"But Mama, Is it REAL?" : 3 Tips For REAL Family Photos

A few months ago I was came across the trailer for the new Planet Earth II and was delighted to show it to my kids.  We’ve worn the DVDs out of the original Planet Earth from 2006, before my first was born.   The new trailer was spectacular with camera angles that baffle the mind.  After watching it, my 5-year-old looked really confused.  He kept asking over and over “But Mama, is it REAL though?”  I kept telling him yes, it was.  He didn’t change the question, he just got louder and louder (as he often does) and I realized he was questioning whether or not the footage was altered or perhaps even CG.  

We live in a time when our kids have have abundant access to photoshopped images, crazy amazing computer graphics, and apps on our phones that smooth skin, enlarge eyes or even give humans dog ears.  Our kids have to decipher whether or not everything they see is REAL way more than we ever could have dreamed of as kids.  Honestly, I find that exhausting and can’t imagine growing up in such a confusing world.  So why not offer as much REAL content as we can provide them.  

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Why am I talking about this with relation to getting ready for you photo shoot?  Because I want your family to look at the images from our shoot and SEE the reality of the moment - not just smiles for the camera and perfect outfits.   I am not a documentary photographer, your session is guided by me, but only YOU can create authentic interactions with your family and capturing those moments is my gift and why you hired me.  I believe a little mental prep goes a long way when getting ready for our session. 

So what can we do to prepare for a session that captures REAL moments, true smiles, laughter and love?  Take a few minutes and read over these 3 tips and you’ll be more than ready for our time together.  

1. TELL THEM WHY: Tell your children (and partner) before our time together what we’re doing, what the goal is: not only to have some nice family photos, but to capture memories for your family. Tell them WHY these photos are important to you. I’m going to reveal the true cheese ball that I am here but in the last couple of years I’ve had two amazing sessions that both went beyond great.  I told my kids that the photographer wasn’t actually taking pictures of our bodies - she was trying to take pictures of our LOVE.  So I wanted them to show her how we show love to each other.  SO CHEESY right?  Well, it worked like a charm.  We went through all the ways we show love, hugging, kissing, laughing, being a good listener, holding hands, high fives and so on.  Having all your energy focus on love and not compliance can be a game changer.  It changes the position of what we’re doing from a chore (usually for Mom) to a family activity.  I know this is such an idealistic way to think of this - there are things like temperament, age and stress that come into play - but think of this as a calming baseline.  If your kids are too young to have this conversation (I'd try it with kids 1 and over), have this conversation with yourself and partner before the session.  

2. LET THEM BE KIDS! I know there is a fine line between letting the kids run the shoot and letting them be free to explore and have authentic moments.   So let’s work together on this.  Tell them there will be moments that I will ask them to participate, play games, snuggle their parents and siblings, but there will also be moments when we can play and explore.  Try not to direct them too much, leave that to me. The hardest thing for kids can be having too many grown ups shouting out directions. 

3. BE YOU!  Who are you and your family? What do you enjoy doing together when you’re not in front of the camera?  Do you adventure? GREAT - let’s do that. Photoshoots don’t have to be at beaches or parks, we could ride a ferry, go to the zoo, go on a hike, be tourist downtown, chop down a Christmas Tree, hunt for Pumpkins at a patch, the list goes on and on.  Do you have dance parties? GREAT!! Let’s bring some music and dance it out during your session!  Are you homebodies? GREAT! Let’s do an in home session, I adore these, I can capture great family shots, but also photos of your family in your REAL everyday environment, playing games, jumping on beds, making food together.  Even better, combine all of the above!  Again - we’re trying to keep it REAL right? 

I want our time together to be awesome, I want your images to make you smile, allow you remember and be true artifacts of your family history.  I want your great great grandchildren to see these photos and have a sense of who you were and what it was like to be a part of your family.  I’m ready to capture your love, thank you for taking the time to prepare it.  

Footnotes and Confessions: 

 All Footnote images by the amazing  Elena S. Blair  - photo above is me cleaning up my daughters's mid-session nose bleed.  This was also just moments before my son barfed all over the ally. I've seen and experienced A LOT! From one parent to another, we got this.  

All Footnote images by the amazing Elena S. Blair - photo above is me cleaning up my daughters's mid-session nose bleed.  This was also just moments before my son barfed all over the ally. I've seen and experienced A LOT! From one parent to another, we got this.  

I KNOW so much of this blog post is, again, idealistic.  I know that.  My stress level before my first photo shoot was off the charts.  I worried about my kids being crazy and non compliant. I worried about my husband being (and looking) bored.  I worried about coming across as frazzled and angry in my photos.  But once I really thought about the families I photograph and the sessions that have been pure magic, I realized it all came down to state of mind.  I used that to talk myself off the ledge and really focus on what I wanted my results to be.  I applied the three above tips as well as these funky little tips that helped me. 1. Try the Headspace app.  I’ll keep this unpaid endorsement short and say it’s awesome - 10 minutes of quiet a day does a body (and mind) good. 2. If your kids are driving you crazy or you’re having a hard parenting day, take 2 minutes before you go to bed to sneak in and watch them sleep.  This was a tip from my co-op parent educator I use often. Seeing their peaceful little faces is a great reminder of all that is magical about childhood and parenthood.  3.  Check their (and your) sleep.  I’m so bad at this - I stay up too late and it really can do a number on stress and anxiety for your shoot.  Make sure the week leading up to our shoot that your family practices your best possible sleeping habits. 

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Let's make this a two way conversation! Did you connect or relate with something about this post - let me know! Share your experiences - how will you prepare for your photoshoot with me each year?  Leave a comment below! 

 Luca and I had so much fun with creating some un-real images, it was too easy - and I'll admit, pretty fun.  

Luca and I had so much fun with creating some un-real images, it was too easy - and I'll admit, pretty fun.