As a parent, taking one off candid pictures of your children and their milestones is something you definitely don’t want to lose, but learning how to take a series of pictures that flow well together can be even more rewarding and if you’re wanting to go into the portrait business, I believe can help to set you apart as an even greater portrait photographer.
Recording moments and documenting them for the years to come is of course invaluable, and rather than just keeping them in a digital library I think we are all wanting to enjoy our photographs and memories once again as a physical printout or keepsake. So, think of the page layouts in that photo book you want on your coffee table or a wall display in your hallway. Too often I’ve printed out photos to frame wishing I’d given a little more thought to how the images would work together or wanted to create a collage that told more of the story with a few extra details (and not to mention compliment my home decor!)
Why a Mini Session?
The trend and success of Mini Sessions amongst portrait photographers has grown over the years for a vast many reasons but in my experience, I found a great advantage is that it keeps it short ‘n sweet! This can help you to stay focused (We arty types can often find it hard to stay on track! ..How does she know?!) As well as it helps children keep interest and end on a positive note. Yep. A positive note! The key is to find that perfect balance of time for your child to feel comfortable and happy, and for you to not feel rushed, consequently overwhelming the child and yourself with props and poses! This will require some practice, patience and dare I say it, some careful planning!
The result will hopefully be that it will become second nature to you, and so, in those candid moments you’ll be able to take a series of photos that compliment one another, capture a story and look awesome! Sold? Where to start?
MAKE A PLAN
I admit I like a good plan! Now while things don’t always go according to that plan I still feel it’s good to have a few goals and ideas in the back of my mind. In this case, I will share how my plan went wrong (plans will undoubtedly not go to plan over and over!)
It’s Autumn, I’m supposed to have some kind of pumpkin-y pictures, right?! I purposely went with a fun, contrasting outfit rather than my usual go-to, muted, seasonal faves. (Okay, truth be told, Joshua did not want to wear what I’d picked out and of course we learn to choose our battles wisely!) We took his pumpkin to a bright but shaded alleyway just down the street from us. (More on lighting and open shade here.) I had banked on Joshua being pretty excited about his pumpkin and parading it round! But, it just felt like it wasn’t working! Even the lighting wasn’t as flattering as I’d hoped. I got a couple of interesting depth of field shots that I quite liked, but not a great variety of angles. Lesson learned – know when to call it quits and NEVER make your child feel bad for a failed photo shoot. (Maybe this post should be re-named Parenting 101 For Photographers!)
We started walking home and Joshua tells me he’s a little sad that his big brother got invited to a birthday party without him. We just so happen to be walking past our local cafe. I suggest we get a donut to go. As we walked out of the door I wondered whether he’d be willing to try again but this time with the donut. ‘Sure’! He sits down on an old car tire (because it looks like a big donut, he says!) I didn’t particularly want a pink,yellow,blue sprinkled donut to be the theme of the session but I wondered if this little treat and me listening to him fed his spirit more than his belly. (Please note that I don’t often advocate sweet-treat bribing for photos…seriously!)
Back to a plan. I brainstorm and take notes or use my iPhone to take a few shots of outfits or a color palette to start out or go on Pinterest for ideas (just make sure you credit a photographer in some way for their skill and ideas!)
Here are a few things I’ll focus on..
Is the focus to be themed or seasonal or to record a milestone such as standing? Your answer will then determine a few decisions
To keep to a Mini timeframe (45mins or less) I’d opt for a single outfit, though having a couple of choices of accessories would definitely work and it’s nice to give your child the sense of independence and choice. I don’t believe in following a rule of thumb these days regarding clothing such as avoiding pattern or certain colors. You can make it as stylized as you are comfortable with, but I find that to first build your skills, make sure accessories (or getting your kid to keep it on) don’t overshadow other basic skills you are attempting to master. I tend to go with the ‘less is more’ approach.
A few years back when I really started to get more serious with portrait photography, and more specifically natural light photography, I would scout out local locations. As much as I loved the more picturesque locations, the climate was never predictable enough for me to frequently make plans to drive 30-40 minutes away only to be rained on! I learned early on to choose simple and nearby locations. Understand that when I refer to location, in the case of a Mini Session, it does not have to be elaborate! The focus will be on your child and not the location, so you are looking for something that will provide a simple and perhaps neutral backdrop. Your back yard or a local park could be perfectly adequate! A simple rusted door of a car body shop in our quaint little home town in Belgium provided a great backdrop. Just make sure there’s enough distance between any background and your child so you can achieve a greater depth of field with some shots and angles. Whichever location you choose, the idea is consistency and having similar colors and tones in the background will help maintain this desired flow.
Scheduling around your child’s daily routine is important, but it’s also helpful if you know what sort of lighting to expect at a given time of day. If possible, go to the location beforehand at the time of day you were hoping to aim for. Though this rusty garage door was not in full sun, I didn’t realize that the grassy area in front of it where my son would be stood would have direct sunlight on him and this was distracting in the photos, not to mention too bright for my child’s eyes. You may have heard of the magical time of day when the light can appear magical, The Golden Hour. Just bear in mind though that this hour can often overlap with what some families call witching hour! For tips on lighting you can read more here.
PROPS AND EQUIPMENT
My boys love to run around and jump, anything but stay still! So, very often I like to have something they can either sit on or stand on. The crate pictured above is a famous Leffe beer crate from Belgium so it has sentimental value to us and I loved the combination with his lil’ waistcoat! It proved a hit with him as he could stand on top! I also had him beat it like a drum. But, it could be as simple as a sticker that they have to stand or sit on – a seemingly small yet effective trick!
A step stool for myself is always helpful, this gives you the ability to take shots from above, creating more variety of angles (as well as being further off the ground will allow for an even greater depth of field for that beautiful blurred out background!)
There are always more things to add but I hope this provides you with some great points to get started! I’d love to hear some of your thoughts of what has worked for you or maybe its easier to share what does not work ;-)