I have the most fun at my portrait sessions. Weddings are a completely different breed, so when I get to pause from the mayhem and do a portrait session, it's like a spa day... Sort of.
Most of the time, I don't have to worry much about my clients getting confused about their contract or what their session includes. They might ask about wardrobe but other than that, they trust me when I tell them what time is best, what locations work, and how long the session should be, based on the number and age of children involved, if any. But I know there are still a few people out there who may not understand the entire process; the before, the during, and the after of a session.
So you've found the perfect photographer. Now what?
Well, after a few hours - sometimes days - of talking it out, sharing important info about your family and what you're looking for exactly, your photographer will write up a contract for you to sign, as well as send you an invoice for whichever session you've chosen, from which you'll either pay a full amount or a retainer for their services. (Also, I can't stress this enough... Please sign your contract and pay your retainer as soon as you receive them! Your photographer could cancel your session if not.)
And why a retainer? Well, this secures your session on their calendar. It is most often non-refundable, just in case you cancel the session after your photographer has already turned away a number of people for your time slot. Sometimes it is a percentage, sometimes it is a set fee. And I do get a lot of confusion about this sometimes, but a retainer is completely normal. In my small business I charge a 50% retainer for portrait sessions (mine are anywhere from $110-249) with the remaining total to be paid off up to two weeks prior to the session date. Clients can choose to split remaining payments into smaller installments, or pay in full. If payment is not made in full before the session date, the session will be cancelled with all payments non-refundable. All of this is stated in my contract. Which brings me to my next point.
Please, please, please read your photographer's contract! I seriously cannot stress this enough. The information they contain is so helpful. It will let you know what happens if you need to cancel, or reschedule, what would happen if it rains, what would happen if we go over your time slot, etc. If you don't read the contract, you're not completely in the know of what you're getting out of your photographer. And especially if you sign without reading, you could get yourself into trouble if something unexpected happens.
For example, I include a clause about overtime in my contracts. You are paying for a specific time limit, and if you are late, or if you arrive unprepared, you can either lose time from your session, or you can choose to pay extra for me to stay later, but only if I have the time. If I'm doing back-to-back sessions, for example, I wouldn't be able to lengthen your session and you'd have to book another one for later. I try to be as fair as possible, but that goes both ways. No photographer truly wants to charge you extra. It makes us feel terrible, and especially when you're a big family with kids that are most likely the reason you were late or unprepared in the first place. Because we get it! Kids are a lot of work. Even photographing them is difficult sometimes. But if you show up 30 minutes late to your 30 minute session and you assume your photographer will stay another 30 minutes without charging you, she will have been there for an hour, and ultimately for half the cost. And that's not fair.
So now you've gotten all the paperwork completed and you're just waiting on your session. The next thing you should start thinking about is the overall look of your session. Mainly, what you should wear.
This question pops up in my inbox every day. And I only really have two major things to say about it:
- Dress for the season
- Dress for your body type
It's such a sensitive topic for some people. But when you wear something that doesn't flatter you, it's possible you'll hate your photos, and it's actually quite possible you'll end up blaming your photographer. And although it's not right, it's something we do have to deal with from time to time.
Hair, makeup, and wardrobe are so important to a session. If something doesn't look right, it could ultimately ruin the entire image. So we take a lot of responsibility in telling you how to dress and present yourself because we not only want you to look fabulous, love your images, AND feel confident, but we want our work to appropriately represent our brand, too. So if you ask for advice and show up in something completely opposite of what we told you would photograph well, we might not feel too proud of the end result. It's possible you will love the way they look, but we've become snobs of our own art, and it comes with the territory.
I like to tell my girls to wear clothing that shows off their best feature. I'll use me for example. I have wide hips, so I avoid large patterns and stripes. These will make you appear larger in your images. However, I love my small waist, and I'm a huge fan of the high waist with a tucked blouse. In the summer, for example, it's hot and humid in Virginia. Try a lightweight tank tucked into a high-waisted flowy skirt in a cute pattern or color. Also - no shame - add a pair of spanx underneath to help ward off unwanted sweat and chaffing.
If you still find you're unsure of what to wear, send your photographer pictures of possible outfits, or if you live somewhat close, ask her to schedule a meeting to help you hand select items!
Once you've got your wardrobe, hair, and makeup figured out, you need to match the rest of your family. Use the same advice from above, but play around with it! The family photographed in this post chose to mix and match, and it still ended up really adorable! Mix solids with patterns, and choose colors that go well together.
What about small children?
You wouldn't want them wearing anything they can easily take off or tug on. This will cause too much distraction during a session, and could lead to difficulty in photographing your family at all. Opt for simple pieces, and dresses for little girls.
Make sure they're dress appropriately for their age. Watch out for the obvious. You don't want them wearing anything too revealing or inappropriate, no matter how much they fight you. A great tip is to take them shopping. This way, you get to see everything they try on and approve of it yourself before it gets purchased, and you'll have minimal drama the day of.
Hair and makeup?
Keep it simple. Don't overdo it. It's not your wedding day, and you're probably going to sweat it right off anyway. Go for neutral tones, but put a little extra emphasis on the eyes and lips. Photographers love those features the most. The right makeup can really make them pop in your images.
As for hair, whatever you know makes you look the best overall, do that. Put it up and add a pretty headband, or clip a few strands back and leave the rest down to blow in the breeze. Whatever makes you the most comfortable. For the boys, make sure they get a decent haircut. You don't want to regret it later.
Any general wardrobe tips?
Watch out for cleavage, dresses that are too short, etc. The wrong move and you might just flash some innocent tourists, or worse, your kids. I had a client wear a low-cut shirt and a bra that didn't quite fit. She bent over once and needless to say, I saw it all. And speaking of seeing it all, don't wear something too tight unless you're comfortable in it. I get emails from clients all the time with messages like, "Oh my goodness, look at my rolls! Can you Photoshop that out?!" No! I really can't. But if you opt for a looser-fitting shirt, you won't have that problem. Otherwise, you might be unhappy with your portraits. And I seriously don't want you to be, so put some thought into your outfits!
Okay, enough about wardrobe. What's next? Well, the day has arrived. It's time to leave for your session! What do you do?
If it's just you and your significant other, get dressed and leave. Seriously, we know you've got it together [we hope]. If you have kids and/or pets involved, however, that's a completely different story. And I'd like to say there are specific times in the day when they're on their best behavior, but we've all photographed enough kids to know by now that's not true.
Your kids are all different. They take naps at different times of the day, and they wake up in different moods. While Amy's 2-year-old daughter wakes up ready for anything, Samantha's 3- and 4-year-old boys wake up ready to kill each other. While Amy's daughter can quietly finish a small box of crackers on the way to her session, Samantha's boys get lollipops and won't let them go throughout the entirety of theirs. So how do you prepare for the best session experience?
Yes to naps, yes to snacks. I always tell my parents that regardless of how grumpy a child may be directly after a nap, it's so much easier to let them wake up and have fun at a session than to try and shoot while they're sleepy and uncooperative. And snacks are just a plus. But within reason.
What to Avoid:
- Lollipops - These can stain their mouths, and stick to their skin and clothes if not careful, and if they aren't finished with it before their session, you might have a screaming child if you try to take it away.
- Bribing with candy during a session - If you think this is a good idea, you might be surprised to hear it's actually not. Most kids will milk it and nibble at their candies to avoid having to take pictures, so it backfires more often than works.
- Chocolate - Whether you're bribing with it or letting them eat it, chocolate is overall not a good idea. Somehow, no matter what the weather's like, it can still melt quickly in the hands of a child. Thinking about chocolate all over their clothes might change your minds about bringing this treat.
What to Bring:
- A favorite toy - This could come in handy for kids aged 5 and under, and especially 1-3. If we can squeak a toy by our cameras and catch their attention, or if it makes them feel better to get a few snuggles in while we're shooting, by all means, bring it! The more comfortable they are, the happier they are.
- Juice + a healthy snack - These will keep them hydrated and energized, and won't pose too much of a threat to the session.
Although the main purpose is to get family portraits, we do want your children to feel as comfortable as they would be if we were at your home playing outside.
If you're bringing pets, just make sure you're bringing them to an evening session after a day of play. Trust me on this. You do not want to bring a bunch of wound-up dogs to the middle of Colonial Williamsburg with thousands of tourists if they're going to go nuts. Make sure you take them on a long walk prior to your session, play some ball in the backyard, and bring plenty of treats and maybe one favorite toy with you to your session and they should be happy enough. They're pretty much the opposite of kids. If they took a huge nap right before our session, they're going to be overly energized and incredibly naughty.
Leave enough room for traffic before your session. This time of the year yields much of it. Although we understand traffic may be crazy and it may have been difficult to find a parking spot, etc., as mentioned in the beginning, you're missing out on session time when you're late. I am usually always early because I am an absolute paranoid mess. I used to be late to everything before I started my business, and now I'm either right on time or early. And the summer is my craziest time of the year. Prepare accordingly.
Your session was successful, everyone was happy, and we got some gorgeous shots. Now what? Well, I can only tell you what I do here because it's all I know.
When I leave a session I usually tell my clients right away what to expect within the next few days, and the next few weeks. Everything is also stated in my contract if anyone forgets. The first few days after a session, you'll notice a "sneak peek" on Facebook. If you are my friend - which I encourage you to be! - I can tag you and you'll be alerted right away. If you aren't my friend, I can probably email you to let you know they're up, but your friends and family won't see them unless you tag yourself and other family members involved. But the one thing I'm noticing lately is that not everyone allows my images on their walls. And I guess that's okay, but my business runs primarily through Facebook and word of mouth, and I'd really appreciate the extra shares!
After a sneak peek - or two - I finish your gallery and send it to you through email within two weeks or so. You can email it to friends and family and even order prints directly from each image, but it expires within seven days, so make it a priority to at least download and save them all to your computer as soon as you receive the gallery, and your contract is your right to print wherever you'd like. Some photographers will charge extra if you need to reorder your gallery. Make sure to ask them. I charge $99 for each reorder, for example, while others may charge $300. It just depends.
Interested in an evening session in the garden? Contact me today to schedule one! I am currently offering 15% through June!