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session preparation

Five Tips for Finding the Perfect Location!

I've been looking at images on Google for over a year now and wondering what it actually looks like in person...and how portraits would turn out at this particular location.  I finally had the chance to try out this location when a family contacted me about a family session.  We were discussing possible locations and nothing was really jumping out at her as a "perfect" location.  I told her about this new location and asked if she'd like to be the first client to be photographed at this location.  She loved the idea after I showed her some of the images from Google.

Now anytime I decide to actually use a new location, I have to actually go to the location and get out and explore.  I want to find spots that will provide a great location for the upcoming session.  I have to consider many factors, such as lighting at different times of the day and backgrounds.  I also look for any safety concerns and consider those with the ages of the clients.  

Choosing the "perfect" location can often times make or break the session.  We obviously don't want to break it!  We want to MAKE it!  Here are the most important factors I consider when choosing a location:

1.  TIMING   I will always suggest to clients that they either choose a time in the very early morning or an hour before sunset.  I'm not a morning person and honestly 99% of my clients would rather have a session in the late afternoon.  Most first time clients want to schedule a session around noon because it is so bright outside.  The problem with noon sessions is the simple fact that the sun is so high in the sky and casts very harsh shadows during this time of the day.  As the sun lowers in the sky, it allows the light to fall softly leaving less shadows.  If you absolutely have to schedule a session when the sun is high in the sky, you will either need to find a very shady area or find a photographer with an amazing flash system.  

This session took place around 6:00pm, which was about an hour and a half before sunset.  Notice how there are not any harsh shadows.  The light is softly falling on each of the family members evenly.

This session took place around 6:00pm, which was about an hour and a half before sunset.  Notice how there are not any harsh shadows.  The light is softly falling on each of the family members evenly.

2.  SAFETY   When considering a possible location for a client I take into account the ages of all the subjects that will be at the session.  The last thing I want is for someone to get hurt because I put them in a potentially dangerous situation.  This family has an adorable baby girl that is just a few months old.  They typically use a stroller when they are out.  This particular location has stone steps that you must walk down to get to the location.  This is important to know ahead of time so the family can be prepared since strollers and stairs are not a safe combination.  

Notice the stone steps the family is sitting on.  It would not be safe for a stroller to travel down (or up) these steps.  If I did not know about them before the session, I wouldn't have been able to prepare them for this potential hazard.

Notice the stone steps the family is sitting on.  It would not be safe for a stroller to travel down (or up) these steps.  If I did not know about them before the session, I wouldn't have been able to prepare them for this potential hazard.

3.  PRIVACY   Another factor I always consider is the amount of privacy the location has, or doesn't have.  Some clients are more bashful than others and don't like others watching them during a session.  Some clients have children that are easily distracted by surroundings that are too busy.  Privacy is a VERY important factor for certain sessions, such as a bridal session.  I often tell my clients about the activity level of locations so they can determine if the privacy, or lack of, will be an issue for them.  As a photographer, I can work around others that pop up in the background occasionally.  It honestly just depends on their comfort level and how distracted the surroundings will make them.

This session took place on a chilly day in April.  There were a few hikes that walked through during the session, but it was pretty much secluded without visitors.  I imagine this location would be very busy during the Texas summer months!  

This session took place on a chilly day in April.  There were a few hikes that walked through during the session, but it was pretty much secluded without visitors.  I imagine this location would be very busy during the Texas summer months!  

4.  PERMITS/AVAILABILITY  Different locations have different requirements.  While some parks are completely free to use whenever you'd like, others ask that you ask for permission prior to the session.  It is a good idea to look at the calendar of events for a particular location prior to booking the session.  For example, Cameron Park in Waco hosts many events.  It is important to know this prior to showing up for a session.  Early in my photography career, I planned a session at Cameron Park for the early morning.  I was greeted at the entrance with a barricade!  There was a special event taking place that made this location closed.  I was so embarrassed!  Luckily I know the area pretty well so I was able to suggest a nearby location and have the session.  I learned a VERY important lesson that day!  

This session took place at Mother Neff State Park in Eddy, Texas.  It is a State Park, which has an entrance fee.  It is important to know about this prior to the session so the client will be prepared to stop at the gate and pay the entrance fee.

This session took place at Mother Neff State Park in Eddy, Texas.  It is a State Park, which has an entrance fee.  It is important to know about this prior to the session so the client will be prepared to stop at the gate and pay the entrance fee.

5.  VARIETY   Another factor I consider when suggesting possible locations for clients is the overall variety of background.   I always ask my clients what type of setting they are looking for and then suggest places around that idea.  However, I like to expand upon their initial idea when we are at the location and walk around to new areas to provide them a variety of background options. 

The actual area we used at Mother Neff State Park was small in size, but from photographing the family from the different areas was essential in providing them a variety of different backgrounds for their portraits.  Notice how all five of these photographs have very different backgrounds, yet they are just steps away from one another. 

The actual area we used at Mother Neff State Park was small in size, but from photographing the family from the different areas was essential in providing them a variety of different backgrounds for their portraits.  Notice how all five of these photographs have very different backgrounds, yet they are just steps away from one another. 

In summary, to get the most out of any location for a photography session, one must visit and assess the location weeks (perhaps even months) before the actual session date.  If you take the time to do this carefully, you will avoid wasting everyone's time and avoid disappointments from assumptions.  When I walk a location, I imagine different poses in various locations for different types of clients.  This helps me when I later plan a session at the location.  

If you'd like to learn more about Mother Neff State Park, you can read more here.  There are a lot of hiking trails and camping sites!  

Tips for a Successful Session

Smith Family Photography developed from a need that I had as a mother.  We have a "his-mine-ours" type of family, which consists of nine children.  Family photograph sessions with a family that size are typically very expensive and stressful.  Kids do not want to cooperate.  They fight.  They argue.  They give goofy faces.  They are KIDS!  Although they are kids, photographers have a set amount of time they can spend at each session, which just adds to the stress. 

My country girls.

My country girls.

As a mother, I hated photography sessions and the majority of the time I was less than impressed with the results.  I wanted to provide an affordable photography service specifically for families.  I strive to provide a relaxed atmosphere for the session and understand kids are kids.  A little bit of patience goes a long way with them, as I found out during my time as an elementary teacher. 

When you book a session with us, you will more than likely get to meet members of my family.  After all, Smith Family Photography is a family company and we all work together to provide a service to our clients.

I am constantly researching various areas of photography and currently I have been doing a TON of research on helping my clients prepare for their upcoming session.  I have heard many clients tell me that they want to have a family session, but they don't think their kids will cooperate and it will just be stressful.  I can honestly say that was me a few years ago! 

I recently stumbled upon an article titled, 101 Family Picture Tips and Ideas by TheDatingDivas.com.  This artcle is FANTASTIC!!  They discuss so much more than getting kids to cooperate! 

1.  Printable Planner.  The site has a printable planner that you can use to help organize all the session during the planning stage.  You can access it here. 

2.  Choosing a Photographer.  I would love to work with you and your family, however I do realize that for whatever reason we might not be able to do so.  In such an instance, I can give you some referrals for other photographers in the area that might meet your needs. 

3.  Choosing a Location.  After you have chosen a photographer, you can nail down your location.  This is typically done at the same time as actually hiring a photographer.  You might have a specific location in mind, but if you need assistance in choosing a location I am happy to do so and provide you with example portraits from those locations.  I have several "favorite" locations that I like to use in Limestone County and Waco.  One of my favorite locations is at a private family ranch.  No other photographers have access to this location which includes a covered bridge!

Rustic exclusive location with a covered bridge.

Rustic exclusive location with a covered bridge.

4. Props...to use or not to use.  For family sessions I like to keep props to a minimum if they are used at all.  I don't want the props to distract from the family.  With seniors on the other hand, they typically need some props to personalize their session.  The same can be said for small children.  They need things to keep their interest.  I like to talk with the client and determine what type of images they'd like to have hanging on their wall and go from there when deciding whether or not to use props.

5.  Poses.  After the session is booked, I will begin planning the session.  This includes possible poses.  I will actually make a list of poses that I'd love to use for your family.  Each list is unique in that no two lists are ever the same.  I want your session to be just as unique as your family is - no two families are the exact same so why should their photos look the same?

6.  Clothes - What should we wear?  Last week's blog was all about what to wear.  You can read it here.

7.  How to Look Good in Front of the Camera.  There are several stances you can do to make yourself look more flattering in front of the camera.  Most things are simple, quick adjustments to your position, posture, and stance. 

8.  Getting Your Kids to Cooperate.  Rewards, bribes, peek-a-boo, singing, magic words, etc...nothing it seems is off limits when it comes to finding ways to get kids to cooperate.  What I have found is that they need time away from the camera every now and then.  They need to play and have fun!

Even when kids are taking a break, you can get authentic photographs of them!

Even when kids are taking a break, you can get authentic photographs of them!

9.  Getting Your Husband to Cooperate.  Bribes, rewards, compromises...they all work with husbands too!  Include your husband in the planning.  Chances are he won't want to help plan for the session, but at least you are doing your best to include him and make him a part of the session.  No one likes being told what to wear, how to stand, where to sit.  Give him some ownership in the session.

10.  Ordering Your Portraits.  Yes, ordering your portraits in printed form.  After all, you want nice photographs to display proudly on your walls and to give family members prints for their walls.  I recently began to offer prints rather than a disc and the main reason for doing so is that a disc so many times gets shoved in some random drawer and the portraits are as good as gone.  You went through all that hassle to plan a session, get everyone's outfits to coordinate, spend a lot of time on location with a photographer, and you want a disc??  Or would you rather have nice, professional quality prints that will arrive ready to be displayed on your walls?  Every session with me includes an online gallery that makes ordering prints (and digitals if you wish) extremely easy from the comfort of your home. 

11.  Displaying Your Portraits.  Looking for unique ways to display your beautiful, professional quality prints?  This article has several examples that are unique!  When I work on your portraits in post production, I have this very thing in mind.  I want all of your portraits to look uniform so that they can proudly be displayed by themselves or together in a large group.  I view the portraits that I work on as a work of art that should be displayed on your walls for years to come.

The article also includes a few extra tips that don't really fit into any of the above categories.  You can read the full article here.  If you are interested in booking a session, please don't hesitate to contact me.  Now is the perfect time of year with the holidays quickly approaching. 

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