toddler was hungry for a snack. So, we all took a snack and drink break and headed for a new location (because it is true--- even if you feed them fifteen minutes before, as soon as they have to start to work or focus, they need to eat.).
Movement was necessary at this point, so we did our walking shot. Every family loves a good walking shot, even if they don't think that they will. I made them play totally ridiculous games, and they laughed. It was out of pure embarrassment, but they laughed.
The walking shot cheered them all up, and they rallied to finish up with some important portraits that we didn't have a chance to do, yet. The sun was starting to glow, and that light behind was just amazing.
By now, the teenager was on my side. This wasn't horrible. I asked if he could watch his younger siblings for a minute while I took some photos of mom and dad, since that probably hadn't happened since the wedding. As he walked away, he said under his breath, "If you make them kiss, I'm going to puke."
For our last shot, I tried something new. There were flower petals everywhere on the ground. Since this family was so much fun, and we had been laughing so much, I knew they would be up for it.
That definitely wasn't easy, and standing over clients was, well, interesting.
At the end, the teenager slid down the slide and jumped in the dirt. He even said thanks, before popping in his ear buds and storming off to the car.
Thank you, Plastico Family for a great evening! I look forward to many more years of family portraits!
Cara Parker is a fifth grade teacher by day who loves a good joke about "How Gassy Uranus Is", a mom lived out of a tent and minivan with her husband and kids for five weeks in the Utah deserts, and a Massachusetts photographer who loves and embraces the chaos of photographing families.