SO Not a “Mini Session” Mom


For a family who isn’t necessarily comfortable in front of the camera, my husband and I have been blessed with incredible photographers in our lives and a daughter who, despite acting shy and clinging to me in public, dazzles the camera.

Since our daughter has just celebrated her first birthday, this is the first year that our family was intrigued by the idea of a family mini session among the aspens.  When it was just the two of us, we were able to take great (well, pretty good) images of ourselves with no more than a timer and a tripod (you should see our proposal photos).  Having a little one to manage as well as finding all the right angles means you can’t guarantee everyone will be looking at the camera when the timer goes off and family selfies are more often comical than cute.

After learning that our maternity/newborn photographer was no longer shooting, we really lucked out and found the most wonderful photographer for our daughter’s cake smash.  Since it was already late September when our daughter turned one, we inquired about fall family sessions before we even got the first image back from her.  She let us know that she would be offering aspen sessions and we let her know we were eager to book.  Then came the question, “Mini or full?”  Say what?

In case you’re like me and you are new to the world of yearly family photos, a mini session is just like it sounds, a super short, one background, one outfit session that is usually no longer than 30 minutes in length.  Prices and product vary by photographer, but a mini session is usually a great value if you only want pictures of your kids or full family (and if you have already had a full portrait session done recently).

Since we had just had some family photos taken along with the cake smash photos and because our daughter is usually pretty happy, I opted for a mini session, but it took quite a bit of back and forth to try and make our dates work with the photographer’s offerings and the timing of the aspen change.  In a perfect world, everyone can sign up for the golden hour without having to leave work early or worry about wardrobe, hair, nap schedule, etc.

I had an actual nightmare about how the mini session would go.  I can’t remember the details now, but I think it was my normally type-B personality trying to prepare me for the whirlwind that was our family mini session.

I wanted to be prepared for the shoot so I read everything our photographer sent us, packed two different outfits for myself, three for baby girl, and at least 10 bow possibilities.  I even took the time to read our photographer’s questionnaire aloud to my husband.  “If we had to choose, would we like more candid or more posed photos?”  “Whole family photos or stunning portraits of our daughter?”  “Mommy and me/Daddy and me?”  “Would we be bringing our pets?” Naively, we planned to have our goldens in the car, “just in case.”

We left work early, grabbed the babe from daycare, and raced up to Aspen Corner.  I had changed in the bathroom at work, but when we arrived really close to our start time, I still had to change our daughter in the car and finalize her bow choice.

We finished changing and at 4 minutes into our 30 minute session then raced to the trail-head.  Our photographer was nowhere to be found.  With what little cell service there was, I messaged her, stalked her photography page, and pushed the little phone button I found on her page, praying it was a cell number.  I got her voicemail.  Just then, as we neared halfway through our 30 minute slot, some friends we recognized were getting out of their car with their dog—to meet the same photographer!  As we chatted with them, the photographer called me back.  She was arriving, but thought we had been scheduled on a different day.  I began to doubt everything.

Without a second thought, however, our photographer sprang into action, carving out 15 minutes for our family and going to the closest little patch of aspen she could find.  Our mini session got turned into a mini-mini session.  Frantically, I messed with baby’s hair throughout our shoot.   Her bow kept creeping back.  I took it off.  She looked like she had headband hair; I put it back on.  I wished I had bathed her to make her curls pop.  Were the three of us even looking in the same direction?

Despite the whirlwind and chaos surrounding us, our photographer managed to get calm, serene photos of the three of us that looked like they had been shot during the golden hour.  I have no idea how she did it, a tribute to her skills and experience.

Despite the positive outcome, I have learned one thing: I am SO not a mini session mom.  It’s not so much the mini session that is difficult for me, it’s the seeming unpredictability and the number of moving pieces—the light, our mood, the drive time, scouting a location, etc.  I’m so glad that I have experienced our photographer in both a setting where she was able to take extra time with us and one where I got to see just how quick and clever she can be (and still capture our daughter’s attention).  I’m also glad that this year we decided to have someone else behind the lens.  For next year, though, I will schedule early and opt for a full session.

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Danika Danker is a native of south-central Wisconsin and south-central Pennsylvania. She has a BS in Biology and a BA in Spanish from Messiah College (now Messiah University) in Grantham, Pennsylvania. She moved to Flagstaff in 2013 to join her true love, who proposed to her at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. She loves telling people about how she met her husband at “boy scout camp,” or Philmont Scout Ranch, a 220 square-mile national high-adventure/backpacking camp of the Boy Scouts of America. Danika is a toddler mom and plans to add a baby into the mix eventually. She processes her experience through reading, writing, and shared experience. The Danker family enjoys camping, hiking, canyoneering, eating green chiles and spending time with their two golden retrievers, Cimarron and Taos. Both Danika and David have been to all 50 states and are starting over with baby E.