11.21.2013

An Afternoon with Nolan & His Family and My Approach to Family Sessions

When I first started my business, I reluctantly accepted the family session inquiries that came my way.  I was certain clients had a specific idea of what family photos "should" look like and that must be what they want from me, too, right?  So I ignored the instincts that told me I should do what I felt was right & authentic, not what I thought everyone expected, and showed up to the sessions ready to pose the cute little families the way I thought they were "supposed to be" posed.  Those sessions turned into two hours of stress and frustration, and left me walking away with a feeling of complete and utter failure.  Sure, I was able to find good enough shots to send to the clients, but I wasn't necessarily proud of the work I was doing and I certainly didn't enjoy it.  Very soon, I came to dread those family sessions.  I'd get nervous, with sweaty palms and non-stop foot tapping, a few hours before the session, secretly hoping the client would cancel at the last minute.  I told the Husband I "hated" family sessions - they just weren't for me and I didn't want to do them anymore.

And again, I felt like a failure.  I'm a good photographer and I'm good with people, so how could I not succeed at family photo sessions?  Rather than walking away from them completely, I thought a little harder and searched a little deeper.  I could do this.  Like everything else, I just needed to figure out how to do it my way.

I realized the problem was not the sessions themselves, it was how I was conducting the sessions.  I was trying to control everything - the environment, the posing, the interactions - and if you've spent even 5 minutes with any child, you'll know you can't really truly control them.  All my attempts at control got me nothing but frustration and unhappy children running as fast as they could away from my lens.  So I changed my approach.  Now, I just let the kids play.  I encourage them to be themselves and enjoy the time we have together.  I set parameters, of course, by choosing the backdrops and the lighting, and I mix in more posed-but-not-quite-posed wall-worthy shots with the family.  But the kids didn't choose to do the photo session, their parents did.  And, for the most part, I'm a total stranger to them and I have to earn their trust.  So I want the sessions to feel fun for them.  I want them to be free to laugh and play and explore and be silly.  I want them to show me who they are and, because kids literally learn something new everyday, I want them to show me what they can do at that point in their young lives.  They are energetic and curious little beings constantly in motion, not perfectly posed little dolls who sit precisely still for every shot.  And that's okay!  In fact, it's better than okay.  It's exactly what I want to document.

When Nolan's mom contacted me about a family session while they were in California, I didn't hesitate for a minute in saying yes.  She and her husband are wedding photographers in Indiana and they were looking for true lifestyle photos.  Photos that capture their son and their family dynamic authentically and without pretense or artificial posing.  I had a feeling we could make magic together.  We started off at Cannery Row in Monterey, and explored a few hidden nooks and alleyways before heading to the coast.  Each of them had a little one-on-one time with Nolan, then mom and dad stepped back while he explored the little dandelions pushing their way through the green grass with a kind of intense curiosity only a toddler could possess.  We continued to chase the fading sunlight while exploring rocks and seaweed, benches and beaches until the sun made its final dip below the horizon.  We captured smiles and laughs, silly gestures and even a few tears.  But isn't that all part of life with a toddler?  And to me, it's a part of life worth documenting and preserving.  Being with this sweet little trio made me so grateful I never gave up on family sessions.

Jess, Nate, & Nolan - thank you for inviting me to be a small part of your California vacation and letting me document a slice of your lovely life together. ♥

family-lifestyle-photography-monterey
family-lifestyle-photography-monterey
family-lifestyle-photography-sunset-monterey
family-lifestyle-photographer-monterey-california
lifestyle-photography-san-francisco
little-boy-in-anchor-shirt
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lifestyle family photography
family photo session monterey beach
family photo session monterey beach
lifestyle photo session on the beach in monterey at sunset

This was one of Nolan's first trips to the beach and he wasn't a fan of the slimy seaweed.
lifestyle photo session on the beach in monterey at sunset

Mom didn't mind, though.  She rocked in on the seaweed-covered rocks!
lifestyle photo session on the beach in monterey at sunset
lifestyle photo session on the beach in monterey at sunset 
lifestyle photo session on the beach in monterey at sunset

 I asked Nolan to show me how to climb on the bench "like a big boy" and it quickly turned into a game of bench peek-a-boo.  Who knew a kid could have so much fun just trying to sit on a bench?
lifestyle photo session on the beach in monterey at sunset
lifestyle photo session on the beach in monterey at sunset
lifestyle photo session on the beach in monterey at sunset
lifestyle photo session on the beach in monterey at sunset

He was pretty proud of himself when he finally made it up.
lifestyle photo session on the beach in monterey at sunset
lifestyle photo session on the beach in monterey at sunset
lifestyle photo session on the beach in monterey at sunset
lifestyle photo session on the beach in monterey at sunset
xo


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7 comments

  1. Gorgeous images of a lovely family! I love Cannery Row -- such a fun place to walk around. I've stood on that very beach, too, and seeing these shots brought back lots of happy memories. :)

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  2. Laura @ happilyeverparkerNovember 21, 2013 at 2:15 PM

    Beautiful photos! I love that area of our gorgeous state!

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  3. You did an awesome job! Great pictures!

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  4. WOw! you completely captured the joy of this family,

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  5. Thank you! They were so much fun to work with. :)

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  6. Isn't it stunning!? I always forget just how beautiful it is and it blows my mind every time I visit.

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  7. Aw, yay! I love triggering happy memories. :)

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