It can feel really daunting to plan a family photo session! You finally got your spouse on board with photos, you’ve finally found the perfect location, at the perfect time, and (hopefully) found the perfect photographer for your family. Now what?
I know the stress that family photo planning can bring, so I’m here to pass along my top ten tips for family photos! These are real-life tested experiences, with hundreds of family sessions under my belt.
While this post is directed at clients preparing for a family session, it can also apply to parents planning for a newborn or senior session, or even school photos! There isn’t a human out there for whom a photo session won’t go a bit better if they have some snacks on board.
1) Plan your outfits ahead of time.
I would suggest having your final outfits planned at least a week ahead of your session. Rushing around an hour before your session is only going to amp up the stress level for everyone, and there’s nothing worse than realizing your dress has a broken zipper 30 minutes before you need to leave!
Try on your outfits at least two weeks before your session
To make sure everything fits, I recommend doing a test run of outfits two weeks before your session. Shoes suddenly don’t fit your 10 year old? You realize you don’t have a bra to go with that shirt? Two weeks out will give you time to find the items you need, and replace the items you don’t.
Most of my family sessions happen outdoors, so I strongly recommend wearing shoes you can walk in. Avoid high heels with a point, clunky boots on a baby, or sandals in winter for your preschooler (unless they chose them!).
More tips on clothing
For more tips on choosing outfits for your family session: What To Wear For Family Photos
2) Be comfortable.
My most important tips for having a successful family session is that you plan a session where everyone is comfortable! There is nothing worse than realizing everyone is freezing cold, in a location they’re not comfortable with, and starving.
Dress for the weather
Please, please dress for the weather. I can cheer up even the most grouchy teen or tired toddler, but unfortunately, I cannot do much about a child who is sad because they are shivering. As cute as that romper was on Etsy, short sleeves are not a great choice for November in Wyoming!
If you have an outdoor session scheduled for late October through late May, you’ll want to plan on layers. Long sleeves, sweaters, scarves, and even hats and gloves. Leggings can be worn under jeans.
For summer sessions, watch the weather. We still have cold snaps in June, and 50 degrees is not warm when there’s a breeze!
Pick a location your family is comfortable with
Pinterest lies. Don’t fall for the “they’re only REAL family photos if you’re dancing in a mountain meadow” mood board. Is your family at their best close to home, with lots of sidewalks? You don’t want to suddenly put them in a location 45 minutes from home, with only tall grass to walk through. Or are your kids the type who want to run and scream and be their best little selves on the wide open prairie? There are options for that too!
I promise: even if you’re a park family, we can make it look like you drove to the mountains! Make sure to pass along any location concerns or questions during the initial booking phase, and I can help you find the perfect location for your session.
I get this question a lot, so I’ve put together a post with my Best Locations For Family Photos in Cheyenne.
When picking out those outfits ahead of time, make sure they’re outfits your family is comfortable in! Leave the scratchy tulle for another time, and pick fabrics and textures that your family can move and be comfortable in for an hour.
3) Talk to your kids about expectations.
This section isn’t going to be what you think it’s going to be, believe me.
Don’t tell them to smile or look at the camera
Whatever you do, do NOT tell them they need to smile and look at the camera. Getting smiles is my job, and I promise, I’m pretty good at it! It can be really hard for me to get a natural smile out of a kid that has been told they need to smile or look at the camera – sometimes looking away and/or not smiling is the best way to get a smile!
Don’t tell them to “behave”
This will lead into one of my next tips, but threatening your kids or telling them they need to be on their best behavior tends to backfire. It leads to stress, both with kids and parents. I have three kids of my own – including twins – so there isn’t much your family can do that will cause a problem! Sometimes the chaos is the point of what I’m doing, so let the kids be themselves.
DO tell them to have fun and enjoy their family!
I want this to be a yearly thing for your family. I want them to have so much fun that they’re literally begging you to schedule family photos again next year (don’t laugh, it happens more than you’d think!). Think of this as a one hour adventure for your family, one with a tour guide. Your only job is to enjoy the ride!
4) Feed your family ahead of time.
Family photo sessions are scheduled for the trickiest times for kids, especially in the summer and fall. I typically schedule sessions for 1-2 hours before sunset, which can mean your session is overlapping with dinner. Whatever you do, do NOT make your kids wait until after the session to eat! Even if it means ruining their dinner, feed them a heavy snack prior to them putting on their photo clothes, and plan on bringing snacks to your session.
5) Give yourself enough time to get ready.
This is a tricky one, because I don’t know how long it takes to get your family ready! But give yourself 30-45 minutes of wiggle room when planning your getting ready, especially if you have multiple kids. I promise, something will inevitably go wrong, and you don’t want to show up already stressed for your session!
In most situations, if you do run late, you can text me and let me know your updated ETA. But for my Half Sessions and Mountain Mini Sessions, I do schedule them back to back, so you’ll want to be on time.
6) What to bring.
For every session that isn’t at your home, I have a list of suggested items to bring to your session. And this is true for senior sessions and maternity sessions, not just family sessions!
I get hangry with the best of them, so my car is a squirrel cache of granola bars, in various states of hardness. But this won’t work for your toddler, so I have some suggested snacks!
Snacks To Bring:
- Mini marshmallows
- Grapes (cut up, please)
- Cereal (avoid sticky ones)
- Apple slices
- Cheese cubes
Snacks To Avoid:
- Berries (will stain mouths and clothes)
- Squeeze pouches of applesauce or yogurt
- Suckers/lollipops (take forever and are hard to hide)
- Gum (will show up when they smile, especially green ones)
- Candy (unless it’s fast to dissolve)
I would suggest bringing at least one waterbottle, with a not open top (I have seen too many of these get dumped). Even if you aren’t a waterbottle family, I can almost guarantee your preschooler will get thirsty as a stalling tactic.
Even if your kids are out of diapers, I would recommend bringing a small bag to store things. Not only is it a great place for snacks and waters, it’s perfect for storing keys, phones and sunglasses during your session (so we don’t leave them next to a sagebrush).
7) Leave devices and toys in the car.
While I know that devices may need to be in use while traveling to your session, you absolutely need to plan on leaving all kid devices and toys in the car during your session. I know – that one video of a baby laughing always makes your three year old laugh. But unless you want photos of your child WITH the device, you need to leave it in the car. Every single toy or phone or Kindle that comes out during a session is guaranteed to be with your child for the rest. of. the. session.
Easier said than done, I know! But I promise: you hired me for a reason, and I am good at my job.
I will tell you where to stand and what to do with your hands. I will get your kids to look at the camera when they need to. I will get allllll the photos you were hoping for (and then some!).
I am here to be your guide for your family session. If you have any questions about the best location for your session, what your family should wear, specific concerns for your family (neurodiversity challenges, transition lenses, shyness, etc), do not hesitate to reach out to me ahead of time.
This leads into…
9) Smile and enjoy your family!
I know, it sounds silly. But sometimes I find that everyone is so wound up about their arms or their kids or what to do with their hands that they forget to smile and enjoy this time with their family! You’ve put a lot of work into a fun experience for your family, and now it’s time to just enjoy this hour with the people you love best. Savor those hugs, laugh about those mishaps, and remember why you’re doing this.
10) Change your mindset.
If you go into a family session with the goal of Picture Perfect Family, you will fail.
Families aren’t perfect. Kids are messy. Things go wrong, even when you’ve tried your best. Rather than your goal being “photos for the Christmas card”, have a goal of “fun with the family in a place we love, documented”. I can promise you that if you shift your mindset, even just a little bit, allll the pieces I’ve mentioned above will fall into place.
While this guide certainly doesn’t cover every single thing that could go wrong in a family session, hopefully this quick set of tips will help your family session go a bit smoother.
For more information on my sessions:
If you still have questions, or would like to book a session, get in touch!