1. Have a vision. Avoid walking into a session with little forethought around the final images you are hoping for. Take time to look at a variety of images from different photographers before you book your session. Figure out what types of images speak to you. Do you like studio images or outdoor shots? Soft and hazy? Crisp and bright? Whimsical? Serious? Do you prefer images with eye contact or without? I could go on and on. You don’t need to know every detail of the images you want, in fact you should be willing to be flexible, but know what general style or feel you are going for.
2. Find the right photographer for you. Don’t assume that the chain studio in town is the right studio for you and your family. These studios are high volume and tend to produce very similar photos for each family that walks in the door. If those images match your vision (see #1), then by all means, schedule with them, but if they don’t, find a local custom photographer that does. When my oldest two were babies, we took them to a chain studio several times a year. I remember one particular photo of my oldest looking into a very large fake flower. I thought it was a great photo at the time and to be honest, it wasn’t bad by any means, but I have since seen countless very similar photos of friends’ kids on their walls. This isn’t necessarily bad, but the more I saw them, the less special that photo seemed. There isn’t really anything about it that speaks to who my daughter was at that age, it was just a cute photo of her. I have since become a photographer myself and have been lucky enough to take all the photos of my youngest since she was born and my older two since they were 3 and 4.5 myself. This recent photo of my middle daughter is such a good representation of her at this age. We would have never gotten this at that chain studio we used to go to!
3. Give your child/children some say. This may mean letting them choose their outfit (or choose from a selection of outfits that fit your chosen color scheme) or having them bring a favorite item to be photographed with. Not only will this help them feel some control in the process, you may end up capturing something special about this stage of their life you may treasure forever. Even if you don’t, they will be more cooperative and happy throughout the session if they feel they have had some input. This is my 6 year old. She picked the outfit, every bit of it, from the headband to the shoes. I know I am lucky that she did an awesome job, but more importantly, she was so excited to show off her birthday outfit and it showed in the photos. She even did her own posing (see #4).
4. Let them be themselves. Kids have their own little personalities and most aren’t afraid to show them off, so let them! I often encourage my girls to pick a few poses themselves and have gotten some of my best shots this way. They just seem more happy and comfortable when they are showing off their own personality rather than posing for me. During a shoot last year with my two oldest girls in their ballet costumes, I let them each choose their pose for a few shots. Those turned out to be my favorite shots of each of them. Not only did they do a decent job, but their expressions are so much more natural than when they were feeling forced into a pose by me…