Megan and Jesse's engagement session got off on a pretty crazy foot.
You see, the neighbourhood I live in is accessed by just one road. And that road is crossed by a railroad track. Generally this is no problem at all. However, on the day of their session the road into my neighbourhood was scheduled to be closed by CP rail for maintenance-- leaving all the residents of my neighbourhood (myself included) stuck at home. I was not initially concerned about this though because the closure was scheduled to end a full hour before I needed to leave for the session.
No problem, right?
Of coooourse the railway project took longer than expected, and OF COURSE 30 minutes before I was supposed to meet these lovely folks, I was stuck-- stranded, really-- at my own home with no way to get out. Folks were being permitted to WALK across the tracks, but no vehicle access meant that my only options was to have a friend pick me up and drive me the to my session, or maybe catch a cab? But if you know the rural community I live in, you know that cabs are not exactly a normal thing.
Just as I was placing my 3rd frantic phone call to my sister in law in a 5 min time span, I got a DM from Megan. Her Fiancé, Jesse, works very near my neighbourhood and had heard through the grape-vine that this particular road had been shut down all day. And Megan, being the creepy-stalker that she is, happened to know that I (a photographer who she had never actually met before, but just sufficiently stalked on social media) lived in the affected community.
Perhaps I should start requiring that all my clients shuttle me to/from locations? I'd certainly save on gas money..
The summer months are some of my busiest for Family Photo Sessions (second only to October). Those long summer days make for beautiful golden evenings that are idyllic to shoot in. The only problem is that because the days are so long, with sunset being well after 8:30/9pm, I need to schedule these 'golden hour' sessions as close to 7pm as possible.
Anyone with a child under 5 years old will tell you that 7pm is *not* generally a time of day when their little one(s) are their best selves. In fact, for many young children (my own kids included!) 7pm is BEDTIME. As such, one of the very last things parents of young children want to do at 7pm is pose for nice family photos. It can feel like a downright impossibility.
As a parent, I absolutely get it! But as a photographer, I'm telling you that evening truly is the best time to shoot. What time of day you shoot, and the quality of light truly makes a world of difference in your photos.
So what do you do?
Well. I'm here to tell you that evening sessions are almost never as catastrophic as parents think they might be. In fact, I've found that with only a few exceptions, children are actually MUCH better behaved and way more engaged during evening sessions that parents imagine. Doing something out of the usual-- like packing up as a family and going to a fun outdoor location-- and then getting to PLAY with Mom and Dad for a solid hour? Being showered with their undivided attention!? Kids love it!
Here are my best tips to make your bedtime hour (aka 'Golden Hour') family photo session a success:
1. Feed the kids a big dinner that they love before you come.
Full bellies = happy kids.
2. Keep your energy positive and upbeat. The happier *you* are and more willing to play and be silly, the happier your kids will be.
Parents attitude almost always sets the tone. And remember-- your attitude about the session begins long before you meet with the photographer! Have a Dad who is mumbling about how much he hates having photos done for *days* before the session? Guess what, the kids hear that and internalize it. No Debbie Downers! You're paying hundreds of dollars for this session-- have a good attitude about it to make it the best it can be.
3. Choose a location that is new, exciting, and safe to the kids. Somewhere that you can say 'yes!' to them.
Got a kid who can't be trusted around water? Maybe don't do your family session at the lake. You'll end up spending the entire hour telling your child 'no', which will put a huge damper on things. Instead, chose a spot where you can tell your child YES as much as possible. Keep those smiles on those faces!
4. Don't expect the child to 'pose' & keep moving!
One of the #1 reasons I don't do traditional 'posed' family photography is because kids hate it (and so do most Dads). It's awkward and not fun. Asking a child who is pushing their bedtime to follow strict direction and posing instruction is not going to happen.
Instead, find a photographer (like me!) who takes an 'unposed' approach. They should give you 'prompts' that encourage you to play and engage with each other in a way that feels natural and fun. You should almost forget that there's a photographer there at all, because it really just feels like you're playing with and snuggling your kids.
5. No means no.
I don't force children to do anything they don't want to. Sometimes I suggest a prompt that I think sounds fun (like, sit on Dad's shoulders, or give Mom a hug) and little ones straight up say "no". Sometimes parents feel inclined to push the kiddos to do it anyway because I've asked... But guess what? No means no. It's ok for your kid to say no to something I've suggested. By giving the youngest members of your family autonomy and letting them know that I respect their wishes and boundaries they are MUCH more likely to say 'yes' to something else I suggest.
So if they say 'No', that's ok! We'll pivot onto something else. Having parents who can pivot with me and positively engage with their kids on another prompt without missing a beat makes all the difference.
6. Be ready for bedtime.
And finally, if you're doing a portrait session during the bedtime/golden hour, I think it's safe to expect that your kids will do pretty well during the session itself but will likely melt down hard and fast as soon as the shoot ends. This is normal. They're worn out, after all!
Set yourself up for success by having a snack ready in the car for them to eat on the drive home, then roll straight into the usual bedtime routine ASAP. Don't stop at the grocery store quickly first. Don't go get gas. Go straight home and get the bed time train chugging.
With these tips in mind, you're bound to have a successful summer time Golden Hour portrait session, even if it overlaps bedtime.
Check it out: When I pull up to an engagement session, it is almost always the very first time I have met the clients in person. Sometimes I might have had an interaction with one member of the couple in the past (perhaps they were a bridesmaid or groomsman, or a guest at a previous wedding) but it's usually my first time meeting them *as a couple*. As such, I don't know what to expect. Every human being on this planet is different, and every couple has their own unique vibe. Meeting and getting a feel for how they interact is one of the biggest and most important reasons for an engagement shoot.
I will admit that when I first met Nick, I was a tad worried for all of about 3.2 minutes. He is 'strong silent' type and definitely falls more on the reserved side of the things. Sometimes this type of person can be tough to get out of their shell for photos.
So you can imagine how pleasantly surprised I was when it only took one prompt/pose before he was smiling and laughing. PHEW! Nick and Vanessa have such fantastic chemistry together and did not bad an eye when I asked them to do things like piggy back with arms held out like an airplane & chase each other. I love it when clients trust me and are up to have a bit of fun-- it makes all the difference.