Over the years, I've developed a few strategies to make sure my sessions flow, and almost flawlessly every time!
Win the kids over!
The very first thing you need to do at a family session is win the children over. As soon as they get out of their vehicles, let them know that they're here to have FUN, and you have some fun little games to play! Get down to their level if you need to. Most kids are outgoing and excited, some are more shy and need a little more relaxed approach to convincing them that this is going to be fun. Getting the kids excited about cooperating takes the stress off of mom and dad. I also let the parents know that I'm a relaxed photographer, and I do NOT expect the children to sit still and smile. Don't let them have that unrealistic standard- it rarely happens. Thank god my shutter clicks at a fraction of a second!
I am not a Walmart Portrait Studio. I am a custom photographer, here to capture your family exactly as they are. Through a few specific games and fun, I create bonding opportunities to allow me to catch the perfect photograph. I'll go in detail about those a little bit later!
Fake it 'till You Make It.
As silly as it sounds- this is practical and important advice. When you feel like you don't know how to pose a family next, or you're not sure if you're doing a good job or not, don't let them see that. You need to show up acting like you know exactly what you're doing, even if you feel like you don't. This way, clients will trust you more, and your clients trusting you is one of the best things that can happen for a session. I always let my clients know that "Hey, not every pose works for every family! If we get you in this one and I don't like it, we're going to scrap it and move on. It has nothing to do with you- sometimes it's just not the right pose for your family and that's okay!"
Once I let them know this, I'm free to experiment with posing. I literally pick their hands up and move them sometimes, just to see what it would look like if he caressed her cheek instead of having a hand on her shoulder. If it doesn't look right, then I simply say "Meh, not diggin' it... let's try something else!"
I'll literally step back, take a deep breath, and gather my thoughts for a bit before posing them again, just to sort of ground myself and remind myself that I'm the bomb-diggity and I'm crushing this session! ;-)
There are times you will show up to a session disheveled, disorganized, insecure... and you may not know how to handle a certain family. Generally I let the families lead the session a little by encouraging them to snuggle and hug each other the way they would if I weren't there, but sometimes I get really, really shy families who are very awkward in front of the camera. They don't respond to my corny jokes, they barely speak...and this tends to stress me out a little, since I'm a super outgoing person. When this happens, my only solution is to take full control and take the stress off of them. I get very hands-on and pose them as if they're modelling clay. I'm always constantly talking, coaching and directing.
The Unruly Dad
Unfortunately, men seem to rarely look forward to photo sessions. I suspect it's because Dad is usually expected to be the one keeping the kids in line, and lets face it: Kids are CRAZY. Especially at the beach, park, or other fun photo location.
Put yourself in his shoes for a bit though. Chances are he's been dealing with a Stressed out mom, some wound-up kids, and he's wearing clothes he's not really comfortable in because his wife made him! lol.
The BEST way to win Dad over, is by first winning the kids over. When he sees you've got them under control, he'll relax much better!
I also try not to stress Dad about posing and looking at the camera. Remind him you aim for a natural look and he doesn't always need to be looking at the camera! I often make dads kiss mom or kids on the cheek if they're feeling really uncomfortable in front of a camera. Giving them something to do seems to ease their worries. I've even encouraged some dads with high anxiety levels to have a few beer before the session, which works like a charm! lol
Sadly, this is so common. Mom desperately wants beautiful photos, but doesn't feel beautiful. Remember society places ridiculous beauty standards on women, and her self-worth almost entirely relies on how beautiful she feels. It's not fair- but it's reality.
The best way to handle this is to build trust with her. She's already seen your photos of others looking amazing- so the foundation of trust is there, but she needs more from you. She needs you to tell her exactly how to stand, exactly what to do. Again, as I mentioned with the prep package- remind her she needs to be feeling good about her photos, so hair, makeup, amazing new outfit... whatever it takes!
She also needs real, sincere compliments from you. I mean really real. Find something you LOVE about her. Maybe it's her hairstyle, her sense of fashion, her eyesbrows- anything. But give her sincere compliments, and when she nails a pose, make sure she knows it by saying "OMG you're going to LOVE that photo, you really nailed it!"
Ask her to snap a few selfies of herself in her outfit before the session and give her your HONEST opinion. If it doesn't work for her- suggest something that may. Give her the names of amazing hair stylists and makeup artists. As with Dads, encourage them to snuggle their babies, rock them, play with them, etc. This will help take some of the pressure off for her. Remember, a LOT of the time, Mom ultimately decides to hire you, and mom more or less decides whether the photos are "good" or not. How she feels about the session will directly reflect upon her deciding whether or not the actual photos are "good" or not, despite how technically good or bad they actually are. You need to win her over before and during the session if you want her to be satisfied with the results.
Running a smooth session requires a bit of psychology. Don't be intimidated! Just remember how people are feeling and treat them delicately. I suggest everyone read Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People" to get a better understanding of how to interact with clients.