This week we hang out with gorgeous little Mariella, for another at-home portrait shoot. But don't let the cute chuckles and peaceful sleeping fool you. Once little people can crawl, these sessions become a huge challenge. I thought this week, we'd chat about how best to prepare for baby portrait sessions, and what to look out for in your photographers' approach.
I've worked with Mariella's parents many times before. I first met them when I shot their wedding over four years ago, and have photographed a few of their key family moments since- everything from a maternity session, to Mariella's first shoot. It's such an honour to work with families like this, and to keep returning to tell their story. (Scroll through to the end, to see a little photo time-line)
Whenever I walk in the front door of Clare and Jonathan's home, I always drop my bags at the bottom of the stairs. There, the shoes come off, the chatter begins and I slowly start constructing my cameras and lenses. Every time I stand up from riffling around in my kit, I am greeted by a blown-up print of their wedding. On a professional level, that photo was a turning point for me, and on a personal level it was the beginning of a lovely friendship.
And now, here I am chatting away to baby Mariella on my hip while Clare makes tea.
Life can be pretty awesome can't it?
I know what you're thinking. This doesn't sound like a whirlwind of chaos and toddler tantrums, right? Well, it rarely is at the start. But the second that the child realises something is expected of them, everything changes. I might have spent an hour playing and chatting with them, but once the camera comes out and they realise they need to sit in one spot, or look in one direction, the entire dynamic shifts. Sometimes it's because they're tired, or coming down with something, or because they're hungry or god knows what else.
So how can you prepare for this?
To be honest, just knowing this might happen is a huge step. You (and your photographer) have to be comfortable with the fact that this might not go smoothly. Try and time the session by taking into consideration nap times and feed times. Try and watch the energy levels of your baby in the week leading up to the shoot. But most of all, realise that this may all be futile if the baby/ toddler is having a bad day or gets off on the wrong foot.
I always try and set up a little area in the home, out of the child's sight. Anything which feels natural and safe; blankets, cushions, teddies; anything that'll give them lots of familiar smells and sensations. What I use will obviously depend on the baby's age, mobility and what they need to be safe.
Then I bring the little one in, usually with a parent, to sit and explore the space together. If and when they seem happy, the parent(s) can help attract attention from behind the camera. Work as a team on this. Keep muslins nearby and lots of different noisy, colourful toys around (keep their favourite toys back until near the end though, as they may not want to part with them once they have them).
As parents, see yourself as assistants on shoot.
Be ready to wipe dribbles, move blankets, offer milk, change clothes, attract attention. And always let your photographer know if you think the baby is getting too tired. Once you push them too far, it can be hard to bring them back.
Sleeping photos are beautiful, but also a good fall-back
when their awake time has been too frantic. Here, Clare managed to put Mariella to sleep in the set-up (no mean feat in daylight and on the living room floor!) Once she was asleep, we gently moved her around. The photos we got were so peaceful and beautiful, and totally worth the time it took to send her to sleep.
With all this in mind, my biggest tip for any session involving kids is this:
exercise unending patience and constant flexibility.
That applies to both the photographer and the family.
And one last thought.. When you consider how unpredictable these sessions can be, you can understand how important it is to keep these sessions streamline. If you have other kids, always ALWAYS have an extra pair of hands around to watch them and keep them busy and happy. Apart from this, I would avoid asking anyone else along to the day to be in the photos. Separate family sessions work much better for this.
And remember, all the work and energy that goes into the session pays off. When you look at the photos of your baby/ toddler afterwards, you won't see the crazy adults jumping around, rattling keys and throwing teddies, or the photographer on the floor with a storybook balanced on her head.. you'll just see them.
All that help and support you offer on the day, will enable the photographer to capture those fleeting moments of character and personality.
I often shoot from baby bump, to newborn and then older. Following their stories like this, enables me to find a working rhythm with each family. I try and read how they all work together, how each individual child responds to me, their parents, and what's going on.
To be honest, reading people and making them comfortable is probably what I'm best at.
And some how, I've always been able to do this with kids. Throw me a camera when I'm doing all this, and you've pretty much got my dream job.
Don't be shy to book a photo session like this. Do it. Iphone videos and photos are incredible tools to chart the daily changes in your kids, but asking an 'artist' to come in and work, is something totally unique.