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Let the Kids Dress Themselves. Getting the most out of lifestyle sessions. | Central KY Lifestyle Photographer

August 3, 2011

Hi, I'm cilla!
I am a loved, incredibly imperfect, storyteller of life, love, and joy. Photographer to some of the most genuine and beauty-filled people in KY.
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Let’s make family photo sessions a little bit easier. Just a small portion of the Lifestyle Session Guide all of my family’s receive.

Well, I’ll be honest, I’ve been disappointed in my blogging efforts. Life gets away and blogging goes to the bottom of the priority list. With my long awaited mommyhood quickly approaching, I am determined that I want Steffen’s life documented. It may not always be through a blog post, but always in some way. Anywho…I’ve always wanted to do different posts that feature ways to make the most out of your session. When I recently discovered a new favorite blog and then my favorite photographer was featured on it, I decided that this was the time.
Let the Kids Dress Themselves is a blog that I was instantly in love with, just from the title alone. A question I’m often asked is what in the world to wear to a session. I don’t feel like my answer ever helps. I tell them that they could seriously come in their pajamas and the pictures would be great. Not because of me, but because they would be comfortable. My goal is to tell them not to stress over it. The only thing I ever request is that everyone NOT wear the same thing. Now, if you’ve hopped over to their blog, you will see that “Let the Kids Dress Themselves” is nothing about what to wear to a session, but celebrating REAL images.

So, I’ve now been inspired to share with you all how to get that perfect lifestyle session. I’m pretty sure you’re going to be surprised by some of the answers.

1. The absolute number one thing I tell EVERY one (especially after I get the “what to wear” question) is to RELAX and JUST BE YOURSELF. I  know it’s so much easier said than done. I’ve been in front of the camera and know how vulnerable it can be. But there is truly not one other aspect that is more important than relaxing. Worrying about what to wear, their hair being just right, they act a certain way, everyone’s looking at the camera and smiling just perfect, etc. etc., will do nothing but make you uncomfortable, the kids uncomfortable, the hubby’s uncomfortable, and you even more stressed from all of that.

2. Truly, let the kids dress themselves. Seriously the best advice ever. There’s nothing I love more than seeing a kiddo at the store and you can tell they dressed themselves and that Mom could not get them out of their goggles or their favorite boots. And I know ultimately, 20 years from now, you’re not going to care about that cute little outfit you put together, but the outfit that they wanted to wear every day and refused to take off.

It doesn’t even have to be that outfit. It can just be something they’re comfortable in. Why look like you’re going to a photo shoot? lol…and I’m being serious. Dress like it’s just another day and everyone’s personality will truly shine.

If you’re not comfortable with this (and I completely understand this…remember I’ve been in front of the camera…recently), have a portion of the session with the clothes you prefer and then end the session with something they’ve picked out. It can even be a reward. “We’ve just got a few more and then you can wear your outfit”. It can be something exciting we talk about during the other portion of the session.  Oh and what better way is there to get them into the session? Now, with that said, if you are wanting them to wear anything else, you should probably hold their outfit to the end because we most likely won’t be able to get them out of it.

3. Don’t worry about looking at the camera and smiling perfect, instead worry about spending time with and loving on your family. My goal as a photographer is not to get everyone smiling and looking at the camera, but to capture your family happy, relaxed, and in love…with each other. My favorite pictures are always the ones where everyone’s looking at each other, loving on each other, and just taking a few minutes out of their day to enjoy each other. I even do this with weddings, when I was doing weddings. I would say to take this time to enjoy each other because they wouldn’t have much time to do that during the day. You will never catch me telling someone to say cheese. And my “loose” directions may even be confusing because I don’t want to give a lot of direction. I want to sit you in a spot and let you be YOU. If something is totally off and ruining the image, I will shoot it as it is (because that’s the most natural to you…not all the best images have the best light, the best settings, etc.) and then make a small adjustment and let things unfold again. This is why I shoot so much and this is why I allow a couple hours for sessions.

4. Be in the images. Don’t let time and life pass you by without being in images with your children. Best thing about this type of photography is that you DON’T need to look perfect. In 20 years will you really care that your hair was in a pony tail for that picture? No, you’ll care that you have images of YOU with your kiddos. YOU loving your kiddos. YOU playing with your kiddos. And if it makes you feel any better, I do happen to know all the best angles to show the best you!

I knew instantly that I wanted to use the below image for this one. Not because there’s anything wrong with the way momma looks (because I know she looked perfect), but because she didn’t intend on being in any images and was nervous when I suggested it. She went with it and trusted me and this ended up being one of her favorites and my absolute favorite. Probably one of my favorite momma-daughter shots ever.

5. Let them play. I often joke that my job is to chase kids. I’m only half joking. We get the best images when the kids are able to play and have fun. If this means me chasing them and sweating my tush off by the end, then so be it.

6. Laugh. Don’t worry about the way you look when you laugh. Again, don’t worry about giving that perfect smile. I LOVE a good full body laugh. Pull out whatever you can to get it. Tickles, gross body noises, words they think are hilarious and you don’t usually say, jokes, funny faces…truly whatever it takes. Oh, don’t worry…I’ll do whatever I can as well (and, despite what Bret says, I am pretty darn funny…well, it may usually be when I’m not trying to), but you know your kiddos best. You know what makes them laugh and, even more so, what’s NOT suppose to make them laugh 🙂 (which is usually what works even best).

7. Sing. I always ask if there’s a song that they like to sing. I can tell it catches some off guard. So, be prepared with a song you know that they like. If it’s something they normally love, they’re usually going to love it at the session. Perfect way to not only make them smile, but also to calm them and make them feel more comfortable. Now, if this stresses you out, go back to number 1 🙂 That’s more important.

8. Remember imperfection is perfection. Confusing? Our lives are imperfect. But, my goodness, isn’t it so perfect that way? Yes…I’m talking tears, the way ice cream got all over their face when they ate it, the scrunchy face you make when you laugh really hard, the way her fly-aways constantly get in her face, the mud on his jeans…all the little things that truly make up life. Those are the things I want to capture and remember.

9. Make it personal. Bring the blanket or stuffed animal they just can’t live without. Your family love to travel? Bring maps or a globe. Love to go on picnics? Bring a picnic or have the session at your favorite picnic area. Is there a book they want you to read over and over again? Bring it. Everything can be personalized. If this stresses you out…go back to number 1 and just bring yourselves 🙂

10. Plan an activity. Some of my favorite sessions have been focused around an activity. It’s a great way to take the attention off of the camera and on each other and the activity at hand. The key is for it to be a personal activity. One of my most favorite recent sessions was at the Farmer’s Market. It’s something this family did together often. We went to vendors they usually went to. They brought their bags and bought foods they needed. We found a spot on the street where there weren’t many people and grabbed some shots of their interactions with each other. Then went for a little breakfast at their favorite bakery. And finally played in the fountains downtown. It was perfect for their family. It was fun for everyone. It was natural. That same day, another session got out the sprinklers at the end of their session, which was fun and a great reward for the kiddos (and momma). How about taking me along with you while you pick out your pumpkins for the year or pick apples. A session I’ve always wanted to do was an outing picking up a families live Christmas tree. I love the white lights, trees, and signs you always see at these little spots. Another idea for Christmas is baking cookies. Have an artistic family? How about an art project? Musical family? Break out the instruments. There really is no limit. Just think about what your family loves to do!

11. Don’t fuss too much with their clothes, hair, etc. This is something that I would say most every Mom does. You want their clothes to be perfect. Their hair to be out of their face. Them to sit up and give the perfect smile. I get it. I completely understand. But, want to wear the kids out quickly and test their patience? That’s the quickest way to do it. Happy kiddos are SO much more important than everything looking “perfect”. If it’s something really bad that will completely ruin the shot, I will probably ask to fix it, but most of the time, it wouldn’t ruin the shot. Now, there are times when something won’t bother me, but would bother you. You just kinda have to find a good balance and think before you fuss too much. I guess “pick your battles” is the best approach to this one.

12. Pick a location that is comfortable to your family. Don’t think your home is a good spot? I can almost promise that it is. The way I shoot, the background is normally not the focus. You may not even be able to tell where most of my sessions are held. As long as you have some window light (and you’d be surprised what will work), then we are good to go. There’s nothing more custom and personal than your own home. Not crazy about that then what about a family farm, or an ice cream shop/bakery/pizza place/park/book store/music store/comic store/library (you get the idea) you frequent?

13. Don’t forget to snuggle!

Now…with all that said, if any of it just stresses you out more, go back to number 1! lol. The goal is to truly capture the essence of your family, without all the stress that some photo sessions can bring. Your job is to have fun and play. My job is get that on my camera. I might have a little fun while we’re at it 🙂

Hope that helps for your next session! And…hopefully I can remember all of this at our first family session!

Peace and SO much love,


  1. Laurel Ward says:

    I love this!!! It makes me SOOO excited for our maternity session in September! I can’t wait to see our family and especially Lucas through your camara’s eye again. You truly have an incredible talent!!

  2. kids tops says:

    Bonding together with the kids, are one of the happiest moment for the parent.

  3. kids shorts says:

    Bonding time with kids are the precious moments for the parents. And also its a time for them to guide their kids while they grow.

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