Over the years I have photographed people in all kinds of different environments, including retail portrait studios in the mall, a tiny basement private studio and countless outdoor locations. There are a few things that can always make a session better, no matter where it is taking place.
1. What to Wear
Long gone are the days of matching white shirts and khakis. Coordinate your family’s clothing
without being matchy matchy. Pick a color scheme (like neutrals or shades of blue) and center
each person’s outfit around those colors. As a rule, it is best to stay away from wild prints and
characters or logos. Those can be very distracting in the final image. If you want to incorporate
a print, like a plaid shirt or floral skirt, let that be the only print and use the colors in it to tie the
other outfits together. It is also a good idea to stay away from all black or all white clothing. All
black tends to lose detail and makes people look like floating heads. All white can cause glare
and bright spots from the sun or studio lights. Also when choosing outfits, consider the location we will be shooting in. For example, if we are shooting in a park or wooded area, high heels will be more trouble than they are worth.
Accessories are important, but less is definitely more. Use one or two key items to add texture
and interest, like a scarf or a hat, but don’t over do it. We are photographing the person, not the
Here Holly is wearing a bright chunky scarf that others might have stayed away from, but I think it works beautifully. The rest of her outfit is neutral so the scarf isn't overwhelming. Chris is not wearing anything that competes or clashes and the only pattern is in Iris's dress, which helps draw attention to her so she isn't lost. The scarf and Iris's accessories help bring a subtle hint of the holiday into the portrait without being obnoxious.
Try not to wait until the day of or day before the session to pick out and try on outfits. Give
yourself plenty of time to allow for the unexpected. If you are having trouble with clothing
choices, I am happy to help! I want you to look and feel your best.
2. The Day of the Session
Try to make sure everyone is well rested and fed before the session. Tired and hungry kids are
not the most cooperative subjects. Bring sunscreen and bug spray (depending on the location), snacks and drinks that are easily wiped up. An extra set of clothes is sometimes a good idea, especially for young kids.
Activities like games, books, a favorite toy or even things like skateboards are welcome. They make for really fun shots and keep the kids entertained during down times. This works for young kids as well as teens and is sometimes the best way to get them to open up and be themselves in front of the camera.
3. “Cheese” Faces
“Say cheeeese” is a sure fire way to get fake smiles. The more pressure the child feels to “smile
right”, the worse the expression gets. In my experience, natural interaction is the best way to
capture their true personality. Sometimes that means having a quiet conversation about their
favorite subject in school and sometimes it means being silly with them. Help me get to know
your child, and together we can find out what will produce those perfect expressions.
A shot taken while he was trying to smile vs a shot after I made him laugh with a silly comment.
Every family and every session is different, but there are certain things that always seem to come up. A pre-session consultation is the best way to address all of those things ahead of time. I've even had clients bring me into their kids' closets to help pick out their outfits!
My goal is to help my clients keep their stress level as low as possible before and during their shoot. I want the session to be a fun, positive experience. If the parents are relaxed and have fun, the children will be relaxed and have fun, and everyone will have a good time and look like their best selves!
Cassandra Zingaro - photographer, mom, wife, owner of HeartStrings Photography and first time blogger