For photographers, photographing a family lifestyle session inside the family’s home comes with a unique opportunities and challenges. In this blog post, we’re going to share five tips for photographing family lifestyle sessions that will help you feel confident to rock it the next time you step into a family’s home with your camera.
1. Recognize that this isn’t a typical, traditional portrait session
The first thing to recognize is that family lifestyle sessions that take place inside a family’s home are (for a lot of reasons that we’ll discuss) different than typical family portrait sessions for, let’s say, holiday cards. Those traditional portrait sessions are usually outside on location, the clients are dressed up, there are a lot more “look and smile” shots and the posing options can be limited by the surroundings. For example, we probably wouldn’t have our family of five with little kids do a tickle fight… on the ground… in the desert. Ouch!
By contrast, for family lifestyle sessions, the clients are in their most familiar environment, they’re still put together (but dressed a little bit more comfortably) and the posing is typically much more interactive — because that’s the goal of an in-home family lifestyle session: to capture the family in their natural space, as naturally as possible. All that to say, as the photographer, it’s really important not to approach an in-home session like an on-location session, or you’ll be setting yourself (and your client) up for disappointment.
2. Look at the camera less. Interact much more.
When we photograph family lifestyle sessions, we have our clients look and smile at the camera (the most traditional type of “portrait” shot) much less than normal. This takes a lot of the pressure off the family, creates a more positive shooting environment and helps us capture photos that feel more like memories than portraits. We’ll still grab a few “everyone look and smile shots,” but we keep them quick, few and far in between.
This is especially helpful when you’re working with a family with young kids. We all know it can be tricky to get one small kid to look and smile at the camera in a natural way, and the more kids you add to the equation, the more challenging this becomes. When we give the family “activities” to do together (see tip three) we’re much more likely to be able to capture genuine smiles and laughter when the kids forget the camera is there.
As people who’ve been on both the photographer and client end of in-home family lifestyle sessions, the value is in the the family having photos of themselves doing interactive things they’d normally do as a family — so years from now, they’ll have beautiful documentation of their everyday life with everyone in the photos. That’s something we hear from moms and dads all the time, and something we’ve even heard from our own parents. I’m not in most of our family pictures, because I was taking them. As photographers, we can change that! What an amazing gift to give a mom or dad!
3. Choose three spaces & three activities
Having pre-planned “activities” allow for us to capture moments that feel real, unposed and create more opportunities for genuine smile and laughter. Little kids can get antsy pretty fast, so we recommend moving locations and changing activities pretty frequently. A good rule of thumb is three locations, with at least three activities, no more than twenty minutes each, but maybe less! The average adult has an attention span of about 17 minutes. We can’t expect more for little ones! The best activities are ones that involve the whole family being in close physical proximity to each other, preferably playing the same game or working toward the same goal.
Here are some examples:
-A pillow fight on Mom and Dad’s bed
-Making homemade lemonade/cookies/breakfast in the kitchen
-Building blocks or trains on the living room floor
– A tickle fight on the couch
– Bath time or bedtime routine (reading books, snuggling together)
4. Do breakouts
Like we mentioned above, sometimes it’s really challenging to get an entire family (with littles) to smile at the camera at the same time — which is why we always try to do breakouts during our in-home sessions. For example, we might do some shots of Mom and her oldest son, while Dad takes the little ones to the bathroom or to have a snack. It’s a triple win. As the photographer, we’re using every possible minute of our paid session time to deliver the best possible product to our client. As the parent, who’s paying for the session, we’re giving them more photos, more variety within those photos, and a lot of shots they probably didn’t even think to ask for or know they wanted… but they now have! For the kids, it’s a practical way to give them a break and a few minutes to re-group, as well as special photos they’ll cherish as they grow.
5. Be encouraging and reassuring!
As the photographer, one of our job descriptions should be CEO: Chief Encouragement Officer. Almost more than anything, and this goes for all sessions (but especially family sessions), it’s critically important that we remember this fundamental truth: how our clients feel about their experience with us during the session is just as important as how they feel about their final photos. Most people feel uncomfortable in front of the camera. They have insecurities (we all do!) Now add kids into the equation. Sometimes, it’s chaos — or feels like chaos. Moms, specifically, put a lot of pressure on themselves leading up to family sessions: putting together the perfect outfits, hoping all the kids are healthy that week and on their best behavior, etc. Now add into the mix that they have to have their house clean and pretty for it to be photographed… ON TOP OF EVERYTHING ELSE THEY HAVE GOING ON THAT WEEK. Breastfeeding and pumping, sleep training, potty training, laundry, cooking, homework, soccer practice, dance class, parent-teacher conferences, the list goes on and on.
That’s why it’s more important than ever that we encourage and reassure Mom and Dad the entire session that they look beautiful and the photos are looking great. And if one of their kids storms off for some reason, or has a meltdown and Dad has to chase them down and discipline them, you respond with a big smile and say, It’s not problem! Totally normal! Happens all the time! Let’s use this time to get some cute photos of you and your son! As the photographer, we can see the back of our camera, we know what we’re getting, and we also know that no matter how chaotic it feels to Mom, the final product won’t reflect that. The photos are always going to look better than how they felt in the middle of the chaos, and that’s such a gift that we can give to our clients.
Want to learn more about our client experience during a session or wedding? Check out our signature Posing Course!