It was very shortly after starting my business that I made a simple rebranding that changed the face of not only my business and but of my very style forever: I decided to work EXCLUSIVELY with children and families. Its definitely a unique niche in the industry, and one that takes a special kind of person. Child photography is such a calling to me, giving priceless memories to my clients and their families and working with some incredibly special little people. But its a difficult area to work in as well. Young children often dont take direction, posing is all but non existant, and many times you’re chasing after tiny little feet running in and out of your optimal lighting changing camera settings as fast as your fingers will let you. Here are some of my top tricks and tips for creating both a product AND an experience that will have your clients overjoyed and all their friends inquiring for sessions of their own.
1) An in person pre-session consultation is my key to creating the best possible experience.
Meeting your clients ahead of time is SO important when you are working with children. I try to meet all of my clients at a location that allows the kids to play so that I can observe them in their natural state. For me I usually use a local Starbucks thats located right next to a small playground, so that Mom and I can chat and go over the contract and session details, but their little one(s) can run, jump, climb, and be themselves. I try to talk to my clients about what kinds of things their children are into, what kind of personality they have, their typical daily schedule, how they react to strangers, etc etc. Sure, I can gather a lot of this info from mom on the phone, but being able to OBSERVE their child and see how they react to you personally? This is invaluable information you can use to plan your session accordingly.
2) Talk to Mom right away about the tone of your session, because a stressed out mom = a frustrating session
One of the number one factors that determines how a child is going to behave during your session? Mom/Dad’s stress level. Many of us have had that session: the child is goofing around being silly, Mom is watching the clock run down on your time, frantic that they aren’t going to get any of the photos she envisioned, and the mood is starting to shift. Mom is getting angry at the kids for not sitting still, Dad is frustrated at Mom for freaking out, Mom is frustrated at Dad for not helping… and the whole energy shifts. But it really never needs to get here. Be open with your clients before the session even begins about your normal working conditions. Remind them of the work they loved in your portfolio, and let them know that you are 100% able to capture their memories no matter how candid their children choose to be. Reassure mom throughout your session that you are getting great shots, even showing her a preview or two on the back of your camera if you feel comfortable doing so. If mom is assured that yes, her investment will pay off and the session will yield some great memories, then she is far more able to trust your lead and just let the kids be kids.
3) Follow the child’s lead and remain flexible.
Bring a variety of props and ideas, but dont be too attached to any of them. When a parent asks me about what order I plan to do outfits/concepts in for their session, my answer is always the same – thats going to depend on the kiddo. When something is going well, we run with it. When a child is losing interest in a certain set up or concept, we ditch it and move along to something else. There is no use having a gorgeous set up and perfect lighting if you have a cranky toddler who’s crying through every shot. It can be so frustrating when you have a perfect shot all envisioned in your mind and the child just isn’t following your lead, but trying ro force a square peg in a round hole will derail your session quickly. And once a child gets into an uncooperative mood, its exponentially harder to get it back on track.
4) Remember to take photos for your client, and not just for other photographers.
This is something I simply cannot repeat enough when I see a lot of the work coming out of the industry today. In the age of pinterest and following the blogs of our idols, it can be so easy to get caught up in trying to create imagery thats will become the next big trend or will get us noticed by other industry greats. Force yourself to remember your client above all else when creating your images. In 5, 10, or 20 years are your clients most treasured images going to be their baby in a knitted sack hanging from a tree branch? Are they going to be strong vintage processing and boutique styled accessories? Perhaps. But that depends on one thing and one thing alone – the CLIENT. So make sure you are communicating with your client and respecting their wishes above all else. Many clients want the classic timeless imagery they saw in your portfolio, and aren’t looking to try out the next big trend. And even if its something you have done 1,000 times before, its the first time you have done this for THEIR baby and THEIR images, and to them its going to be exactly what they imagined when they hired you – and thats your number one priority.
5) If you’re not passionate about what you do then do something else.
My number one tip hands down is the most simple and yet the most challenging – if you arent passionate about photographing children? Then photograph something else. When photographers are first starting out its easy to be a jack of all trades, willing to take any client with any style for any price. In the end, its a one way ticket to burnout. Find your niche. Find what makes your heart sing. If its photographing children, then throw your heart and soul into creating the best child portraiture you can create. If its NOT photographing children – then be honest about that, and consider phasing it out of your business model. Maybe your heart is in weddings. Maybe your best work is with seniors. Maybe you love those tiny little newborns but find yourself pulling out your hair when they are old enough to run away from your lens. Child photography, especially with toddlers/preschoolers is a pretty unique niche, and its important to ask yourself – is it MY niche? But if you’re like me, and working with children is what inspires you, fulfills you, and makes you your best self? Welcome to the Jungle. I hope you brought comfortable shoes!
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