There’s no shortage of resources on what to wear for family photos, but what if you really knew how to find the best photographer? And you knew what your photographer wants you to know when they’re behind the camera?
Several years ago, we both obsessively searched for the perfect family photographer, comparing notes on what styles we saw in different portfolios, but we didn’t really know what to look for. Fortunately, we found Stephanie Simmons and she works miracles taking the BEST photos of families in all stages of life. Read her interview with us below to get all the best tips from the person who’s actually behind the camera:
A+L: What should a person look for when trying to find a photographer for family/newborn/maternity photos?
Stephanie: That’s a great question! I know for a lot of families it will come down to budget but I will say you want to really look over their work. Any seasoned photographer that is running a legal business will have a professional website as well as a social media presence. You’ll want to take your time to research both and ask yourself the following questions:
· Are their pictures in focus and sharp?
· Do they understand lighting and composition?
· Do the people they photograph look happy and relaxed like they are enjoying the session? For maternity sessions, does Mom look beautiful and in flattering positions?
· Do you like their artistic style? By that I mean the way they shoot and edit their pictures. Do they edit bright and airy? Or is it more dark and moody? Do they like their pictures to look golden and warm or prefer cooler, more pastel tones? Are their families posed traditionally and looking and smiling at the camera in every picture or is their work focused more on candid moments? Photographers spend years honing their artistic style and you want to make sure you love all of those aspects. Hiring a photographer when you want to change any of those things is a recipe for disaster and no one will walk away from that situation happy.
· How do they respond to people on social media? Are they friendly and welcoming? Do their clients engage with them and seem happy and excited by the sneak peeks they post? You can tell a lot about how a photographer runs their business by the tone and wording they use on social media and their website. Checking reviews on Google or Facebook is also a good indicator.
· And for newborns especially, do they understand how to safely photograph a newborn? This one is crucial. A newborn photographer should know how to tell if a baby is hot, cold, or in distress. They should understand the difference between what poses can be done naturally and which are composites where there are multiple pictures taken that are slightly different and then merged together in Photoshop. Babies cannot safely hold their own head up. They should never be dangling from branches or posed in a way that they aren’t supported and safe. All of these types of pictures that are done by experienced newborn photographers are composites and essentially faked and the biggest mistake I see newer photographers doing is attempting to take these pictures naturally which can put your baby in a lot of danger. Hiring an experienced photographer who specializes in newborn photography with an extensive portfolio is a good place to start. Don’t be afraid to ask questions before booking to ensure they understand newborn safety protocols.
A+L: What are some tips for getting the most out of a session with a photographer?
Stephanie: As mentioned above, do your research. Make sure you like the person you are hiring and they match up with the vision you are after. You want to be able to trust them during your session so you can just focus on spending time with your family. Show up early if possible so you are ready to go and relaxed. Prep your kiddos and talk it up as a fun night you are going to have together. Bring snacks and water because your kids will likely need to take a break quietly for a few minutes and a snack can give them that little boost to finish the session happily. And of course relax, relax, RELAX. Be in the moment during your session. Smile and play with your kiddos. Kiss and snuggle with your spouse. The more you relax and interact with your family naturally, the better your pictures will be.
A+L: If a person is given the choice of locations, what’s the best way to pick one?
Stephanie: This is going to depend a lot on the photographer as well as the family and what style they both are after. Some photographers love to photograph in more picturesque settings where everything is manicured and perfect. Others intentionally seek out rustic country settings and overgrown fields. For me personally as a photographer, I’ve spent countless hours scouting out locations that match the style and vision I want for my sessions. As such, I have families mark different environments they would be interested in during booking such as a creek, an overgrown field, by a lake etc. and I then send them a list of personalized recommendations for their session. This way families still get to have input into where they want to do their session through a curated list of locations that I know how to use well and match my artistic style. Keep in mind that wooded or creek areas will always photograph darker whereas beaches or open fields will be brighter. Factoring in how the light works in that location is the key from turning a boring location into an amazing one.
A+L: What are tried and true do’s and don’ts for picking outfits?
Stephanie: Wardrobe planning is one of my absolute favorite parts of planning for a session and a topic I could talk on and on for hours about. In short, avoid anything matching such as where the whole family dresses in two main colors. It tends to look cheesy and dated. Instead look for coordinating color schemes. It’s okay if everyone is wearing a different color as long as the colors coordinate and photograph well together. Earth tones like brown, navy, burgundy, hunter green, or even mustard are some of my favorite color combinations to put together. Fluorescent or neon colors are a huge no-no as they throw color casts and are too bright for the camera to capture properly. Avoid busy patterns like chevron and instead stick to simple stripes and floral patterns. From there just accessorize and have fun! I know firsthand from many of the Moms that I work with that wardrobe planning is stressful and can seem overwhelming but a good photographer should walk you through the process. For example all of my families are given access to a wonderful styling service where they can play with wardrobe ideas and put together outfits in different color schemes and styles that then links out to the stores where they can purchase them directly. For families who need more guidance, I’ll even send out personalized recommendations or give feedback on their wardrobe choices. It doesn’t have to be hard or overwhelming!
A+L: What are your best tips for families with kids to have the best experience during a photoshoot?
Stephanie: Again, just relax and go with the flow! Too many times parents panic if kiddos don’t cooperate instantly and start yelling and threatening. Kids are kids with minds of their own. They rarely are going to cooperate and do exactly what you want them to. That’s actually part of the fun and magic of your family and what makes each session unique from one family to the next. However once you start heading down that road where you are disciplining and yelling, I’ve seen very few sessions recover and it’s usually downhill from there. And in hindsight, when you look at your pictures all you will remember are those negative feelings. Even some of my more wild kiddos will cooperate at some point and you don’t want that moment ruined because you look angry. Instead try to relax, smile even when you don’t feel like it, and just love on your kiddos. Play games with them, tickle them, snuggle them. Let their little personalities come out. Try to switch your mindset to making it fun for them instead of yelling. I promise you’ll have good pictures that will make you happy to look back at for years to come if you do.
A+L: What do you wish clients knew about being behind the camera?
Stephanie: I wish clients could see what I see and the beauty that unfolds naturally in the imperfect moments. Too often people get stressed and want everything perfect. Perfectly posed, perfectly styled with everyone looking perfectly happy. Yep, I realize I said perfect a million times there! With little kiddos especially, that level of perfection is not usually realistic and I find more beauty in the imperfect moments. Let your hair blow in the wind and snuggle on your kiddos. Don’t worry if everything is perfect and in place. The beauty that comes from those authentic moments is my absolute favorite.
I have three kiddos myself and have hired photographers for my own family sessions. Trust me, I get it that photo sessions at times can feel stressful. Your kiddos may be running all over the place and your husband may not be feeling particularly enthusiastic to be there. One of your kids may end up covered in dirt or jump in a lake in the first five minutes of the session. It can be chaotic and messy and may not go the way you envisioned in your head. Some of my most chaotic sessions though have yielded the most gorgeous, authentic moments. A little girl who will stop for just a second to hug her Mom or play with her Dad. A little boy might run off but return with a flower picked for his Mom. The moments are always there. Trust your photographer and the process. We pour our hearts into what we do and know how important this session is to you and your family. We genuinely want you to love the images we capture and to be happy with the final result.
Hope you enjoyed that interview! Check out Stephanie’s portfolio here and below are some of our family photos from this year and last year, shot at the same location: