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How to Set Yourself Up for Success on Family Photo Session Day

May 19, 2021

One single creme brûlée drop splattered across the alpine white linen of my dress. Despite every effort to avoid it, my forehead was drenched in sweat, makeup creating a stream of irony trickling down to my chin.

“Mason James!” I threatened my three year old with his middle name, an indication to him, I hoped, that he would know Mama meant business. “You certainly won’t be earning a milkshake if you fall into the frog pond!” 

I don’t usually incentivize my children with edible rewards, but it was Family Photo Day, and I was feeling desperate. 

The baby wouldn’t crack a single smile, despite our sweet photographer’s best rendition of “Baby Shark.” My toddler was giving me heart palpitations at every turn, scaling stone walls and doing his very best Evel Knievel impression near the cement staircase. We were twenty minutes into our half hour mini session, and I would be willing to bet large sums of money that we hadn’t obtained any usable imagery from the chaos that was our time together. 

But then, less than 24 hours later, a sneak peek gallery arrived in my inbox and I was delighted to find we had, indeed, made some precious memories (despite the idle threats through my very own gritted teeth). I was reminded of something that I tell my motherhood clients often… that it feels harder to be the Mama in this exchange, not the photographer. What transpires as chaos for you yields beautiful and authentic movement in my camera. The images reflect the natural energy of childhood…you’ll want to remember this! While it can feel challenging, there is a balance between controlling your kiddos during your session and giving them the freedom and space to be themselves. 

Nikki Santerre How to Set Yourself Up For Success on Family Photo Session Day

As a photographer, I believe it’s a fundamentally important piece to the puzzle of my client experience that I put myself into the shoes of my mothers on photo session day. I’ve learned, from my own experience with documenting my wildling family, that there are things we can do ahead of time to set ourselves up for success and maximize our time in front of the camera (with a mini session especially, it feels as fleeting as the baby season itself!).

  1. Plan around naps and meals. This might seem like a no brainer, but you know your child better than anyone. If interrupting their nap is like waking a sleeping bear, choose not to poke the bear. That’s not the version of your child you want to take into an already stressful situation. Your photographer may suggest early morning or sunset, and while those are the best technical times for lovely light, that timing should not trump setting up your child for their best temperament. Beautiful light means nothing to an overtired toddler. Advocate for your child when setting your session time (and, if you’re hiring a true professional, they will be able to suggest a location and work with whatever lighting situation is present). 
  2. Invest in YOUR outfit, Mama. Don’t skimp on what you’re going to wear. When you see an image, it’s a natural reaction for your brain to recall what you felt in that moment. If you were feeling self-conscious in your clothes, you’re going to remember that when you see the photos. 
  3. Bring an extra set of hands, someone who can help wrangle little people but won’t be overbearing or distracting. 
  4. Bring an ACTIVITY to do with your children during the session, something they enjoy. Maybe it’s a picnic, maybe it’s a bubble machine, maybe it’s a blanket with their favorite book. Whatever it is that will allow natural and candid interactions to unfold between you and them is ideal. Let them be KIDS so that the carefree nature of their spirits that makes this season so magical unfolds in front of the camera. 
  5. Arrive at your session location 10-15 minutes early and get your children dressed in the car. This way, you aren’t at risk for spills or mishaps that could ruin an outfit. 
  6. It’s in my nature to assume I am capable of MORE than my time will actually allow. Don’t do this to yourself on photo session day. Keep your schedule light on that day so you don’t risk running late and causing unnecessary stress. 
  7. Stressful situations often can bring out our least favorite characteristics, in ourselves and in those we love. Family photo day is my husband’s least favorite day of the year, and he’s married to a professional photographer! While it might sound silly, try to communicate with your spouse ahead of the session to ensure that you are on the same page. Create a custom “safe word” that you can say when you can feel their tone changing and tension rising, just a gentle reminder between you to be kind and give each other grace during your session. Also, while mini and motherhood sessions can often be primarily Mama-focused, ask your photographer to get at least one photo of just Mom and Dad together. It’s important that your children see that your marriage is still a priority! 
@Nikki Santerre How to Set Yourself Up For Success on Family Photo Session Day
  1. I love these tips! I’m a photographer of motherhood and family. We’re getting our portraits taken this summer and I’m excited to invest in a beautiful dress 🙂

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