5 Tips for Mom & Dad When Your Session Goes Sideways

The saying "kids will be kids" never rang truer then while shooting a family session. Being photographed is not a child's preferred activity- in fact, it wouldn't even rank in the top 100 on their favorites list. I know this (most everyone probably knows this) and I am ok with it. Actually, I bank on this because I've found several ways to work around it. So if a child were to show up stoked for their family session, I'd be in trouble. My bag of tricks I come armed with would probably not even work! Bring on the attitude kiddos- I thrive on the challenge and bask in the glory when I win you over.

The people who aren't prepared for a child's resistance, defiance or down right crankiness are the people who brought them into this world- parents. Parents enter the shoot with such high expectations, and why shouldn't they? They're forking over a nice chunk of cash for the photos, they've painstakingly chosen everyone's clothes and lovingly strong-armed them into wearing them. They've broken a sweat trying to get everyone bathed, dressed & hair done and they want images that justify this struggle, damnit! Wouldn't you? But sometimes (or almost all the time) kids have a different expectation- or zero expectation for that matter. They can't be bothered and don't care whose dreams they might be squashing when they refuse to cooperate. So when things go south during a session (or sometimes never start to head north to begin with) what should a parent do?

I'll tell you what I do...I PIVOT! I let my plans for the session take a backseat and I come up with ideas that please my toughest customers. I play games, I tell fart jokes and even throw myself on the ground for laughs- but that's me and I can't expect parents to pivot as easily as I do. After all, it's their session dreams that are crashing down. I don't see the defiance of a child as a dream squasher. Instead, I use it to add to the story and as a way to push me to think outside the box. But what will always make it easier for me and more successful for the shoot is when a parent doesn't let the resistance get to them. If a parent chooses to pivot and persevere despite the opposition, we're more likely to pull through. And what might seem like sheer chaos can honestly make such a beautiful gallery of images. Here's what I suggest:

  1. Come armed with a reward for the end of the session. What have you promised these children if they agree to cooperate- a new car, down payment on a house or maybe just ice cream? No matter the case, fill me in on these deets so I can dangle that carrot throughout.
  2. While a pending reward works for a while, offering a tangible treat while shooting is a great tool as well. For example, mini marshmallows are my fave! They dissolve quickly and don't leave a color all over their face. Kids will do a lot of things for some marshmallows! I am not above bribery. Since I know we are not offering a preferred activity for children, I will bribe the hell out of them to get what I want.
  3. Mom and Dad, when all else fails, remember to keep your cool! If you lose it as much as the children are, we're done- that's it, game over. I can't work around cranky kids and their parents- no way. So no matter how hot you are on the inside, or what level of inner despair you reach- we're gonna fake it til we make it! Let them have their earful on the car ride home, but please save it til then. Yelling at them mid session will only add fuel to the fire and we don't need that!
  4. Hug your way through it! When you feel the urge to yell and scream or forcefully man-handle them into doing what you want- stop! Instead, squeeze them in the biggest bear hug you can muster or lay a very forceful kiss on their forehead. The camera likes this peaceful aesthetic much more than that of a child being pinched to the point of tears. You might feel on edge and keeping it together will take every ounce of restraint you have, but use it! Replace the urge to scream with the urge to hug- at least for the duration of the session.
  5. Play along! You'll see me start to act like a fool trying to get your kids to a happy place, play along with me. Laugh at my stupid jokes, crack up when I fall on the ground. Pick them up and tickle them or blow raspberries on their bellies- anything that makes your kid feel like all of this is just play time. After all, that's all it really needs to be- one hour of loving on each other and being playful. Those are the things that beautiful images are made of any way.

I'll end with a quick story of the sweet family featured in this blog. Little sister started out in such a happy mood until five minutes before the session and brother accidentally plowed her over in the parking lot. That was a game changer and a complete deal breaker for her. She was never able to fully rebound from this unintentional tackle. To add fuel to the fire, we had been having the warmest fall here in Atlanta. Everyday felt more like spring than fall and, for this reason, mom had her dressed in a very cool outfit. Wouldn't you know that the day of our session unseasonably cold temperatures decided to roll in, and we were freezing. Little lady was not only pissed off by the fall, but now she is freezing her heiney off! The tears were flowing and so was the snot! Luckily, my awesome cousin, Ashley Stein, who is also a photographer was there with me. I couldn't have done it without her. Ashley was the official nose wiper while I stayed busy throwing myself on the ground. Even more important, were the attitudes of mom and dad. Despite the chaos, they kept their cool and didn't let the tears end the session. I could sense mom's stress and dad's desire to throw in the towel, but they fought the good fight and saw it through til the end. Because they did, we were able to create a very sweet gallery of images. A change into warmer clothes also helped immensely, but truly their ability to cope was what it really boiled down to. Use these tips, mom & dad! I promise you'll be glad you did.