It’s that time of the year again. The weather turns, and before you know it the holidays appear over the horizon and parents start thinking about the family Christmas card. You may already have some of your clients from last year calling to set up an appointment.
Most holiday cards show, at very least, one or more smiling young faces beaming out to the viewer. Maybe mom and dad get into the photo as well. There might be a dog. Or a cat. Or maybe even the family hamster. What the viewer does not get to see is all the work that went into making that picture. If you’re photographing children on a regular basis, you know how much hard work goes into making that one perfect photograph. You may have had to perform some post-production magic just to get everything right: ever have to transfer a head from one photograph to another? In the end, it’s that one image that counts no matter how you go about getting it.
Kids are great to photograph, but sometimes they can be a challenge. They are full of energy and most of it, when they are let loose from parental control, goes off in many different directions. And that can either become a disaster or the element you use to make that one great photo.
You are essentially a stranger to the children you photograph, even if they remember you from last year. Their paradigm for behavior will change when you walk through the door and there are several things you can do that will give them the opportunity to settle comfortably back into their authentic selves, the one that best expresses who they are. Now, there are some clients who want the usual, happy smiling faces for their holiday card and that is perfectly fine. It should be your end goal and that is what they are paying you for, but along the way, unless you are turning out five or ten family photos each day, take the time to make some photos that will add to your sale, for that is the secondary goal of making these photos. There is a third goal as well and that is the end product of the first two: making them come back to you again and again.
What to Wear
This is a particularly interesting part of the day. Kids always respond best when allowed to make their own choices, and you can’t do any better than encouraging them to wear whatever they want for the session. Make sure the parents agree to this idea. Once you’ve explained to the parents about your tactics, they should be completely on board and you can easily get children to change into another outfit when the fun is done. Then let them run around a bit and chase them with your camera. Let them bring their favorite toys, or pets, anything that will make them more comfortable. Maybe they even get a little dirty. This will serve to expend some of their energy and shake any jitters you may have. Once you’ve gotten some “play time” with them, it will be very easy to begin to move them where you want to make some individual portraits and combination shots if there is more than one child. The parents will follow and you might even incorporate them into some of the photos. Who knows? The holiday card might show up in here somewhere.
Getting Down to Business
Some parents have very definite ideas about what that card is going to look like, especially when it comes to clothing and setting. Find out beforehand what they want in that regard. Then explain your tactics about how you’re going to arrive at that destination. Always agree on these points before you show up at the house, assuming that you are shooting on location. It’s always the best way to go to keep everybody, especially the parents, most comfortable.
Holiday cards come in all sizes and shapes. You need to do a little preparation to ensure that whatever photo they choose will fit into the card they have in mind. This is going to entail cropping, so you have to make sure that there is plenty of room in your frame to crop side-to-side and top-to-bottom. This means not filling up the frame with the perfect photo, but leaving lots of room around every photo you make to give yourself every opportunity to make a sale. Is the photo going to fit into a 5×7 frame as well as a square frame? Leave yourself plenty of room when shooting to cover all bases. That means the subjects are going to be smaller in the photo, but since you’re shooting RAW (you are shooting RAW, aren’t you?) that won’t matter. It’s a rare day when you’ll be enlarging any photo higher than 16×20.
Plan ahead, have everything explained about how you are going to work, and be prepared to make additional sales beyond the one holiday photo your clients are looking for. Parents will appreciate it and they’ll come back each year for more, and even better, they’ll recommend you to their friends. That is the best way to build a business. Do the right thing once and you’ll have ample opportunities to do it again.