How to run a successful family photography session
When I first started my photography business, I was SO EXCITED to actually start booking clients. BUT because I was so busy learning a ton about my camera, how to shoot to achieve the look I wanted, how light works and how that affects the overall look of my photos...when it actually came time for the sessions themselves...
I would get so nervous that sometimes I felt like I was going to throw up.
Running (or being in charge of and directing) during a family session is probably one of the HARDER things I have done in my time as a photographer. You are likely dealing with:
Kids of various ages...maybe they just started walking (or RUNNING) and can't sit still for even 1 minute
Mom's who might be stressed because this whole thing was her idea
Dad's who are uninterested in this whole process or even slightly mad about being there
Hunger, tears, dirty shirts and overall overwhelm
That can be A LOT to deal with all while you are trying to find the best light, backdrop and camera settings.
Throughout the years however, I have found that doing a few simple things can really help your sessions to go much more smoothly and will help clients have a great session and want to book you over and over again.
AND THEY WILL RAVE ABOUT YOU to all their friends. And who wouldn't want that? (ummmm...if you are raising your hand right now you need to reread the question) ;-)
Alrighty so let's get to it already. How in the world do you run such amazing family photo sessions and keep your clients coming back for more???
It all starts before the session
I can't really talk about this enough. Prepping your clients BEFORE the session is absolutely where you start in ensuring your session goes off without a hitch.
Being super timely with email response and making sure you are professional (but friendly) in your communication as well as being thorough is a must.
Anticipate questions and answer them before they are asked.
Have blog posts already written that you can point clients too for more information.
If talking on the phone and doing a consultation of sorts is part of your workflow, then absolutely make sure that you are answering their questions during this time in a confident yet friendly way.
Education is key. Your clients may not have done this in a LONG time, if ever. They might be feeling a little unsure of the process and/or don't know what to expect. You need to make it all crystal clear for them before they even show up to the park for the session.
Planning ahead comes natural for me as an introvert. We tend to not like brand new situations that we've never encountered before. Novelty is a little unnerving for us. This means that I naturally attempt to make new experiences and situations a little less nerve-wracking by planning ahead.
Scope out the location you'll be going (if it's somewhere you have never shot before and its feasible for you to do so.)
Send detailed questionnaires to your clients so you can get to know them better before you show up at the session. Ask them questions about each of their child so you know a little bit about each one before hand. If little Timmy is feeling shy or uncooperative and then you ask him about his love for trains, you might find he warms up to you a lot sooner!
Have a general idea of the shots you want to take during the session and how you might want to execute them. Even though things can go off the rails sometimes (especially with smaller, younger kids) having a plan before hand will help you stay on track and make sure you get all the shots you wanted.
Be Personable and make them feel comfortable
The session itself is where you can really shine. If you have somewhat of a plan ahead of time you can simply start to execute.
Introduce yourself, make some small talk, acknowledge that having your photo taken is awkward and your goal is to have fun and make this as relaxed and quick as possible.
***PRO TIP: Don't try to make family sessions unnecessarily long. I have never really understood why so many photographers do this. Families (especially with numerous or smaller kids) don't want to spend 2 hours taking photos. It's stressful enough to wrangle your family for a session, prolonging it is not usually fun for them. Be quick and efficient and confident about what you are capturing and I promise you families (especially Dads) will be super impressed and happy!
Feeling confident about what you are doing makes ALL the difference in the world. I'm not always a huge proponent of "fake it till you make it" but in this instance I would say it applies. Practice, practice, practice so that even if the wind starts to blow, the light shifts or someone breaks down into uncontrollable sobbing (hopefully one of the children, not the adults) you can handle it.
Your clients are looking for you to take charge and run the session. For a lot of us (me included) who are people pleasers our instinct is to ask questions like "do you want to go here or over there?" or "do you want this pose or that pose".
RESIST THE URGE TO DO THAT!
They don't know...they have likely never done this before. They are looking for you to be the expert. So be the expert. Even if you feel like you are floundering.
True story: I have cried a few times after sessions are over. Being in charge and dealing with some of the unexpected things that happen during sessions drains me and during a few sessions in particular, I needed the time after to let it all out. My clients never knew how frazzled I was. I ran the session, kept it moving despite the difficulty and waited until it was over to decompress.
Following up is one of my favorite things about businesses that serve their clients well. And its also one of my biggest pet peeves when someone says they should follow up with you and they don't.
After the session, follow up with a brief email letting them know how much fun you had and what to expect next. Even though you might have talked about it at the session, getting that additional confirmation in email of what to expect just adds to the experience and increases confidence and trust that your client has in you.
It doesn't have to be extensive, but even a short email goes a long way.
Service, Service, Service
This last item in a way encompasses all of the items before it. Service is what matters here. Good, thoughtful, friendly service is rare these days. So many people decide to compete on price alone that often times service gets thrown out the window.
Differentiating yourself on service (no matter what price you charge) will never come back to bite you in the you know what. Treating your clients well, anticipating their needs, making them feel cared for and valued all of that goes hand in hand with providing them beautiful images that they will cherish forever.
I can also tell you from personal experience that providing a lackluster service or (GASP) terrible service will ultimately affect how your clients actually view their photos. They could be the best photos in the world, but if the experience of getting them was horrible, they probably won't like them anyway. <-----I know this is hard to get your head around, but it is SO TRUE!!!