The twins have had three photography sessions in their short 7 months of life. Their sister has had a total of six. While that does not mean I’m an expert at photographing children, by far, I do seem to find myself gaining experience as we go along, sometimes learning the hard way.
Toddler’s first session wasn’t until she was 6.5 months old, when we went to take a family Christmas portrait. No one could get her to crack a single smile, but the pictures still were good, particularly one of her looking back at us while we looked at her. We have this hanging in our playroom. She cooperated much better a year later for the subsequent Christmas portrait. She was such a little cutie dressed in her fancy black and gold dress. They tickled her with a long feather, and the photos show her giggling in delight. Then about another year after that, we went for a maternity session at the twins’ 35 week gestation, and the shots of Toddler kissing my tummy are so precious. This is when we found a really great photographer and stuck with her for the Christmas portrait two weeks after the babies were born.
But the babies’ first session was actually taken by a nice young photographer at the hospital when they were two days old. They were in identical white long sleeve onesies and posed alone and together in a weaved basket, in the soft morning light coming through my hospital window. They made various expressions such as raising their eyebrows and yawning. The photographer was very professional, used a white noise track, and was gentle but fast. The whole thing including setup took no more than 15 minutes. And the pictures came out great. I’m so glad we decided to do them, and will always regret that I never had professional photos taken of Toddler as a newborn.
I almost canceled the Christmas portrait shoot because of sleep deprivation and c-section recovery, but I’m really glad I didn’t. Toddler was still staying with my mom at the time, and I remember that morning being really frantic and stressful. I think between changing all three kids into their outfits, getting ready ourselves, and getting out of the house in time to make our appointment, Husband and I were both dripping with sweat. I believe it was only the second time we had taken the babies out, and the logistics of getting everything ready for newborns to be out was still pretty new to us. It’s amazing the photos came out as wonderfully as they did. We have this portrait hanging above the fireplace. But of course the twins were asleep most of the time, and there were the two of us, plus the great photographer we had found and even an extra helper or two who were fascinated with newborn twins.
Last week, I took the twins to their third photography session at our neighborhood Picture People. I had bought the outfits months ago, intending to take these pictures sometime in the summer when they were able to sit up. Six months old came and went, and they are still only working on sitting up, so finally I realized if I waited any longer they would grow out of my carefully coordinated nautical themed outfits. I tried to book the appointment with the photographer I loved so much, but found out she had gotten promoted and was transferred! So I asked for their next best children’s photographer, but the experience was not what I had hoped it would be.
The babies have hit a stage where they’ve grown wary of new environments and unfamiliar faces. The photographer kept getting too close to talk and play with them, causing them to really freak out. Toddler is great at taking pictures now, but neither of us could really focus on her with the babies both crying their poor little eyes out, and there were no helpers this time, so she was digging through the props and prancing around peeking at the session going on beyond the dividing curtain. Setting up each shot took forever and a day, so everyone got a little flustered, and I could only get Toddler to cooperate after that with the promise of popcorn.
I had to feed the babies mid-shoot, take lots of time-outs to soothe one or the other (thankfully they sort of took turns freaking out), and finally called it quits to get ourselves a snack and grab lunch from the food court. The pictures were ready to view when we got back, and really the only good pictures were of the twins crying. Adorable as that is (it really is!), I had hoped for cute gummy smiles and adorable baby folds, with their photogenic sister in the shot. Well, now I know I set myself up for disappointment.
Somehow it took them an extremely long time to burn the images to CD, but they kept promising it would be done “very quick” and in “less than 10 minutes”. I was ready to walk out of there as we were beyond our midday naptime. We got home 30 minutes late.
All in all, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, I suppose. By myself with two 7 month olds and a 3 year old, it could probably even be considered a successful outing. But here’s what I learned:
Do not take three children alone. Both parents, or even one adult to one child, is definitely preferable. Babies who don’t sit up yet are difficult to handle. Logistically, the photographer had to help me hold a baby a couple times for it to work out. And she shouldn’t have had to. Due to this, we needed lots of breaks, and the shoot took longer than Toddler’s attention span. I had asked Husband to come, but he was too swamped at work. I assumed it would be ok since I only intended on taking pictures of the kids. Wrong assumption.
Schedule the shoot in the morning. With babies, that would be right after their first nap when they’re most well-rested and amenable. With young babies, there is no way to avoid timing a shoot during a feeding or nap. Babies are much more likely to bounce back from this upset in their schedule earlier in the day. I know afternoons are somewhat wonky around here, what with the unpredictable third nap and all-around crankiness. That would not be a time to throw in some photography.
Find a good photographer. I always wondered how people could spend so much money hiring a professional photographer for their family photos. Now I know. Especially with young children, the photographer is very important. I know with our previous photographer who I loved so much, Toddler was completely at ease and truly enjoyed getting her photo taken. I loved how she was able to bring out the giggles in my daughter. And she worked extremely fast, which is a must with children as well. If you are lucky, you can find a photographer like this at your local studio which doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. But most likely they’ll be so good that they get promoted and leave.
If possible, stick to a comfortable location. Photographing in your own home, backyard, or neighborhood park is probably ideal for young children. In our case, Toddler was already familiar with that studio since it was her third time there, though it would have helped the twins feel less afraid to be somewhere they knew. But this is unlikely to get unless you hire a professional photographer or are lucky enough to have a friend who is one. I am tempted to buy myself a DSLR and set up my own “studio” at home. The kids are full of smiles with me, but the part where I would have to learn some photography is kind of tricky.
Candid, unposed shots are great. Some of the best photographs we’ve gotten have been spontaneous unposed ones. Especially with young children, it’s almost impossible to get everyone looking at the photographer at the same time, not to mention without crying. We didn’t get to try it this time, but I think next time I will let the kids just free play and see what shots we get. Again, unfortunately, this is where you need a good photographer.
It will be worth it. Taking multiple young children on an outing anywhere is daunting, to say the least. And it’s always a struggle for me to commit myself to doing it in advance. But, regardless how difficult it ends up being, it’s never as bad as I would imagine in my mind, and I never regret going. This goes a million times for a photo shoot. The photos, crying ones as well as smiling, are priceless.
lunchldyd is mom to 7mo b/g twins and their 3yo sister. They reside in the suburbs of Los Angeles.