I hated my first family photo shoot - here’s why


s a family it was never a conscious decision to book a family photo shoot until one day we attended a nursery fundraising event at the nursery my daughter went to when she was around 2 years old. I can’t quite remember what we had to do to win it, perhaps it was a raffle (we cleaned them out of prizes, winning not one, two but three prizes including ‘Big Bear’). 

Big Bear - won at the nursery fundraiser by guessing the name: 'Barnaby'.

In any case, the photo shoot flyer was one of them and my wife rang the number on the flyer to book in to the local studio in Farnham, Surrey which was near to where we lived at the time. She spoke about the date and time, what to wear and how long the session would last. It was agreed that it was ok to bring our two spaniels, Bruce and George, a mischievous pair who were key members of our family and so there’d be 5 of us attending in total. No problem.

You could tell it wasn’t going to go well when on the way, my daughter decided face planting into the pavement a few steps before walking in to the door of the studio was a good idea. As tears streamed down her face we were dragged inside by Bruce and George and ushered into a small studio room at the back of the shop. It was very messy, dimly lit with a large white roll of background paper at one side and the photographer’s lights at the other. 

We met our photographer and he gave us his short brief about what was going to happen. In summary:

‘I’ll stand over here, you stand over there. I’ll make some silly noises and make your daughter smile. You smile and we’ll have this wrapped up in under 15 minutes.’ 

My wife and I looked at each other and said:

‘But our daughter won’t smile for you. Can’t we stand next to you for some of the photos so that we can encourage her to smile?’. 

Our simple request was met with a firm ‘No! It needs to be this way’. No explanation given, no flexibility, no understanding of our family. The strange, weird-looking man then proceeded to make some kind of high pitched ‘He!’ sound in the hope it would make my 2 year old, who had clearly also thought he was a bit of a weirdo, smile at the camera. I think the results speak for themselves.

Now, as an amateur photographer, at the time, I kind of understood what he was trying to do and, sure, there’d be pictures which required all of us to be included. But it still got us both a little annoyed - this, as it appears, isn’t conducive to warm, friendly and adorable family photos. Who would have guessed? 
The shoot continued…

There were a number of preconceived poses which he put us into and then with a ‘Smile!!!’ command, we were encouraged to crank out a smile on demand. This wasn’t helping and we were all, dogs included, getting restless and hoping it’d all be over very soon.

Typically, our dogs would have played up. Bruce, in particular, had form for urinating on people’s things (and sometimes people) who he didn’t like and I’m not sure why he didn’t cock a leg on this guy’s stuff - it would have been entirely justified. But perhaps he was waiting to see if this was a one off. 

It wasn’t. 

When the shoot did finally end we went back into the reception area to review the draft images and make our selections. Little did we know that we were in for a bit of a shock. 

The weird chap presented us with a selection of his best images that he’d just taken and asked us to select 3 that we’d like to have printed. And then it hit us...

One of the photos we received. You can see in our dogs' eyes that they want to ruin the photographer's day!

The prize we’d received only covered the cost of the shoot - no images were included. 

I’m sure we’re not the only ones to be caught out by this savage photographer’s trick to siphon money out of their clients and having experienced this first hand I’ve never offered a service like it. Anyway, we were then hit with, what we considered to be astronomical prices for a few photos. What hurt more was the expectation to pay such prices without being made aware that it was going to be like that. 

Nothing was said on the phone, no pre-shoot emails were exchanged which included a price list and we certainly weren’t made aware of what was to come before stepping into the weirdo’s back room. 

I was livid! Volcano-erupting, red hot, fuming livid! Perhaps understandably this chap got ‘both barrels’ and soon became apologetic. 

Anyway, despite the poor service, the lack of information up front and the big reveal later on we conceded to buying some prints and a framed image too. It cost us over £250 and we walked away, only to have to return a week or two later to collect our items. The weird photographer made himself scarce as I walked in the door. Collected my images and walked out without as much as a ‘thank you’ from their staff for our custom. 

We wouldn’t be going back again. 


Despite the whole experience, what we concluded was this: 

  • If you book a session, make sure you know the pricing up front. Even if it’s just a starting from price list you have something to go off. If your photographer won’t share the full price list with you, then this is a red flag to work with them.
  • Be clear about what’s included in the fee. If there’s no fee for the shoot, expect the price of the products to be higher to offset the photographer’s time. They’ve got to make a living somehow; this is how they do it. 
  • If your photographer has got poses in mind and they don’t work for you, let them know. At the end of the day, they’ll be your images. If you’re not comfortable being posed in that way it’ll show in those images. Do yourself a favour, speak up.
  • ️Your photographer should also understand that, particularly with children, some silly sausage making strange noises they think will make you smile won't necessarily work. If they can't see that then they're a tool and should be avoided at all costs.
  • And finally, if you’re an outdoor family, don’t get a studio photographer to try and take your pictures. As much as we still have ours (and have them hung on the wall) we only have them because they’re a reminder of the place and time that was then. We don’t look at them often and they’re certainly not our favourites. We love being outdoors and it brings back much more emotion having outdoor images on our walls. These are what fill our home.

Photo shoots should be fun. They certainly shouldn't make you come away with a heart condition because of the stress they generate. So take your time to find a photographer whose values align with your own. Ask them questions, get to know them a bit on the phone or, better, in person (Zoom is just as good). Ask them how the shoot will go, how they expect to generate fun in the session so your kids are excited and engaged. If they can't answer these questions then plan for the unexpected or find someone else.

At the end of the day, you want great pictures and you know what makes your family tick.

My family photo packages are outdoor based and rather than me making stupid faces in the hopes your kids will smile, I try to go to places where, by just being there there'll be excitement and smiles all round. This equates to much more natural photographs of you and your family enjoying yourselves and having fun.

If this sounds like more of the kind of thing you'd like for your portraits, why not click on the button below and let's chat.

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Portrait image of Lake District photographer, Al Topping Photos & Film