Don’t get me wrong, I love the beautiful and classic photos of everyone with perfect haircuts, unwrinkled shirts, with the Sears textured backdrop, all looking at the camera giving their best and hopefully least awkward smile. You know *exactly* what I’m talking about.
I love these photos… but these photos? They’re not my style, and they’re not the kind of photos you are going to get when we take photos together.
It’s taken me a long time to accept that I am far from perfect, and my photography isn’t perfect either. My photography, like me, is maybe not technically flawless, but it’s full of heart. I am a girl who tells awful cheesy jokes. I feel some things so hard, I cry easily, and my emotions read like a book on my face.
The photos I take are real, heartfelt and truly genuinely you. They are not Sears portraits.
These are the photos we want of the real moments of tender love, hilarious laughter and true smiles. These pictures are the ones you will look at next month on those wild, crazy days (which sometimes feel like they outnumber the not so crazy ones, am I right?) and be reminded of what it’s all about. These are the images that you will look back on, five, ten or twenty years from now and think, “how did I get so lucky?”
I believe that everyone should have photos of the cozy and perfectly imperfect, intimate moments in their family, whether I take these photos or not. My goal is to help guide you to take these photos.
Here are my three simple steps to taking photos of the real love and connection in your family. Ideally, you would use all three of these together at the same time, but try them out one at a time and see how it goes.
1. Give your kids something to do
You have been there in front of the camera, wondering… what do I do with my hands? Where should I be looking? Should I smile? Does my face look weird? Your kids might not feel quite as self conscious in front of the camera, but is it just me, or do your kids pull out the super-fake “cheese” face every time you bring a camera within 20 feet of them? Here’s my solution: give them something to DO. It can be as simple as directing them to hold hands and skip in a circle, blow bubbles, or dump all the ingredients for cookies into a bowl and stir. Whatever you do, don’t sit them down and tell them to “act natural” or “be yourself, just do what you normally do.”
2. Get your kids to touch
It might sound obvious, but if you want photos of real, connected moments, the best way to achieve that is to have your kids physically connect. It’s simply the easiest way to show it. This kind of coaching can take some practice, but don’t be shy telling your kids what to do (I know I’m not shy telling my kids what to do the rest of the time!). If they are sitting, make sure their bodies are touching. If they are standing, ask them to hold hands, or get an older sibling to “help” a younger one by going hand-over-hand or asking them to guide them through an action. “Can you help your little sister blow bubbles by holding the wand with her?” or “can you put your arm around his waist?” It can feel awkward to ask people to get closer, and it can feel weird. It’s ok to acknowledge this and to reassure them that it will look good.
3. Tell them what to think
Sometimes I wish I had magic powers to change how my kids think (no thank you, screaming at the top of your lungs inside isn’t hilarious). But no, this isn’t that. Whamp whamp. This is you evoking a genuine emotion, and then hopefully capturing it in a photo. Let’s do a little example together, and you’ll see exactly what I mean. Close your eyes…. No wait. You can’t read while doing that. Ok, forget that part. But just picture in your mind putting your nose against your newborn’s hair. You can feel how unimaginably soft and downy that little hair is. Picture yourself breathing their smell in. They are peacefully asleep, and you can hear their tiny breaths and feel their tiny body moving rhythmically in your arms. Now think about how you feel. When I think about this moment in my life, I have a small grateful smile, and I feel wistfully nostalgic. If you could see yourself, this sweet calm would be all over your face, and I’d take a photo of you. So, it depends on what kind of images you want to take to determine what you will tell people to think about: joyful and full of laughter or maybe calm and sweet.
With kids I will ask one kid to tell their best joke, to whisper a secret in their sibling’s ear, or to imagine snuggling up right before bed. With parents, I sometimes ask them the same things I would ask of their kids, or to close their eyes for a moment and just breathe in their baby-but-not-a-baby-anymore.
They say that the majority of communication is in our expression and body language, so I utilize this in taking photos all the time. My other bonus tip is not to forget about eye contact - eye contact with one another, and eye contact with you, the photographer. Tell your kids to look at one another, and not at you most of the time (you will have to remind them of this a lot, it’s ok).
Try these ideas out, and let me know how they work for you (or don’t!); I can’t wait to see the beautiful images you create!