Snap happy

Advice for getting the most out of your family photo shoot
By Craig Bishop

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Whether you want stunning images to decorate the walls of your home, a record of your children’s developmental milestones, or poignant pictures to send to grandparents overseas, at the end of the day we all want to leave a slice of ourselves for posterity. But great photographs require willing subjects and, of course, a professional eye behind the lens.
Let Mom take charge
A warning to dads: If you want things to run smoothly on the day, let Mom have her way. She will have done way more social-media research into the subject than you could believe possible from one person and, besides, she has probably been dressing her kids and you since the day she first stole your heart. Plus, it is typically moms who book the sessions, according to Cape Town-based photographer Carrie Grant. “Moms tend to get much more involved than dads,” says Grant. "Dads are usually told what to wear and when to show up,” she explains. But that is not to say our role is unimportant. “Dads are the best at getting children to loosen up and have fun. The more interactive dads are, the better the sessions tend to go,” says Grant.
Proper preparation is key to success
From screaming babies to sulking “threenagers”, it is vitally important you know what you are in for when gearing up for a family shoot, says Grant, who once had to hurl down her camera to pick up a toddler who was terrified by the sudden appearance of dogs during a shoot on the scenic Alphen Trail. “The mom had mentioned that her children weren’t that keen on dogs, but she never said they would be so petrified, which is why it’s a good idea to have a conversation about the details of the session with your photographer ahead of time.” Most photographers provide their clients with a Session Guide, an FAQ sheet or something similar, which gives them tips on what to wear, how to prepare the children (and themselves) and what to expect during the session.
The benefits of bribery
Durban-based photographer Sarah-Jane van Heerden says that when the going gets tough with toddlers (as it inevitably does), she isn’t averse to bribery – but pick your timing. “Never engage in bribery before a session – the bribe has to be something children ‘work’ towards for the end of the shoot,” she says, adding that should the child need a little coaxing mid-session, mini marshmallows are her go-to. “They’re quick to eat and aren’t messy,” she says. “For baby and newborn shoots, I always ask Mom to keep them awake for about an hour before the session begins and feed them as they arrive at the studio. A well-fed, tired babe is easier to photograph.” For toddlers, there are two rules of thumb to avoid a meltdown: Don’t give them sugar before the shoot and keep them off the iPad unless you want World War Three to erupt.
Have a vision
Before you decide on a photographer, have an idea of what you want your images to look like. “It’s important for parents to view the photographer’s portfolio and style of photography before booking,” says Durban-based photographer Megan Hancock, who prefers shoots where families are interacting with each other as opposed to taking staged shots. If you do opt for more posed pictures, Hancock warns against trying to elicit a smile from your child by saying “cheese!”. “This is the worst thing to do as it just creates a fake smile where the mouth is pulled sideways rather than upwards. I like to put Mom and Dad on the spot and get them to dance behind me and pull funny faces in an effort to get the child to smile naturally,” she says.
Wardrobe 101
Remember, this is a family shoot, so keep things casual. “The clothes you wear must represent who you are and who your family is,” says Joburg-based photographer Robyn Davie. Don’t be shy to throw on your favourite pair of jeans and a comfy grey jersey. And instead of wearing matching ensembles – white T-shirts and jeans are very outdated – pick outfits that complement each other. Wearing similar hues works well is one idea. Most importantly, wear the right socks! “Nothing throws a portrait off more than glaring white socks peeking through the bottom of a photo,” says Davie. Always pair dark shoes with dark socks. If you love print, Davie advises choosing a less busy design for the day. “Your eye should go to the faces in the portrait, not the clothes.”
Studio vs location?
Most photographers will have a preference and both have their pros and cons. Here’s what you need to know:
  • Indoor or studio shoots allow for a more controlled environment and more privacy, but are limited in terms of scenic backdrops.
  • Outdoor shoots, whether in your family home, an autumnal forest or at a lakeside picnic area, allow for more creativity and spontaneity.
  • An outdoor shoot allows the photographer to harness the warm effect of natural light, which is particularly good at sunrise and sunset.
  • An indoor shoot isn’t affected by the weather, dust or passers-by. You can also capture magical everyday moments at home, such as playing Lego with the children, baking cupcakes with Granny, or simply lazing on a rug in the lounge.
What to remember when planning a family shoot:
1. Make sure the children are well rested and have full tummies before the session.
2. Bring their favourite toy, blanket or any other prop you can use to divert tantrums.
3. Bring snacks – the healthier, the better.
4. Bring a complete change of clothes for toddlers, or anyone else likely to need it!
5. Leave plenty of time to get ready. A chaotic arrival only results in a chaotic session.
Address book
Cape Town
Carrie Grant Photography:
Claudia De Nobrega Photography:
Jeanine Bresler:
Julia Janse Van Vuuren: 
Kelda Lund Photography:
Marguerite Oelofse Photography:
Twinkle Star Photography:
Megan Hancock Photography:
Melissa Mitchell Photography:
Sam Swiatek:
Sarah-Jane Photography:
Tara Kelly Photography in Hillcrest:
Andrew Howes Photography:
Antoinette Photography: 
Corne-Ann Photography:
Graham De Lacy:
Miss Marshall Photography:
Photo Paige: 
Rentia Smith:
For more photographers, have a look at this Photographer's Resource

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