The most important part of a family photo session, for me, is capturing connection.
But there’s only so much I can do to create connection if someone really, really doesn’t want to be there.
A grumpy adult takes the task of creating connection from challenging to near-impossible. They can negatively affect everyone else’s attitude, too!
If you’ve got a Grumpy Smurf in your crew, here are a few tips to get out in front of it.
For demonstration purposes, I’m going to pretend our theoretical Grumpy Family Member is male. Statistically speaking, it’s more common.
I do not judge anyone who has a Surly Adult in their crew. I’m married to a certified picture-day hater, and he’s behaved badly during family photos more than once. So just know that I am right here with you!
Tip 1: Remind them why you’re doing photos.
My 92-year-old grandma has a book of photos that she flips through daily at the nursing home. She can’t live independently, and her mind is pretty fuzzy most days, but she has those photos. She loves them so.
Appeal to the Family Grump that they put their own discomfort aside and do it for someone they love. Like their spouse, or their own mom… whomever is behind the request for photos.
No matter how much they dislike the experience, adults are capable of enduring discomfort for the ones we love. (Ask any woman who’s been through childbirth, ha!) Just go with the flow for 45 minutes and you’re done.
Funny story: my uncle decided the best way to show his displeasure at being in photos was to secretly flip off the camera (and me, the photographer). I chopped off his middle finger in Photoshop.
I couldn’t leave it in; not only would it upset his mom, the aforementioned grandma, but with his niece (me) as the photographer, it was a middle finger to us both.
Sorry not sorry about your finger, dude.
Tip 2: A poor attitude wastes hard-earned money.
Attitude is contagious, especially to children, who are far more perceptive than you think. If an adult’s being obstinate, kids will pick up on it, and they’ll respond accordingly. Now you’ve got even more testy people.
With multiple frowny-faces in the group, your session will result in a very small number of “nice” pictures, where everyone’s happy and having a good time. Whomever paid the bill won’t be pleased.
If the grump is footing all or part of the bill, appeal to his thrifty nature: being grumpy wastes money. Being happy uses money wisely! Ta-da!
Tip 3: Remind them not to take their frustration out on the kids or their partner.
Hey, Picture Grumps, take my advice: Don’t piss off your spouse, don’t yell at your kids, and don’t hand out consequences… this is just not the time for any of that.
You’ll create instant tears, and your kiddo may not recover enough to be part of any more photos.
Usually, as soon as an adult threatens a kid with a consequence, they burst into tears.
Even if I can bring kiddo back from the brink, they’ll have red eyes and splotchy faces, both of which create editing headaches for me.
I don’t care if your kids misbehave; your job is to act like their antics are the cutest thing you’ve ever seen. (And I am not judging you or your kids, so don’t worry about that.)
Just let them be kids for now, and when we’re done you can address any behavior that you didn’t like.
PS. Don’t get mouthy and snappish with the photographer, either. It’s just rude. I get that you’re here against your will, but I’m not the one you should be mad at.
Pro tip: Give your Grumpy Adult a bit more in control. Provide a few options for what to wear, and let him choose his favorite. If he nixes them all, be open to going back to the drawing board. Bonus points if you entertain his ideas about what he wants to wear. You never know, his idea might turn out to be awesome!
Tip 4: Good ol’ fashioned bribery.
Hey, it works with children, why wouldn’t it work for a grumpy family member?
If all else fails, promise them something they really want in exchange for good behavior at the photo session.
A new pair of shoes, a night off from kid duty, some sexy time, a new piece of IKEA furniture to put together all by him/herself (no? just me?), a crisp $20/$100 bill, whatever floats their boat.
Find some leverage, and use it.
Overall, just appeal to their better nature
While I can’t guarantee 100% compliance from your Grumpy Smurf, these tips will get you closer.
Remind them for whom you’re having photos taken. Explain that being grumpy in photos is a waste of money. Detail how a bad attitude will make the kids grumpy, too, and if all else fails, pretend you’re a government official and BRIBE like crazy.
Pro tip: find a photographer who shoots lifestyle photography, with movement and interactive games. Your surly family member will be more comfortable if they can be themselves, smiling and playing with the kiddos, instead of plastering on a fake smile and looking into the camera.
Here’s to a successful picture day, my friends!