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Tips for Picture-Perfect Family Photos

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8 tips for stress-free (ish) Family Sessions

The Holy Grail of Family Photography: Everyone looking at the camera and smiling!
The Holy Grail of Family Photography: Everyone looking at the camera and smiling!

Ahhh… the quest for the Perfect Family Portrait. Who hasn’t cringed at the idea of planning a family session? Let’s be real… when was the last time your family was “overjoyed” with the idea of a professional family photo session? Did I hear NEVER? 

As a mom, I know how meaningful it is for us to preserve memories of our children and we usually get super excited to get updated photos for Christmas cards, or just getting one single family photo where eeeeeveryone is looking at the camera and smiling. Easier said than done, right? As soon as we present the idea to the rest of the family, you can almost hear a collective “ugh!”, especially if you are parenting teenagers! 

Let me share with you what has worked for me, and for the many clients that come to me for family photos. Although these tips are far from fail-proof, they have worked wonders with even the most reluctant ones! I have yet to encounter a family that has “hated” getting their pictures taken, and I think it’s all because of the preparation you do before the session.

1. Set the Expectations with the Family

I think the problem with most uncooperative family members is that they don’t see the “why” in doing it. No one likes being “told” what to do, so they may feel like they’re being dragged to do something that is boring or even “stupid”. I think sitting with your family a few nights before your session and telling them how important this is for you and how much you would love to have those memories preserved forever is key. They love you, and they will do it for you. Get them excited about planning their outfits. Show them pictures from your photographer’s portfolio so they can see what the end result may look like. Show them pictures of the location where you’re having your session. The more they know what to expect, the more involved they will feel in the process and the more they will cooperate!

This beautiful bunch was less than excited to get the picture taken. Mom explained how the last family pictures they did as a family was when the oldest daughter was 4! They got on board, and had a blast! (Not to mention that they all LOVED their new family photos decorating their walls!)

2. Choose the right time

This step is extremely important. If it’s a summer day, and you plan your session for 1 pm, you’ll have family members complaining that’s too hot. If you have little ones and you plan your session during a time when they’re usually napping, you’ll have cranky children. It is very important that you work with your photographer to find the time that would work best for your family while still making sure you’ll get beautiful portraits light wise. A session at 3 pm will certainly not be as glowy as a golden hour portrait, but what matters the most is that it’s during a time in which your family would be most comfortable. Your photographer should be able to recommend a location that best suits the time of day you choose.

Her mommy planned their session for early afternoon, right after baby’s nap time. This girl, at only 6-months old, gave us all the smiles and giggles we needed for the family to fall head over heels!

3. Plan ahead to reduce stress

We’ve all been there. We calculate how long it will take us to get somewhere and “leave on time” only to realize that there’s unexpected traffic. I don’t know about you but being late is my #1 stress producer, especially if it’s for something important. This causes unnecessary arguments, it gets us snappy towards others, and by the time you get to your destination, everyone is in a mood. Plan ahead to make sure you arrive feeling calm and relaxed, and even if you’re a few minutes late, your photographer should be able to make up for lost time. There’s no need to feel unease. They got you!

When you show up relaxed to your session, it shows in your images!

4. Come prepared!

This is part of the “plan ahead to reduce stress” point, but I can’t emphasize enough the importance of it. Depending on the length of your session, you want to make sure you pack a little bag with important things to make your life easier: water, snacks, your child’s favorite toy (or favorite person! Like Nana or Papa), and even comfortable shoes to change into if your location requires some walking. Some parents even bring skittles or gummy bears to “bribe” the toddlers into smiling (it works!), so put some thought into what could work for your children and just bring it, even if you think you may not need it.

Grandma came along and was singing and dancing behind me, and we got this sweet munchkin pretty smile in lots of photos.

5. Plan something fun afterward

Call it the ultimate bribe. You all are probably going to be looking awesome for your portraits, so why not do something fun afterward? Go for ice cream or to dinner. Go for a round of minigolf. Go to the movies. Tell the children that you’re having a family date after your shoot and that the more they cooperate, the faster they’ll be done!

This family planned a fun night out with the high school senior graduates after the shoot

6. Plan a shorter session

Quality over quantity. Depending on the ages of the children or the size of your family, a one-hour session may not be the best option. I always recommend short sessions for families with children under the age of 3, because most likely they will be done with photos after 15-20 minutes. A great family photographer will be able to deliver anywhere from 30 to 50 images from a short 20-minute session, so you will still have plenty of options to choose from for that canvas you want for the dining room. Most family photographers host 2-3 seasonal mini-sessions (15-20 minute back-to-back sessions) a year, and that is a great opportunity to get the family photo you want quickly and painlessly. But even with shorter sessions, all these recommendations still apply!

15 minutes and this family received over 30 images that they adored!

7. Give yourself and your family grace

I know. We love our family and we want “the perfect” portrait, but sometimes things don’t go as planned. Children can be unpredictable and, no matter how much you try to plan ahead, things happen. It’s OK momma. Breathe. Yelling at the children for not smiling or getting frustrated because they are not listening will not help your cause -quite the contrary, it will upset everyone and would create an unpleasant experience that they will remember next time you propose to have a family photoshoot. I remember one of the most beautiful photos I delivered was from a mom soothing her 2-year-old. Big tears in her eyes. Mommy hugging her. This mom LOVED that photo because it’s a reflection of parenthood, even though it was not the smiley face she wanted it. If in the end, you were not able to get the most instagrammable photo, that’s OK too. It’s all part of raising children and living life. Embrace it. You’ll remember those moments with fondness when those kiddos are heading to college (trust me on that one!)

Playing time always helps create beautiful candid moments!

8. Hire a photographer with family portrait experience

You wouldn’t want a car mechanic repairing your home furnace, so why would you hire someone with no experience in family photography? Listen… family photography is a specialty in and on itself. It takes the right personality to be able to connect with children and do everything in their power to achieve the “holy grail” of photography: everyone looking at the camera and smiling! A true family photographer will sing “baby shark” for the little ones. Or make funny voices. Or joke with the teenagers. Or play the same song over and over on their phones to keep your little ones dancing and smiling (and getting that song stuck in everyone’s head for days!); and, most importantly, they will never, ever pass judgment if your child throws a tantrum or refuses to cooperate. As a family photographer, my goal is to get images that you will love and cherish, whether it is 5 photos or 100. I rather deliver a gallery with 15 beautiful, joyful, and loving photos than 100 “OK” photos. Again, quality over quantity. A family photographer will be ready at the perfect moment for that candid shot. A family photographer will try to connect with everyone in your family and get them to have fun. They will know if they can try to push for “one more” pose or give your little one a break if they are showing signs of getting tired. Do your research and invest in someone that will do their very best to capture your family’s love and give you the experience that you and your family deserve.

For the entire 60-minutes I danced and sang “La Vaca Lola” (Lola the Cow), a Spanish lullaby, and this one-year old baby sang and danced along. Whatever it takes!

I’m a Rhode Island-based Portrait and Senior photographer, and I’d love the opportunity to serve you and your family in achieving those precious portraits that you will cherish for a lifetime! Learn more about my work here!

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