How to Prep your husband for a Family Portrait Session

When many moms come to me to book a family portrait session, their first concern is if their young children will “behave” for a portrait session. I want to make a deal with you….if you properly prepare your husband or significant other for the portrait session, then I promise I will handle the children. (Also, “behaving” is overrated. I want your babies to be wild and free and real.)  

Things Dads Misunderstand About a Portrait Session:

Think about it for a minute: generally, 100% of my interactions before a portrait session have been with Mom.  (This isn’t ALWAYS the case. I have had dads do the booking, but usually it’s mom.) It’s likely that mom was the one following me on social media, and mom was the one who picked me.  Dad’s probably not read my blog.  He’s also not the one reading all the emails from me preparing you for what to expect at the session.  

Dad may have no idea about my candid style, or the fact that a photo session with me is meant to be playful and fun.  Maybe, in his head, he’s expecting the studio type portrait session of his youth, where everyone had to stand at attention on a tiny black dot and stare unblinkingly at the camera. 

Another misconception dads sometimes have is that we are trying to get “one good picture.”  I try to get what I refer to as the “Grandma shot” early in the session.  That’s the one where everyone is looking at the camera and smiling. It’s the one to send to Grandma…the more traditional look.  But my real goal is to get you a gallery FULL of beautiful, candid images of your family that showcase their personalities and their love for each other.  That takes more than 5 minutes.  

Things Dads do wrong because they aren’t informed:

It’s not their fault.  They are trying to help. But because they don’t know what to expect, or what the desired outcome is, they aren’t being as helpful as they could be.  Here are some things they do because they don’t know better:

  • Telling the kids to “hurry up and behave and we will get this over faster.”  (First, this is gonna be fun.  We don’t want to behave as if it’s a chore.  Also, we want to get lots of fun and candid images.  This is not over after the first good photo.)
  • Telling the kids to “stop goofing off.”  (Sometimes, I’m encouraging them to be goofy because it helps them relax and be real. Don’t worry, not all the images I give you will include that silly monster face.)
  • Staring at my camera the entire session with a clenched teeth smile that clearly says “my wife made me do this.”  

What I want from Dads to make the Photo Session a Success:

Relax.  Be silly.  Play games.  Have tickle fights.  Spin the kids around in circles.  Wrestle.  Tell dad jokes. Kiss your wife.  Hold hands.  Throw the baby in the air (safely).  Misbehave.  

How you can help prepare dad for the photo session:

The biggest thing you can do before a session to make it successful is just to let dad know what to expect.  Make sure he knows it will take about an hour, that we want lots of fun candid images, and that we aren’t trying to get studio-like posed portraits.  Before each session, I send out an email on how parents can help make a portrait session successful.  Share that with dad so he knows what to expect too.  You can even show him the type of photos that you love from my family portfolio so he understands that not every photo needs to be of everyone smiling and looking at the camera.  If dad is informed and knows what to expect, then he can help make the session fun and memorable, which is exactly what we want.

A perfect example:

I chose this session to talk about how to prep dads for family photos, because I think Brian has always done exactly what i wanted him to do at sessions.  I’ve been photographing these two amazing kids since Grayson was in the womb and I shot a maternity session for their family. These kids embody everything I love about photographing young children, and I often have written about how easy it is to photograph them.

But one thing that makes it so easy to photograph them, is that their parents behave exactly the way I want parents to behave at a session. They don’t stress and let the session unfold naturally. They play and interact with the kids, and encourage silliness.

My case in point: Grayson’s pants were a little big around the waist and were sagging down. Brian made a joke that Grayson needed to keep his “booty in his pants.” That somehow evolved into a little silly song that Grayson and Alys both thought was hilarious. It kept him giggling for half the session.

Yes!! That’s the way it should be. That’s what I need from all my dads out there…less telling the kids to “behave” and more “keep your booty in your pants.”

Extended Family Portrait Session at Aspen Grove Park in Franklin, TN

I first met this beautiful family a little over 2 years ago when they booked their first extended family portrait session with me. Sherri had booked the session and wanted to have a big family portrait session with all her grandbabies. I remember that she had said in her booking paperwork that she wanted to capture “”love, happiness, grand-babies & family.” 

Now it’s been over two years, and there is still plenty of love and happiness, and even more grandbabies to include. One of my favorite parts of this job is that I am able to witness families like Sherri’s grow and change over the years. What a beautiful family they have created. I love being able to capture a little of that beauty for them to keep.

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month: Kelly’s Gold Hope Project

September is childhood cancer awareness month.  As many of you know, I am a volunteer photographer with an organization called The Gold Hope Project.

The mission of The Gold Hope Project is to gift families battling pediatric cancer with a free portrait session. Photos from the sessions are then used to raise awareness & funds for pediatric oncology research and treatment.

Through my work with the Gold Hope Project, I have had the honor of meeting some truly amazing little fighters, and their families. The short amount of time that I have spent with them has changed me for the better. I want to share a little about them with you.

If your child is currently fighting childhood cancer, or is a survivor under the age of 18, click here to apply for a free Gold Hope Session.

When I first shoot a session for the project, I have to wait until the images are featured on the Gold Hope Project website before I can share them myself. This can often take a while because there are so many sessions with families all over the country. As a result of this wait, I have not blogged these sessions yet. I thought that September would be a great time to go back and introduce you to all the amazing little ones I’ve met in the past year.

Kelly’s Story:

My very first official Gold Hope session was this past October with this amazing little girl, Kelly.  Kelly was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma a couple months before her first birthday.  She has stage 4 advanced Neuroblastoma. This is a very aggressive cancer with a very aggressive treatment plan. This poor sweet girl has been through a lot in her short lifetime, enduring many hospital stays and tough treatments. In the words of her mama, she is the bravest and strongest little girl, and always tries to do everything with a smile on her face.

It’s been about 10 months since I met with Kelly and her family, but I have continued to follow along with her story on her Facebook page. On September 9th, she will be admitted in the hospital for hopefully the very last time, for a very hard last round of treatments. Please continue to keep her in your prayers.

Our Time Together:

Kelly’s session is probably one of my favorites of all time. She was just absolutely so much fun to be around. Her smile was infectious, and her joy comes through in the photos, and when I look at them, I can’t help but smile.

The light and the weather were magical that day, and everything just came together perfectly. One of the things I love about toddlers is that they are so fascinated by the world around them, and find wonder in the things the rest of us take for granted. Kelly was even more so enamored by the beauty around her, having spent a good portion of her life in hospital rooms. She had so much fun exploring the park, and it was a gift to imagine what the world looked like through her eyes.

We played hide and seek, and she giggled so hard when her daddy would jump from behind a tree. Kelly loved the bubble machine that I sometimes pull out at sessions. She showed me one of her favorite Eric Carle books (Brown Bear, Brown Bear) and we listened to her favorite song from the Moana movie.

Kelly had to have surgery not long after our session, so I was so very thankful that she was able to enjoy our time together.

I hope that her family was able to find a few moments of joy, leaving behind the burdens and stresses of fighting cancer. I’m so glad they were able to take a break from all the worries and just enjoy their beautiful little girl.  I hope that when they look at the photos, that it brings them back to those happy memories and gives them hope of more beautiful moments in the future. 

Where to Read More About Kelly:

Kelly’s Gold Hope Session Blog

Kelly’s Facebook Page

Some Facts about Go Gold for Childhood Cancer:

  • In 1997, a group of parents picked gold as the official color for the childhood cancer awareness ribbon. The color gold symbolizes how precious children are and the resiliency of childhood cancer heroes. Unlike other awareness ribbons which symbolize one specific disease, the childhood cancer ribbon stands for dozens of diseases. You can learn more about the different types of childhood cancer, including brain tumors, leukemia and other solid tumors like neuroblastoma here. 
  • The color gold symbolizes how precious children are and the resiliency of childhood cancer heroes. Unlike other awareness ribbons which symbolize one specific disease, the childhood cancer ribbon stands for dozens of diseases.

I still have a few Fall Portrait sessions left. What are you waiting for? Book yours today.

A Christmas Gift to Last a Lifetime – Photo Session for Mom

Franklin TN Family Portrait Photographer - Family of 5 with Teens at Aspen Grove Park in Franklin TN

Isn’t it funny how a smell can take you back to a time 30 years ago?  That’s how I felt at this session at Aspen Grove Park in Franklin, TN this week when I arrived early (like I always do) to take a walk before my clients arrived.  It was an absolutely perfect spring day, and as I walked down the trail, I was overwhemed with the scent of honeysuckle.  Honeysuckle is one of my favorite smells (I even use this in my kitchen), and it takes me back to my childhood in the mountains of East Tennessee when me and a neighborhood friend use to spend hours and hours walking through the hollows and back roads just talking and enjoying the sunshine.  

It was the perfect day for a family session for this handsome family.  Dad had purchased the session as a gift for mom this past Christmas, after she had hinted strongly that what she wanted was to capture her families special memories in a portrait session. This was especially important now, because her oldest, Porter, is graduating from high school this week.  

We all know how quickly time flies.  A portrait session gift certificate is a perfect gift for moms who want to freeze time forever, if only in photographs.  

What exactly is Lifestyle Photography?

This beautiful family was able to take a last minute opening that I had available, and I am so glad they did.  We had so much fun running and playing in the leaves. 

I thought I might take the opportunity to talk about exactly what it means to shoot lifestyle photography, which is what I consider most of my sessions. To understand lifestyle photography, it helps to understand a few other types of photography.

One type of photography is classic posed portraiture.  These are what you think of when you think of a photographer telling you exactly where to stand, how to hold your chin, elbow, etc.  While I believe there is a time and a place for specific posing, this is not the type of photography that inspires me.  I do, however, try to capture at least a few of these shots throughout a session. 

Another type of photography (one that does inspire me), is documentary photography.  In documentary, the photographer doesn’t give guidance at all, but is merely a fly on the wall capturing what happens as it unfolds. I LOVE documentary.  I love to capture real life moments and emotions.  My birth sessions are documentary, as you can imagine.  In that setting, I am dictating nothing, but just capturing the story that is happening in front of me.  

The problem with using a PURE documentary approach for family sessions is that if I tried to be a fly on the wall and just capture what was happening, it’s likely, at least at first, that your family would stand around awkwardly, not sure what to do with themselves. Probably after enough time passed, they’d forget about me and start going about life, but unless something particularly engaging were happening it may take hours and hours to get a full gallery of images that showed a variety of things. 

So that brings us to lifestyle photography.  Lifestyle photography, for me anyway, is a balance between posed and documentary.  My goal at lifestyle sessions is to capture images as I would at a documentary session, but to hurry things along a bit, and if possible, make them happen in pretty light.  Instead of being a fly on the wall and waiting on your children to play, I’ll suggest they race (on the pretty bridge), play in the leaves, play ring around the roses, or play Simon Says with me.  These are things they might do naturally, but probably not in the span of an hour long photo session unless I asked them to.  

I want to capture real emotion, but instead of waiting on it to happen organically, I might whisper to your kids to go give you a big hug.  I don’t believe that the fact that I asked for it, makes the emotions any less real. It’s a combination of posed and documentary because sometimes I tell you just what to do, sometimes I just suggest an activity and sit back and wait for a moment to happen, and sometimes I act like a documentary photographer and hang back and capture moments that I notice have happened organically without any interference from me.  

This is the combination I find that works best for me at my family sessions, and I think it helps clients to feel more relaxed and natural as well.  As my friend Emily said recently, “my favorites are the posed candids.”What exactly is Lifestyle Photography?This is the combination I find that works best for me at my family sessions, and I think it helps clients to feel more relaxed and natural as well.  As my friend Emily said recently, “my favorites are the posed candids.”

The junk in my trunk

I’ve photographed the birth of both of these beautiful babies, and documenting their growth through photographs is truly one of the greatest joys of my job. This is my favorite session so far, probably because this age is my absolute favorite.  For both of them, the world is still so new and interesting and every tiny thing is a wonderful discovery.  I will never ever get tired of photographing toddlers.

Every now and then, there is a photo that stops me in my tracks as I am editing, and the one below of sweet Charlotte running towards her family did that for me in this set.  Have you ever seen anything as beautiful as that overwhelming and enthusiastic love a toddler has for her parents? 

I recently received a really random text from an acquaintance. She said she new it was an odd question, but wanted to know if there was any chance that I had any sparklers…well past July when they were available at stores and fireworks stands. She needed them for a birthday party she was helping to plan.

I told her that of course I had sparklers. I keep them in my trunk. How many do you need?!?

The sparklers had recently come in handy another time too…I was at the birthday party of one of my closest friends four year old, and they had forgotten candles for the cake. I ran to my trunk and brought her sparklers and we lit those as we sang “Happy Birthday” to the guest of honor. In some ways, it was more fun than candles and maybe that will be a thing from now on.

The sparklers led me to think about the other random things I carry in my trunk, so I thought I would list them for you in case you were curious. So here it is – a list of things actually in my trunk this very moment.

  • Sparklers
  • 6 quilts in various colors
  • A bubble machine
  • Bubble Juice
  • An extra camera bag with camera (not my main camera…I carry that inside)
  • A lightstand
  • Some bottles of water
  • A lighter
  • Some smoke bombs
  • Three clear umbrellas
  • Sophie the Giraffe
  • Yummy Earth Suckers
  • Organic Bug Spray
  • For Real Bug Spray
  • A Tide Stain Remover Pen
  • Wet Ones Wipes
  • Rain Ponchos
  • Sun Screen

Sometimes, I don’t use anything in my trunk, but I like knowing it’s there if I do need it.  For this session, I pulled out the umbrella, though we didn’t need it thankfully as the rain stopped just before we started, and lots and lots of bug spray.  I also stuck a poncho in my bag just in case I had to protect my camera from the rain.  And of course, the suckers came out after the session.

What about you? What do you have in your trunk?  Is there anything in mine that you are surprised about?  Anything you think I’m missing? 

10 moments I want to capture for you

I feel like I was super lucky at yesterday’s marathon sessions.  I had three sessions scheduled with a 15 minute break between each session.  Between my first and second session, it rained fairly hard.  But then stopped in time for my second session. It caused some humidity and so vengeful mosquitoes, but we made it through. 
I warned this family ahead of time that I was going to struggle with their names.  These girls are Kaylie and Morgan.  My own girls are Megan and Kayla. The similarities helped me to remember their names, but I did, as I knew I would keep mixing them up because Megan is my oldest, but for these two sisters, Morgan is the younger sister. 

I finally managed to retrain my brain by the end of the session, and I hope they forgave me.  What a fun family to work with! I so enjoyed getting to know these girls and their parents. They were so fun to work with and naturals in front of the camera. We had a fantastic time. 
Before a session, I have a survey that asks clients what their most important shots are.  That helps me to balance the priorities of the session, but I always have in my head a list of shots I want to be able to include in a clients gallery. These girls made it easy to capture those shots.

  1. A family shot with everyone looking at the camera. (Not my favorite, but I feel like I need to include it.)
  2. A candid family shot, that shows emotion. (My favorite)
  3. Individual close-ups of each of your children.
  4. Full body & candids of each of your children.
  5. A more posed sibling shot, if possible. (May be difficult if they are super young.)
  6. Mom & Dad together. (It’s important to capture where the family began.)
  7. Details (feet, hair, lovey, hands, etc)
  8. Mom with the kids
  9. Dad with the kids
  10. Fun, create shots of everyone having fun.

Did I miss anything? What would be on your shot list?

Mom was there too

Lisa said something in her questionnaire when she booked me that really struck a cord with me. 

“I have almost no pictures of myself with my children that aren’t selfies since I am always the one behind the camera. That’s usually how it works though, right?” 

Yes, that is how it usually works, and it sucks. I’m so glad that we were able to get Lisa on the other side of the camera with her beautiful family. It’s hard, and as moms we have SOOOO many reasons why we don’t have enough photos of ourselves, but it is so important to our children that we get in the pictures too. In the years to come, the photos we give to our children are such a gift, but they don’t just want to see photos of themselves…they want to see mom (and dad!) in the pictures too.  

I just love taking photos of mothers with their babies, and this session was no exception. This group was such a joy to capture and made my job so easy. 

And can we just talk about the clothing choices for a minute?  I love the color tones so much. The burgundy and the blues against the backdrop of the green trees was just perfection.

So moms, what’s keeping you from getting in front of the camera?