There was a time before I had a child. During this time, I would worry about things like.."Should I drink my coffee before or after my leisurely yoga session?" "Maybe I'll take a swim or go shopping before starting my night shift." "It's Saturday...what a gorgeous morning to sleep in."
Let me tell you, friend..those days are so distant, I wonder if some alien implanted fake memories into my head to keep me sane. Yes, I have a toddler. A little boy on the cusp of turning two. A cherub with bright blue eyes and chubby rosy cheeks who lights up my world when he gives me his "cheese" grin. A little angel who can turn into a possessed demon with the flick of a cheerio. Who is hyperventilating because the milk wasn't poured to the MILLIMETER HE DEEMS ACCEPTABLE in his cereal bowl. Who asked me to wash his toy car, then absolutely thinks he is dying because it's wet and will not see reason for at least 15 minutes. I used to laugh at those hilarious stories you read on the internet about the irrationality of a toddler. I couldn't wait to experience those things for myself. Well, fellow human, life is different in the trenches.
We had our first family photos taken when my son was around 3 months old. I felt this stage was easy. He could lay in his bassinet next to me while I got dressed. I made sure to feed him before I put on my dress so he would be full and relaxed. Oh, how I miss those days. You can see in the picture below he was pretty excited about the dog being next to him and that was enough for entertainment.
Photo by Laia Gore Photography
Only one sweet year later and I have the beginnings of a toddler on my hands. Oh, how life changed when it came to getting ready. He can now walk, demand things, and refuse to be left alone for any period of time. He also never stopped eating. Never. This made it difficult to have an appropriate 'dressing time'. You know that last minute where everyone puts on their clothes and the parents hold their breath and pray. I was so impressed with our photographer, Jennifer Alyssa, who was able to capture Ronan's attention AND get him to smile. It was no small feat. I was stressed with a capital S getting ready for this photo shoot, even with preparation and planning, it was tough. Thus began the inspiration for the following survival guide.
Photo by Jennifer Alyssa Photography
So let's get on to what you came here for.
HOW TO SURVIVE:
1. MOST IMPORTANT - Get. Help.
I don't mean this figuratively in like a cute way, I mean literally, get your best friend, mother in law, mother, that random person off the street, ANYONE to help. Preferably someone your child/ren enjoys or tolerates, or hell even fears. And I mean real help. Like they are completely playing nanny while you get dressed, peacefully in another room. Do you even know what that means? Exactly. Get help.
2. USE YOUR HELP MERCILESSLY.
You are investing in something that is important to you, that you do not do very often, and could be a significant investment depending on the photographer you choose. Think of your anniversary dinner. Do you spend time on how you look? Maybe your hair or you buy a new dress? Why? Because it is a special occasion and it is worth the time and investment. The stress of a family portrait session takes this up a notch. Not only is it a special occasion, but your face will literally be recorded for permanent record, hopefully in a nice big piece of wall art for you to walk past and smile fondly at.
So, you will be needing to use your help, maybe while you go and get your hair done or to shop in quiet for outfits that complement each other and will photograph well. Hopefully, your photographer is helping you out quite a bit on this one. Use your help until they are secretly wondering why they volunteered or accepted your request. You will not regret it and it will show in the end product. Then go buy them a nice bottle of wine or something.
Pretend you are Ivanka Trump or Kate Middleton for the day, where you walk out of your dressing quarters and have one, two, or three, etc well behaved, clean, dressed children waiting for you by the door. If you need to take well behaved out of that sentence in your head, do it. I understand.
3. IT DOESN'T END WITH GETTING READY. Wait, what?
Your victim *ahem* I mean friend thought she was done after everyone was dressed nicely and you're on the way to the car? Oh no. The rodeo is just getting started. She's coming with us. Let me tell you the difference between a photo session where your toddler just met me, and I'm putting a scary black thing in front of my face and expecting her to look at me AND smile and the session where Grandma is playing peek a boo over my shoulder and making fart noises. Pure. Gold. That's the difference. It's my job to get kids to have fun in front of the camera and I LOVE IT. Really, kids are incredible. They are silly, unreserved, imaginative, have no social filter (my favorite), need I go on? They're awesome. They usually love me, too. We act silly and run around and they see they can trust me. But I'm still a stranger, (hopefully not by the end of the session) and it can be hard to loosen up. But having their favorite person there to stand right next to me? Priceless. But if this is too much to ask of someone, we will still make it work. I promise you. I've had kids cry their whole session with mom and dad looking hopeless, but you would never know with the end product. It's what you hired me for.
4. DO NOT WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE TO PREPARE.
OK, friends..this is in caps for a reason. The last minute, unprepared parent is the stressed parent. I've been there. I'm not preaching from the choir, I'm telling you from experience. Outfits can really be the make or break in a photography session. Sometimes it is hard to tell, but once you see it in that picture, you will have some major feelings of regret. HOPEFULLY, your photographer is helping you with this. Like, big time.
I'm a hand holder, you can text me any time of the day or night, obsessive perfectionist when it comes to helping with outfits. Here is some of the sound advice I give all of my clients. Look for one bold solid colored piece and build the rest of the family around it. Usually this means mom. Everyone else should have outfits in varying shades of neutrals. Avoid patterns, stripes, very white whites, and my least favorite - matchy matchy. Some people have this fashion thing down and don't need any help. If you're like me, you're probably not jamming the floor length lace dress every day and could use some guidance.
The best neutrals for photography - ivory, light grey, khaki, blush pink. Mom finds an incredible colored mauve dress? Gorgeous. Put the girls in the lightest pinks you can find and Dad and boys in grey and ivory. The point here is preparation. The statement piece can be the hardest to find. Everything usually falls into place after that. But do it way in advance and then hang up all the outfits next to each other and take a quick cell phone shot and send it to your photographer for any tweaks. Include accessories, like shoes, jewelry, little girl's headbands, etc.
Above is an example of a family that uses all of the principles outlined previously. Mom is in a beautiful dark pink dress that makes the statement piece for the family, but it could still be considered a dark neutral. The dress is solid, with no patterns and is flattering for a photo shoot. Dad and baby are dressed in different shades of brown neutrals to complement her dress. Their outfits lend an air of elegance and understatement that is timeless. When clothing doesn't flow or fit well or the coloring is off, it is all you can see in the photo. It distracts from the real beauty of the people in it.
Are there exceptions to these rules? Of course! The guidelines above apply to a more traditional portrait session, something that could be hung on the wall and enjoyed for years and years. Every photo shoot has a different feel and theme and sometimes that calls for something fun and out of the ordinary. The important thing is to communicate, build, and create something special with your photographer.