How to Prepare for a Documentary Session with Michelle Ma Belle Photography

Let's be honest, not every family member is totally stoked to have pictures taken. I get it. 
The kids don't want to actually be clean for an hour, hubby doesn't feel like shaving during his weekend off, and mom can't find a single outfit that makes her look pretty.
But guess what? The kids can get dirty, hubby can keep that scruff and trust me, mom is always beautiful <3

My goal is to make this a positive and pain-free experience for everyone. Every family I've met has commented on how pleasant the experience was for them and that it was much easier than they expected.

I've listed a few ways to help you prepare for your session so that you can hopefully feel less stress and allow yourself to enjoy the experience:

1) Prep your space

Your home does not have to be perfect. I promise. It’s your home and it’s supposed to look lived in, and if you have little ones, it's VERY well lived in ;) You don’t have to hire a professional cleaning company before your session or redecorate the living room; I’m there to focus on you and the interactions with your family. I honestly do not care if there is a sippy cup on the floor or Legos on the kitchen table. Instead, focus on uncluttering your home which means just tidying up a bit and basically putting stuff in the room where it belongs (no coats on couch or towels on bed sort of thing). Giving windows or mirrors a quick wipe does go a long way because streaks or dust on these surfaces can be very obvious in photographs.
If you're planning an outdoor session, consider places that are familiar to your family or a place where you go together to unwind or play. It's good for me to know in advance so that I can check out any restrictions and/or conflicting schedules (like a festival of sorts) before we get there.

2) Prep the family

Kids can be tricky and the challenges vary depending on the age. Babies of course are typically unpredictable so the best thing to do is not have any expectations. For kids, it’s important to prepare them for the session by giving them advance notice and providing reminders as the session date approaches. Don’t underestimate their capability of understanding an important photo shoot and their need to prepare mentally. Sit your kids down and include them in the session prep. Tell the truth and be positive. If Dad isn’t thrilled about having his picture taken, I can guarantee Timmy will share the feeling. Pick your outfits the day before TOGETHER. They are big part of your family and most likely the reason you want these photos so involve them in the ENTIRE experience

3) No bribery please

I used to be all for bribery until I experienced a few challenging sessions where parents used this technique and it totally backfired. It made sense at the time but think about it…if someone tells you that in an hour you will get a chocolate bar, what are you going to focus on?? That creamy chocolatey goodness. The smiles will be fake, the whining typically increases and the photos suffer. Unless your kids are old enough to grasp the concept of time, promising your kids toys or candy during a photo session will make them want that treat more than EVER, making them impatient and cranky. Instead, treat them to something fantastic afterwards, without notice – they will love you long time.

4) Have activities camera ready

Prior to your session, I will ask you to complete a questionnaire. It’s important for me to know what your family enjoys doing together and which interactions are must captures. For an in-home session, it’s important to have those activities prepared to allow for the shoot to run smoothly and not cause any unnecessary stress trying think of “something” to do. If you love to read together, have his favourite book ready for action. If she loves to play with puzzles, have a puzzle started and ready to complete together. You could enjoy baking cookies together, so a good way to prepare for that would be to have a batch made, and have another batch ready to roll and bake. If the baby needs to go for a nap, plan that towards the end of the session; it’s a very intimate and tender daily ritual worth capturing. The goal is to capture what you do during your days - and let me be a part of it.
For an outdoor session, bring along the familiar items you would generally bring with you when visit that location. If you like to lay on a blanket and read at the park, bring your quilt and your favourite book. If you like to blow bubbles (and really, who doesn't?), bring that magical liquid along and blow your little heart out.

5) Comfort is key

Keep in mind that I'm documenting a day in your life, so keep it real by wearing what you’re most comfortable in and by being yourself. If your little one lives in a superhero cape – fun! Let them be themselves. Let hubby have a little scruff and leave the tie behind. No socks and sandals please; no one wants to remember that ;)
Primp yourself just a bit; enough to photograph well but still be YOU. It’s not the time to try a new hairstyle or redefine your style. The same thing applies to your kids
Coordinate outfits without being too "matchy" and avoid bold patterns, wording or logos. 

6) Let me do the talkin'

I’ve worked with many families and I’ve learned A LOT along the way. I’m also a mother myself (of 3 very spirited boys) so I have a few tricks up my sleeve. Kids will have a tendency to challenge their parents as much as possible, but will want to IMPRESS strangers (ahem, that’s me), so let me ask them where to look and how to act. If I’m stumped, I will ask for you to step in, but generally kids like me (just not my own haha).

7) Smile

This is your family; embrace it – ALL of it! Don’t get stressed out because your kids are just being themselves; it will show in your photos. Concentrate your energy on smiling and laughing for the camera. Look at your kids, play with them, run around with them, ENJOY them. Your kids will enjoy themselves so much more during your session if you goof around with them and tickle them rather than telling them to behave or to sit down.
Oh and don’t worry me; I’m used to running around, being silly and burning a lot of calories during a session ;)

Ultimately, I want REAL smiles. I want you to enjoy this experience as much as I enjoy capturing it. It’s ok to be a bit nervous. I have to admit that I don’t get in front of the camera much myself ! But I can guarantee you that you will not regret having these memories to cherish and your children will eventually thank you for it.