What to Do When Good Sessions Go Bad

What To Do When Good Sessions Go Bad

What to Do When Good Sessions Go BadOnce you have been photographing clients for a little while, you will eventually run into a session that starts off well and then quickly implodes.

One minute the kids are laughing and eating up your silly photographer routine, and then a second later, bam…Johnny pinches Susie and now crying and tantrums ensue with no end in sight. Of course, the variations of this type of disaster are infinite. After about 20 years of photography, I feel like I’ve pretty much seen it all.

I’m not superstitious, but I’m always concerned when a parent tells me in advance how much their kid loves to be photographed and that they are so easy to make smile. It’s usually a bad omen. The child typically comes in and is suddenly shy/mad/scared/crying. Inevitably, mom will mumble to herself how this has never happened before.

Acting out during a session by children, pets (and sometimes even dads!) just comes with the job.

So, what are you to do when this happens?

Become successful as a portrait photographer not only takes competence with your equipment, skill in editing (retouching), marketing and customer service, but you also have to be a bit of a therapist during sessions to put clients at ease and draw out the best sides of their personalities.

There will be times when you need to be kind and understanding, and others where a firmer hand might be required. It takes time and experience to gain these skills, but it can be done and it will help build your reputation when the word spreads of your excellent people skills.

First, let’s look at a few ideas to put the odds in our favor before the session even starts.

Scheduling for success

  • With young children, always try to schedule the session when they are at their best. Teenagers can probably handle a session after they have been at school all day, however it may be too much for a second grader. For this reason mornings are usually best for young children.
  •  Same goes for newborn sessions­ if the goal is a sleeping baby portrait, schedule the session within the infant’s nap schedule.

Never let them see you sweat

Here’s some of my guidelines for keeping the chaos under control when things go south during a session.

  • Always stay cheerful and in control. Even though you might want to scream, never let your clients see you lose your cool.
  • Reassure them that this happens regularly with children during sessions.
  • Give the parents a few minutes in private to try and calm the kids down or for mom to nurse a crying baby.
  •  Sometimes, for whatever reason ­ maybe the kids’ are overtired or coming down with something ­ the session is just not going to happen at that time. Simply tell mom, “let’s reschedule this for another day when the kids’ are feeling better so that we can get some great portraits of them.”
  • As portrait photographers (unlike wedding or event photographers), our worst case scenario is that we simply have to reschedule and try again. Remember, this is often stressful for mom, who had to book and plan the session and get the kids’ dressed and groomed… plus, she may be a little embarrassed by her kids’ behavior. Keep smiling and let her know this is a typical day at the office for you and that a different day and time can make all the difference in the world.

Taking control during the session

Have a few bonus tricks to keep up your sleeve:

  • When my girls were young, our dentist had a big “treasure chest” full of cheap little toys and rings, etc. The kids knew if they were good during their teeth cleaning they would get to pick out some items from the chest. We quickly adopted this idea at our studio and let’s just say most kids keep on their best behavior to get a peek at the treasure chest!
  • I keep rolls of Smarties candies in my camera bag and at the studio. These are good because they dissolve quickly and don’t make a mess on little faces or hands. They are a perfect bribe to get a child’s attention and to have them pose for a few shots when they know they’ll be rewarded with candy.
    • Note: Always ask the parent first if the child can have the candy in case there are any dietary or health restrictions.

Remember, one day you’ll look back at some of these incidents and laugh. Try and remain patient during each session ­ it can make a huge positive impression on the client!

Your Turn!

Let us know in the comments below your worst session experience and how you handled it. You may be surprised how many other photographers in the community have had a similar experience!