They grow so fast
Milestone portrait sessions create steady clients for life
By Sandy Puc’
Images By Sandy Puc’
First Published in January 2006
Each stage in a child’s life lends itself to specific poses, props, backgrounds, presentation, and add-on products. In this first of a two-part series, Sandy Puc’ has created a helpful guide for each age level.
Photographers know celebrating milestones in a child’s life with professional portraits is great for both parties. Not only does it create a memorable photo essay of the child’s development, it also allows the photographer to develop a lifelong relationship with the family.
There’s another benefit, too. Each stage in a child’s life lends itself to specific poses, props, backgrounds, presentation, and particular add-on products. Our goal in any session is not only to create a wall portrait and several gift products, but also to educate clients about the many options available to them. We need to give clients reasons to come more often, and creating unique products does this effectively. Such products help keep your look fresh and add variety. Use these ideas to help you separate yourself from other studios.
Infants (newborn to 6 weeks)
Infancy is a wonderful time to create family relationship portraits, which literally bring tears to the viewer’s eyes. Encourage parents to be a part of the session, explaining how it makes the strongest image.
Especially with new parents, allow a little extra time for the mother and father to get relaxed enough to enjoy the moment. And inevitably, sometime during an hour-long session the infant will get hungry. Make a comfortable private area for the mother to nurse the baby; she’ll really appreciate the kindness. Offer her a bottle of water, too. The first few weeks after childbirth are emotionally and physically draining, and such understanding little courtesies help create loyal bonds with your clients.
For this session, most of the images are skin-on-skin, so you must be comfortable explaining what works best. My studio is full of wall portraits that illustrate the difference between clothing-on and bare skin portraits.
I show clients the power of an image that focuses on nothing but the moment, even while the infant is sleeping. With samples, clients quickly see that they, too, want to create a piece of art. We provide tube tops in all sizes for the mom who wants skin-on-skin but is uncomfortable posing topless.
Oh, and remember to prepare your clients for the possibility of getting wet. Infants are like mini machine guns, constantly firing from one end or the other. I tell parents I’d feel bad if the studio didn’t get a “blessing” from their baby, and assure them that we’re accustomed to doing a ton of laundry every day. They laugh and are more comfortable when the inevitable happens. Be ready with wipes, cleaning supplies and paper towels—and don’t just stand there, help with the cleanup! It shows compassion and your clients will think you’re a superhero.
By now the baby has mastered smiling. He recognizes Mom’s voice and responds to her cooing. I strongly prefer for the baby to look like a newborn at this stage. Poses that work include a basket shot with baby nestled in his own blankets and the traditional tummy shot. For many clients, this is the first session, so I try to include the parents in some relationship portraits. Photographing little vignettes of the baby’s hands, feet, tummy, and a tight close-up of the face ensures an add-on sale that mom cannot live without. We always showcase these images in a complete framed set.
The best attention grabbers for children of this age are small rattles, black-and-white baby toys and mom’s voice. Try to get the baby to look into your eyes, and once you have his attention, do not look away. Speak softly to him, saying his name and words parents often say to babies, like “sweetheart.” Try short sentences such as, “Who’s the sweetest baby?”
6- to 7-month-olds
This is where working with babies really gets fun. We inform our clients that these portraits work best when the child is sitting up. This shows the child’s advancement, differentiates these portraits from the earlier ones, and expands the posing options. Now we can use age-appropriate props that reflect the child’s interest and personality. For a classic look, you can pose little boys with a sailboat or blocks and little girls with flower wreaths and beads. But the classic nude shot is a must. A baby sitting bare on a blanket, photographed from above, can make a fantastic image. When taking such portraits, always make several comments to the parents to remind them to turn the baby so that the camera won’t catch any private parts. I joke that I like them, but I don’t want to go to jail for them! This always makes parents laugh, and they see that I, too, am a concerned and caring parent.
By this stage babies respond to the tickler with giggles. They love games like peek-a-boo, and pretending to sneeze usually makes them laugh. This is also the age at which children start to have stranger anxiety. If the child is clingy, sit on the floor while keeping your distance, and let mom continue to hold the baby. Start to play little games while keeping the child’s attention on you. Mom can slowly inch away until the baby doesn’t mind her absence. Explain that it’s important that she not push the baby away from her to get the image. It can cause the child to panic and make the session much harder. Tell mom that anytime her baby needs a hug, we’ll stop so she can give him one. Hugs assure the baby that everything’s okay. Still, babies often cry, but you can win back their attention with simple toys or bite-size crackers.
Traditionally, first-year portraits mark an important milestone for parents. They have survived the mental stress of having an infant, the sleepless nights, the frequent feedings and bottle washing, and countless diaper changes. The child is undergoing rapid and exciting developmental changes that foreshadow a more independent future, and often a bittersweet pang in the parents’ hearts.
The perfect time to photograph a child is as soon as he can stand, but before he can walk. The ideal pose would be with the toddler tilting forward, one foot off the ground. Good luck scheduling that! For non-walking babies, it’s a good idea to have several props for them to lean against. I prefer vintage-looking props such as antique strollers to modern ones.
This is also a good stage to try outdoor photography. A little girl having a tea party on the lawn or a little boy fishing make excellent portraits. Moreover, such settings usually generate much higher sales than studio sessions.
Series sessions are perfect for 1-year-olds. The simple birthday cake series (typically the destruction of said cake) is another great add-on sales booster. This session is so popular with my clients that I am now a certified cake cleaner. Before you decide such sessions are too messy, remember that they generate add-on sales—as much as $300! Any client who makes the effort to bring in a cake will definitely want to add a framed print of it to her purchase. Not a bad deal for a 5-minute cleanup.
Also be prepared with a place for baby cleanup. We have a large kitchen-type sink in the bathroom where mom can bathe her little one. We provide washcloths, infant soaps, towels and diapers, little amenities that clients really appreciate. Of course, we also clean that bathroom before and after the session.
Now is also the ideal time to mention making family portraits in the near future. Perhaps you can offer a free family session if it happens before the child’s second birthday. Family portraits generate our biggest sales averages. We want our clients to start having regular family portraits made early on, so it becomes a habit. Many of our annual family portrait clients stem from baby’s first-year sessions. It’s a super way to turn new customers into lifetime clients.
18 months to 2 years
I believe this is one of the hardest ages to photograph, but it can be the most rewarding. The child understands what he wants but isn’t proficient at communicating his needs. This can be frustrating for both toddler and photographer. The best defense is to keep the child so fascinated with your basket of tricks that he forgets to be demanding. You have to be prepared and think fast. Switch your techniques often to keep the child guessing. Altering the tone of your voice, changing toys, and moving around are excellent ways to keep him engaged.
Plan less time for this session, as most little ones have a short attention span. Once they’re bored, they can easily get frustrated. I keep the poses simple, and I take the session outdoors whenever possible. Outside, when the subject gets bored or fidgety, I can still capture wonderful candid shots.
Some of the best images at this stage happen when the child is busy doing something. A little girl examining a flower and a boy playing with a pull toy are classics. Keep in mind that the child won’t just stand there and hold a prop. I’m always saying “look for the ladybug” or “look for the candy I hid in this toy” to hold the child’s interest in the prop. Don’t expect perfection. Just let the child be relaxed, and you’ll be pleased with the outcome. When a toddler gazes up at you, and you capture that soft little look, you are sure to melt the hearts of her parents.
Specialty product suggestions:
Infants (newborn to 6 weeks)
Brag book: a 3x3 album of 10 close-up vignettes of the baby’s tiny hands, feet, and other adorable features.
Multi-image folio or frame: a series of images illustrating the intimate relationship between parent and child.
Baby panel: a three-view frame with vignettes of the hands, feet, face.
Image box: a photo box of six to 10 matted prints that can be rotated on an easel for viewing.
6-7 month olds
Portrait jewelry: Bracelets and charms with images of the baby are hot sellers with mothers, and both grandmothers will also be happy to proudly display her grandchild. It’s a great form of advertisement for you, too!
Watercolor note cards: sets of personalized note cards with the baby’s image that can be printed in-house. These make perfect birth announcements or baby-gift thank you cards.
Birthday series panel: four 5x7-inch prints in a custom frame.
18 months to 2 years
The essence of childhood: a framed print showing four different views of the child’s face.
Expressions by Sandy Puc' is in Littleton, Colo. See more of her work at www.expressionsphotos.com.