Candid photos can be quite the mystery when you first start out as a family photographer. I spent hours on YouTube trying to understand how other family photographers were getting their subjects to look so natural on screen. There are countless approaches but the one that works best for me and my Seattle Everett and Mukilteo families is play. Play is the one thing that we naturally gravitate towards as a form of connection. When there are kids involved, play becomes the center of my approach at my family photo sessions. Here are some tips on how you can include play in your family photo sessions (even if you don’t feel like the most playful person in the world).

Everett candid photographer: Two toddlers play with bubbles at a family photo session at the Evergreen Arboretum
Everett Candid family photography: A young boy plays near the shore at the Mukilteo Lighthouse park

Mentally prepare

As part of my research on working with kids, I heard from parenting educators that play doesn’t necessarily come naturally to all adults. If that’s you, you are not alone. Being silly with a child requires a lot of vulnerability and that is on top of working in this already high-emotion profession. I find that taking 10 minutes to meditate on an intention at any time before a family photo session, makes a huge difference. I tend to be an introvert in unfamiliar situations so just breathing and focusing on how the session will be greater than my greatest expectations puts me in an expansive, playful mood. Here is one of my favorite meditations that I use to prepare before photography sessions.

Educate families

From the moment you get a photography inquiry from a family, your job is to make sure everyone is on the same page about your approach to photography. Your families are investing big in your style of work so starting from your portfolio to your follow-up emails and any educational material you send out, they need to know how you will be guiding them during their family photo session. I repeat my play approach many times in smaller and more detailed ways through my family photography welcome guides. This is how I will get the candid photos they see on my website so it is amazing for us all to be moving in the same direction.

Get to know the kids

Rarely do I get to meet new families before a family photo session. But what I do get is an opportunity to find out what their dynamic is with their kids through a family questionnaire. I send out the questionnaire once the booking is made. In it are questions like: “What makes your child laugh or smile?” “What is your family like?” All these answers will help you decide on what playful activity you’d like to try while leading a session. I encourage the family to think about their kids’ individual personalities and that hopefully helps me understand what my energy levels should be and what I should do to make them feel at ease.

Think of games

Here are some games that work well for me because they get the kids moving and make them get out of their feelings. Depending on the ages, you may have to make modifications.

  • Exploring nature: Looking at a tree or natural element, depending on the location you choose. While the child is focused on nature, the parents can interact with them through touch or a hug.
  • Red light green light: Having the parents stand in the background and calling “red light green light” sets up some great photographs.
  • Run up and hug: Have the kids stand next to you and then on your count, they run or walk and hug their parents from the side.

Be yourself

Candid photography is an art that you will develop as you grow into your journey as a photographer. Don’t for a second believe that photographers “wait” for the perfect moment. You will have to pose and guide because our families are not professional models. Play makes the stress melt away a little bit and brings out those candid moments. So get to know yourself and explore how you would like to include small moments of play in your process while planning your next family photo session.

Everett family photography: A toddler plays with a flower at a maternity session in Willis Tucker Park in Snohomish
Everett Family Photography: A family of four play together at a photo session in Carkeek Park
Everett Family photography: Two young boys running at their family photo session in Discovery Park