The saying goes “don’t work with children or animals”, and kids and family photography is definitely not for everyone, but as a niche of portrait photography, it ensures regular work as a photographer. This is because children are incredibly cute subjects and their parents want to capture them regularly as they grow, and they also want to document life milestones such as birthdays and christenings. Most portrait photographers love working with children because they are naturally photogenic and allow photographers to get creative with shooting their expressions and emotions.
It is a competitive niche though, with photographers at all price points and skill levels marketing to parents in a number of ways. In addition, there are plenty of challenges that come with working with children, and patience is vital. Here are some tips to help you get started:
Figure out how much an hour of your time is worth. The best way to compute for this is to base it off the rate you’re getting at your existing job and adjusting it based on your ideal salary and level of experience.
After you decide on your hourly rate, you need to factor editing time into the equation. My general rule of thumb is an hour of editing for every hour spent shooting. This will be different for every photographer, as some people spend a lot of time retouching or using customised presets and actions, while others prefer a more natural look, but remember even basic editing tasks such as adjusting colours, resizing and culling takes time. Keeping this in mind, if your hourly rate was $50, you would charge $100 for a one hour photoshoot.
Many photographers who market themselves based only on their prices find they don’t have any other way to sell themselves when there are other photographers in the same area offering a similar rate or an even cheaper one. Make sure your pricing is sustainable for you to earn a living and also give parents other reasons to book you besides your prices, such as the locations or props you use. Or it could be the types of sessions you offer, such as cake smashes or day in the life documentary style shoots, or shooting a particular age group such as babies or toddlers. It’s important to highlight these things in your marketing and not just your price.
2) Have a good online presence
These days, “portfolio” doesn’t mean the same thing it did before. Portfolios these days can be found on Instagram or on websites. Think of your online presence as your storefront. It represents who you are and what your branding is.
Use your website to store all the work you have done. Make sure that it is organized and arranged into different categories like “birthdays”, “christenings”, “day-in-the-life” etc. to help potential customers find what they are looking for. Include a page that lists your pricing packages and a page that has all your contact details. Make sure your website looks clean and is easy to navigate both on desktop and mobile devices.
I can’t stress enough how important Instagram is for small businesses. If your website contains all your work, Instagram acts as your highlight reel. Instagram allows you to reach a vast audience with little or no advertising budget. All you need is great content that showcases your work and what you’re about, and then you can utilise hashtags and tag potential clients to get your message across.
3) Managing client expectations
It’s a lot of effort for parents to get themselves and their children dressed, travel to the location where their photography session is taking place and keep their kids happy the whole time. They’re often fitting in a session around naps and mealtimes, so they expect beautiful photos in return for the money and effort they are investing, and a kids and family photographer should understand this and work hard to get good photos, regardless of how kids behave on the day.
Wardrobe planning is something you should discuss with the parents before the session. This doesn’t mean having to plan out every element of the family’s wardrobe but reminding them to avoid loud colors and prints, can make a big difference to the photographs.
Clients often come to me with images they’ve saved from Pinterest and Instagram that they want me to recreate for their families and children. I actually welcome initiatives like these from clients because it gives me an idea as to what they want and it opens my eyes to new ideas and concepts that I may not know about. However, this becomes problematic when the client expects you to recreate the image exactly, without giving you any room to personalise the concept to their family or allowing you to infuse some of your personal touches.
Add sick or shy children, weather issues or frustrated parents into the mix, and creating photos that match the parents high expectations with the reality of the situation is very difficult. Making silly faces and noises, blowing bubbles and playing Peekaboo, are just some of the things photographers will often do to help unhappy kids relax and smile. Children can sense when adults are agitated (whether you or their parents) and they respond to that behavior, so be sure to keep calm and stay pleasant at all times to diffuse the tension. However, if a shoot is not providing any good photos that the parents will be happy with you may be better arranging a re-shoot to avoid disappointing your client and wasting time editing the photos.
4) Arranging people
When shooting photographs of a group, it’s important to have balance. To achieve this, make sure that you have different levels in your shot. The number one thing to avoid when taking a family photo is having their heads in one horizontal line. Try not to have too much distance between everyone in group photos. Remember, you’re trying to convey love and togetherness in your photos so any gaps between your subjects may detract from that. A big part of the job is also making sure your subjects feel comfortable in front of the camera. Dads can sometimes be more difficult than kids when trying to get smiles and genuine expressions! Try to get everyone to interact with each other through their poses by making them rest their arms around each other or by holding hands. My go-to line that gets a lot of laughs is “act like you like each other”.
Image taken by Katie Corbett
Let kids be themselves. The most useful tip that I can give you is to involve the children in the process. Children will more likely behave if they know what your intentions are, so show them how a camera works and how they look, instead of hiding behind the camera the whole time. Tell them what you’re going to do, get on their level physically and don’t be afraid to get dirty.
Finally, don’t be vigilant about posing with families. Have ideas and suggestions but remember there always has to be room for the unexpected with kids because unpredictable things are bound to happen. Sometimes the shots parents love the most are the ones that are completely spontaneous and unplanned but that capture the personalities of their little ones perfectly.
How to gain experience
Many kids and family photographers start out by practicing taking photos of the children of their close friends, family members or even their own kids, for free. This is great when you are building your portfolio, but when it comes time to attract paying clients, you need to branch out into your circle of acquaintances and networks in your local community. Offering a discounted rate is a good way to encourage people to book in and then you can raise your prices once you’ve established yourself. Offer incentives and extras (such as extra photos or a few prints) to families you’ve already shot to encourage them to book again and perform even better than you did the first time to build your reputation.
Take a look at the first article in our So You Want To Be A... series about wedding photography.