Tips to styling and personalizing your family sessions
Get to know your client
I always start with a questionnaire and a phone conversation if I can. Chatting with your client and brainstorming together is the best way to get to know them, their loves and their hopes for your time together. I insist that each and every client fill out a “getting to know you” questionnaire and I go over it with them as I begin my planning. This helps me develop a concept and/or an emotion that we want to convey. (with a family session that is usually they love they have for each other!) We discuss the personalities of their kiddos and what excites them at this stage in their lives, the things they love to do as a family and even where in their home they plan on placing images so that I can make sure I get the shots that will later tell their story on their walls or in an album.
This family had a favorite bedtime story we implemented and loves their tickle time and snuggling with each other and a favorite bunny! They also wanted to show case their sweet girl turning one!
Give yourself time for planning and to be flexible
My next step is a storyboard and sometimes…pinterest! Some clients love to be more involved and we create a pin board together where they can place ideas or get clothing ideas or posing helps from me (be careful with this because you don’t want anyone to start pinning hundreds of ideas from other photographers and start to lose the focus of the session or expect you to get all these shots!) Ultimately I want them to feel confident that we have chosen the right clothes, location, time of day, etc and sometimes that is easier to show people visually. I like to create notes and a storyboard where I can doodle my poses and my flow for the session, remind myself of shots I really need to get (like full length, looking over shoulder, daddy tossing baby, etc.) and any props I don’t want to forget in the excitement of the day.
I also make sure I have a list for the day of everything I need to bring and an email that goes out to the client of everything they need to bring!
It would be so disappointing to have done all this work for the perfect session and forgotten something that would have saved you like, chap stick, wipes, bug spray, snacks, fave toys, treats for older kiddos!
And lastly, I always have clients bring a few outfits and accessories, especially for the kids and I go through everything a few minutes before we start to make sure I have the exact look we discussed and that everyone flows. If I have seen their outfits in advance (I ask for texts of outfit ideas) then I usually bring a few headbands , rompers and scarves of my own just in case!
Props and Location
These are the things that will set the tone and make or break your session when trying to personalize it!
One of the questions I ask at the beginning is what type of location….whether is be an urban setting with lots of colour, brick, graffiti, etc or a rural location with barns, setting sun, wildflowers or a park with lots of trees, green space, fields and then I set to scouting. I have a list (I like lists) of locations that I use on a regular basis but always be on the lookout when you are out and about for that new or hidden spot. Ask friends and family if they have come across anything. This particular location is private property and I always ask before using private land, this is a horse farm that I would never have found if not for a friend mentioning it to me. Always check out your location before you head out as the scenery and sun position changes throughout the year.
I try to not overdo it with props as I like the focus to be the family interaction first, so key pieces that add an extra layer or depth to the image are what I recommend. That may be some rustic crates that peek out of the grass or balloons to celebrate a milestone. Wildflowers that a toddler can hold or be made into a crown, a vintage pram that siblings can push each other in, or a unique chair to snuggle in.
My favorite places to look are etsy, kijiji (Canada) or craig’s list, facebook and instagram , friends houses! Two of my favorite prop vendors are JD Vintage Props and TFJ Designs.
With thoughtful planning, imagination, and involving your clients in the process, you can create a successful personalized and styled session that brings to life what you envision.