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When preparing for a family photo session, there are plenty of things to keep in mind. Such as: making sure you know what time to meet, where you are going to do the shoot, and having all your gear handy. However, even the most seasoned family photographer can overlook some items from time to time though.
For people who are new to this type of work, it can be a headache trying to keep track of all the little things that can make or break a portrait session. A simple solution is to borrow a technique from the aviation industry known as a Preflight Checklist. Creating a checklist makes all the difference between happy clients and photographic disaster.
A Preflight Checklist is a list with various items on it that you can physically check off. Pilots use them to make sure everything is in order before taxiing down the runway, and photographers can use them before they start snapping photos.
You could create one on your phone with any note-taking app, but I recommend a physical Preflight Checklist. Since you can keep it in your pocket, you don’t have to worry about accessing apps or unlocking your phone. You can also hand it to someone else if you need another pair of eyes to check it over.
Some of the items on a photographer’s Preflight Checklist might sound relatively obvious, but it’s a good idea to keep one handy to make sure you have everything in order. Simple mistakes can make or break a photo shoot, and it doesn’t hurt to double-check that you have every little thing set – especially when dealing with families and children.
Following are the items I advise you to put on your checklist. You may want to customize it to suit your needs and possibly even create your own from scratch using a word processing program. I have included explanations for each item on this list. You could remove them to save space and focus just on the items and not the rationale for including them.
Each photo session should use fresh memory cards. The best way to do that is to format them using your camera. Doing a complete reformat, using the instructions provided in your camera’s manual, is preferred over merely deleting the pictures one-by-one. Doing a complete reformat resets your memory card to a fresh state. Deleting pictures can leave certain bits of data intact that, over time, could cause problems and make it more difficult to recover images in the case of a card failure.
Charging your batteries may seem painfully obvious, but most photographers have been in at least one situation where they forgot to bring fully-charged batteries to a session. Having this on a checklist ensures that this doesn’t happen to you.
You probably don’t need to bring all your camera gear to every photo shoot. Having a checklist for family photo sessions (or other types of sessions, such as sports or weddings) is an excellent way to ensure nothing gets overlooked. This list should include camera bodies, specific lenses, flashes, filters, even specific equipment like camera straps and lens cleaners. Don’t just assume you will remember to bring these! Having them on a checklist can save you from a big disaster during the photo session.
Accessories can include something to write with, something to write on (such as a clipboard), blankets for people to sit on, benches, footstools, and even stepladders (depending on the location and situation). Be as detailed as you like with this. It may help to have different accessories listed for different types of sessions such as pictures involving young children, or elderly grandparents.
It never hurts to have food or snacks on hand. As well as pacifying fussy kids or calming nervous parents, it sends a message to your clients that you know what you are doing and have their needs in mind. Chewy granola bars, single-serve packs of fruit snacks, and bottles of water all come in handy at photo sessions. The clients appreciated it too. Just be sure to avoid food that leaves crumbs or stain clothes!
Wedding photographers know this well, but some family photographers can easily make the mistake of forgetting specific shots in the hustle and bustle of a session. Write out the shots you want (i.e., Mom and Dad, Mom and kids, Dad and kids). Consult with the family beforehand to see if they want anything unique to their shoot. Even if they don’t have something in mind, they may appreciate that you asked for their input.
It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle and chaos of a family photo shoot only to realize afterward that there were certain poses you wanted to get. Or worse, certain poses your clients requested that slipped your mind. Once, I looked through my photos in Lightroom after a session. I banged my head against my keyboard because I forgot to get a shot of the parents holding their daughter or all the brothers in one group.
If you take more of a freeform approach to your sessions, you might not be too concerned about certain poses. However, if you want to cover your bases, putting your poses in your checklist is a great way to get the ones you want.
If I had a dollar for every time I looked through pictures from a photo session only to realize that someone had keys, a giant cell phone, a glasses case, or other sundry items sticking out of their pockets, I’d be a rich man. These types of imperfections can land an otherwise frame-worthy photo in the rejection bin. Alternatively, it requires hours of postprocessing to fix.
The easiest solution is to have clients empty their pockets before you start taking pictures. Family sessions can be so hectic that it’s easy to overlook. Put this item on your checklist, and you’ll be all set.
Similarly to pocket-clearing, this one is an easy fix but can cause you to pull your hair out in post-processing if you forget. Make a note on your checklist to see that shirts are tucked in, collars are down, and ties aren’t sticking into belts.
Names are last, but it’s one of the most important things to remember. It can make the difference between a one-time client and years of repeat business. Leave space on your checklist to write all the names of your clients and take a bit to rehearse them before your clients show up. This helps to avoid an awkward scene when directing a person to stand somewhere or put a hand on another’s shoulder, but you can’t remember their name. Nothing says unprofessional like barking out, “Hey you over there, move your hand!” Write your clients names down and use them during the photo session as much as possible. It helps the entire event to run smoother.
Every photographer is going to need different items on his or her checklist. Hopefully, these give you a good idea of where to start. Creating the list is as simple as opening up a word processor and starting a bulleted list. Once you have a basic one created, you can fine-tune it to meet your needs on each shoot. It might seem like much work to create a checklist, but in the end, it saves you far more time than you might realize. You create better results for your clients too.
If you’d like to use my checklist as a template, you can download it here. I strongly recommend using this as a starting point and adding, removing, or changing the items to suit your needs.
Do you already use a Preflight Checklist or other such devices to help you with your photo sessions? If so, what do you put on it? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, and I’m sure other photographers would as well.