The reality is, no matter what information we send to clients to prepare for their shoot, we can’t make them read every word. As much as we want our photography clients to thoroughly understand (and care about) our creative process, some of them are willing to wing-it. Even if we send them great guidance in advance, they tend to skim it for topics they’re curious about. This is why, in the last eight years, my “Pre-Shoot Guide” has evolved from a clever, colorful 4-page PDF into to a brief, persuasive email with a link to a short-and-sweet six paragraph, bullet-pointed Pre-Shoot Guide page on my website.
Before I book, much of my process is conveyed to clients through my website, during the initial phone consultation and emails. But my Pre-Shoot Guide is reading material intended to set expectations for the actual family portrait photography session.
My Pre-Shoot Guide Contains Four Key Parts:
8 Steps for a Successful Shoot – These are bullet-pointed and focused on attitude and expectations. This is at the top of the guide because it’s most important to me and my client’s final images. Keeping clients positive and relaxed during a shoot results in better images and better orders. It goes both ways – if I keep my attitude friendly and upbeat, clients respond with natural smiles and enthusiasm. On the other hand, if Mom and Dad show up frazzled or scold their child, it’s a challenge for me to pretend that I don’t notice. I must admit, the titles of my 8 Steps sound like phrases uttered by motivational speakers (Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, Remember the Goal), but even if just a few concepts resonate with my client, then we’ll all have a better experience.
FAQs – These questions/answers are specifically about the shoot process. I limit this to four questions, so I don’t lose my client’s interest; these are along the lines of sick kids and rainy days. One of the questions is a quick summary of when and where they’ll see their proof gallery after the shoot. I include this to prevent discussions about post-shoot processes during an actual shoot, which sometimes results in misunderstandings. I also include a link to general FAQs in case clients are wondering about pricing or other non-shoot items.
Clothing Suggestions. The intro to my clothing section reads, “What should we wear? Everyone in the family can wear tan slacks and white shirts like you’ve seen in your neighbor’s family photo, but I’d rather you didn’t. It’s best if I can capture your family’s unique style.”
Then I provide specifics about choosing clothing for different locations types; city streets, beach, etc. This also covers makeup suggestions for women and a few tips for guys to prepare – eye drops, whitening strips, and a fresh shave. Here are a few clothing tips that are featured in the guide.
1. Choose a common theme of color and formality. For example, choose two colors and have everyone wear at least one article of clothing in one of those colors.
2. You don’t have to match (do you match in your daily life?)
3. Choose clothing that makes you feel confident and attractive.
4. No bold designs, wording or logos. Think solid colors and subtle patterns.
5. Think about style. Are we doing an edgy city street shoot, a dreamy walk in a field, or a colorful tour through art galleries? How would you dress to convey the story?
A Pinterest Link. At first I was resistant to creating a Pinterest account, thinking it could be time-consuming, but I’ve discovered that my clients love it and it’s a great way to notice trends. At the bottom of my Pre-Shoot Guide in the Clothing Section, I include a link to my Pinterest profile that contains 10 different boards with shoot themes like Rock Star Family and Preppy Family. I also have a board called Hair & Makeup. To my surprise, when I look at my client’s Pinterest boards, I notice trends in their taste that they hadn’t recognized. For instance, one client booked me for a beach maternity session, however, when I looked through her Pinterest boards, I noticed the majority of her pregnancy themed photos were located in dreamy fields. We decided to make her maternity shoot a longer, two-location combo of a dreamy field location and then finished it off as the sun was setting at the beach. She was able to look through my Beach Maternity Pinterest board and my Flower Child board for clothing ideas. When she placed her final order, it was larger than it would have been with just a beach and it contained images from both locations!
Here are my 8 Steps for a Successful Shoot, as seen in my Pre-Shoot Guide:
Have Realistic Expectations:
Your child’s natural behavior when being shy or silly actually does enhance the shoot. It enables photos to tell the story of your child’s nature. It’s natural for children to test limits. Once a child realizes that I’m a “fun grown-up,” it’s easy for me to win their trust. That said, if I feel that they’re getting carried away, I might request your assistance. Otherwise, it’s my preference that you don’t reprimand your child. I’d like you to just roll with it because after all, kids will be kids!
I know it’s a parental instinct, but please avoid hovering behind me, waving or calling out to your child to get them to look toward me while I’m shooting. When this happens, your child will look right past my camera at you, which disrupts their eye contact with the camera. I’d say one of my biggest strengths as a family photographer is engaging the baby or child I’m photographing. This results in great eye contact with my camera that you can trust. I will definitely ask you for assistance with the smile if I need help.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff:
The more relaxed you are about the experience, the better the pictures. Laughter and playfulness is expected and perfection is not what we are trying to achieve. It’s not interesting. If you’re worried that you’ll be tense, feel free to have a beer or a glass of wine with you at or before the shoot. Sometimes it makes smiling that much easier. Remember to limit it to ONE for best results. Treat this as a wonderful opportunity for teamwork and family time in a beautiful location. And if you show up feeling a little cranky or awkward, ask me for some of my signature instant cheer-up strategies.
Be on Time:
This guarantees that you’ll have many images to choose from. I schedule the shoot so we have the best light possible. But keep in mind, we do run out of daylight at a certain point.
Please make sure that everyone’s basic needs are met; food, naps, warm clothing, etc. Be sure to read the clothing suggestion portion of this guide.
Communicate with Me:
Let me know if there’s a certain shot that would mean a lot to you. Feel free to ask me questions and please fill out the family questionnaire a few days before the shoot. It’s helpful for me to learn names and have some insight about your family.
Communicate with your Family:
Let your family know why you’re doing photos and how important they are to you. This helps your family get on board. Typically Moms are the ones who book the shoot. However, when Dads and kids have an opportunity to see my website beforehand, they get a sense of my photographic style and are more invested in the process.
Remember the Goal:
Wouldn’t you be happy to have just one GREAT shot of your kids or your family? Chances are, you’ll have so many that it’ll be hard to narrow it down. Just knowing this should be reason enough to smile for the camera!
About Ashley DuChene
Ashley DuChene Photography is a second-generation photographer honored to have turned her passion into a fulfilling career. With a background in child psychology she brings particular expertise to working with children and families alike to get the most realistic and engaging photographs possible. Since 2005, Ashley has been shooting high-quality photos both on location and in the studio. Her most coveted work however is shot on the beaches of San Diego. When not photographing families Ashley is happily immersed in commercial projects for various Southern California businesses. She has donated her talents to charitable fundraisers and auctions like Miracle Babies and Angels Foster Families Network, The Kashi Real Project – Common Vision, Kids in the Kitchen, and Healthcorps, Republic Gym and Downtown Fitness San Diego.