I've been a photographer for a little while now, and I'm ready to share a secret with you. Kids who are free to play and act silly take great photos. They can even get a little crazy. I don't mind. Most kids won't respond well to "stand here and smile" instructions, but they will gladly run under a blanket or laugh when I tell them a poop joke.
They may even offer one of their own poop jokes and crack up their siblings, but only if they're free to shed some manners a little bit.
I know how it is. I have four crazy kids of my own. You want them to behave, to stand where they need to stand, to look where they need to look. I get it. I'm telling you, it doesn't work that way. Not with my family photo sessions.
You see, my journey with photography started when I became a mom. I remember feeling entranced with all the emotions that were evident in their little faces, before they became self-conscious enough to hide them. Children generally will not lie to you with their faces. If they are feeling connected, if they love to be around you, it will show.
My goal as a photographer is to capture that light-in-their-eyes expression when they experience the joy of playing or being together, and that only happens when you let go of how it's "supposed" to go and enjoy the process.
Have you ever been yelled at and then wanted to smile? Nope. Neither do kids. That's why, before our family photo session, I ask all my parents to save their discipline for later. This is play time. I don't need anyone to act perfectly, and I am pretty adept at creating a fun environment for kids in which they will want to play.
I don't ever ask a child to smile or be something they're not. Kids who are free not to smile can offer a different type of innocent soulful photo. We need a reminder sometimes that kids are people too, they have a full range of emotions and that is perfectly ok.
Just so we're clear, I'd rather you not feed them a meal of orange soda and Twizzlers right before our family photo shoot. Making sure that your kids are rested, well fed, and know what to expect is key to a great family photography experience.
But after that, take a deep breath, let go of the "shoulds," and enjoy your crazy kids. I certainly do.