Tips for a Family Photo Shoot

The family and I are leaving for Grand Haven, Michigan today to visit family and enjoy the annual Coast Guard Festival.  It’s been 4 years since our last family photo shoot (our wedding) so I planned one for this trip.  Grand Haven is home for my husband, and it’s where he proposed, so it’s a very special place for us.  We thought this would be perfect for some great family photos.
Since I’ve been on both sides of the camera, I’ve been the one stressing about what to wear and I’ve seen plenty of other families stressing about their photo shoot.  I’m here to help you prepare!  Chances are, your family will be going in front of the camera soon (Christmas cards, anyone?!).  Relax!  And read on…


Start at the end.  Weird, yes.  Let me explain.  When planning for your family’s photo session, consider these questions:
What is the purpose of these photos?
Wall/Home decor; Holiday cards; Annual family reunion memories…
Where will they be placed?
In your home?  If so, what room(s)?
How else will you be sharing these photos?
Scrapbooks, Cards, etc.
For example, our photo session is the first in 4 years.  Chances are pretty good that these will also grace our Christmas cards this year.  However, the final destination for these images is the wall in our family room.  I don’t want them to look like holiday pictures.  Rather, I’d like them to be pretty neutral {think: stand the test of time}.

{Our sofa}

{Our mantle}

Considering the placement of the images, once printed, also helps determine the color scheme.  Our family room is beige with a navy blue accent wall behind the fireplace, and red accents in the pillows and other decor.  Using the red and navy blue color scheme, I was able to determine our outfits.


I think a lot of us (I am totally guilty of this) get this lovely idea in our heads of what the photos will look like…  Everyone is serene and beautiful, there’s perfectly pressed outfits on everyone, we’re all laughing and smiling, but not laughing so hard we make those weird faces.  You know those faces…
I digress.
Anyway, my point is, when picturing your family shoot in your head, be realistic.  You wouldn’t wear a ball gown to the beach, or a bikini to a wedding.  The same holds true for your pictures.  Think about the setting.  Also, if you are having portraits done in the summer, you don’t want to wear a hot sweater, even if these are going to be used on holiday cards.  Keep the season in mind.
We are going to have our photos taken on the shores of Lake Michigan.  Yes, it’s a beach, but it’s a lake.  And I also have to remember Tip #1.  The cool thing about our color scheme, though, is that it allows me to have a bit of nautical flair – the navy blue, the red…  You get the idea.  I’m not going over-the-top with the nautical thing, though.  That’s not very neutral.  But I will be wearing boat shoes!


As you can see, I’ve decided on a comfortable but classy outfit for myself that is casual enough for the beach, but still nice enough for family portraits.  The colors are perfectly suited for our family room, and it’s not overly “beach-y” or nautical.


My daughter is 10 (and a half!!!) years old.  She is perfectly capable of picking out her own clothes.  However, I wouldn’t let her do so for this photo shoot.  She’d probably come rocking some God-awful neon thing from Justice (bleh).  So, this is what I picked for her:

{Tea Collection}

Having said that, if you have teenagers, allow them a little self-expression.  Guidelines help.  Tell them the color scheme that you’re looking for and have them put together three possible outfits.  You get the final decision, but they still get to have a say in what they wear.  Because we all know how angst-y teenagers get if they aren’t perfectly satisfied!
The same holds true for tiny tots.  Toddlers love doing things allbymyself!  Let them…to an extent.  Pick out their outfit, then let them accessorize a bit.  Little girls especially love their “bling”, so allow it.  Believe it or not, in 10 years, you’ll look back on those pictures and giggle at their cute little personalities and you’ll be glad they picked that La-La-Loopsy necklace to go with their pretty smocked dress.  {Keep their favorite stuffed animal or blanket handy, too…in case of pop-up temper tantrums.}



Also keep your little ones in mind when scheduling your session.  Don’t schedule during normal nap times!  Work with your photographer to plan a time when your kids will be in a good mood, whether they are morning people or night owls.  Work around them – trust me.  You’ll be glad you did.


Pinterest is all the rage these days.  {I’m an addict, too.}  You can find tons of new hair styles and make-up tutorials, and all kinds of goodness to make you just lovely!  However, don’t try something new during your family photo session.
Want that smoky eye look but never did a trial run?  Yea, Tammy Faye Baker, how’s that workin’ for ya?  The day of your session is not the time to over-do your make-up.



That new technique for straightening your hair while allowing extra volume? Ummmm….yea.  Maybe some other day.  You don’t want to look like an 80’s hair band.


Think skinny jeans in a bright color might rock, but never actually tried them on?  Today’s not the day!!!



You are spending money on these pictures.  They will be around for a long time.  Be yourself!


Ok, I know I might offend some people when I say this, but please understand this is only my opinion.  The whole “Let’s-all-wear-white-shirts-and-jeans-and-go-barefoot” thing?  Old.  Worn out.  Overdone.
Seriously?  I don’t own a single white button-up shirt because of those pictures.  And I can almost guarantee you that your photographer will yawn when they see you walk up wearing that outfit.  Photographers are creative people.  They like expression.  So be expressive!
It’s great to coordinate.  You should, honestly.  Otherwise, you’ll look like a bunch of strangers thrown together for a haphazard photo op.  But you don’t have to match!


It’s mucho importante to talk to your photographer BEFORE arriving for your session.  Unless you are going into Olan Mills or Target Portrait Studio, chances are you will have an opportunity to conversate with your photographer prior to the big day.
Here’s where Pinterest actually comes in handy.  Check out family portraits on Pinterest or Google.  What catches your eye?  What style of pictures do you like that you’d like to replicate?  Any particular poses (or lack thereof) that you really like for your family?  Tell your photographer – send him/her the links.  They will be glad you did!
Also, be sure to go through your own photographer’s portfolio to be sure they actually shoot in the style that you are looking for.  If their portfolio is mostly posed group shots and you want more in-the-moment lifestyle shots, you might want to find another photographer.  If your sister’s cousin’s friend’s aunt dabbles in photography, you most definitely want to see some of their work…especially if you are paying this person money.  Yes it’s their time, but it’s your dime.


This is along the same lines as Tip #6.  Things you may want to ask your photographer prior to booking your session could be:
What is the average investment?
A lot of photographers only post the session fees on their website.  Inquire as to the average total investment, including printed photos.  Keep in mind, however, that your total cost could be more or less, depending on your order, so don’t hold them to it.
How long is a typical session?
This is super important, especially if you have kids.  Kids have short attention spans and even shorter tempers when they’re hungry, or have to pee, or decide they want that juice box that you tried to give them 30 minutes ago but they knocked it out of your hand in anger!  {Can you tell I’ve been there, done that?!}  You don’t want something like this…


The worst feeling in the world when having family portraits done is knowing you’ve paid good money for these things, but now you’ll have to hurry to get all of your shots in, and they won’t turn out the way you intended.  Make sure you are given ample time so you can relax.  One and a half to two hours is typical for a good session.
Are outfit changes/multiple locations allowed?
If so, is there an additional cost, or does it just eat into your time allotment?  There may be a park that you’d like to be photographed in, but right down the street a couple miles is a beautiful waterfall.  Can you do both?
Also, if given the chance, it can be nice to have some casual shots of the family, then dress it up a bit for more formal portraits.
Is there an option for digital images?
Some photographers will sell a CD of all of your images, and others feel you may violate their rights to their work by doing your own editing, or sharing them online without a watermark or photo credit, etc.  Personally, I always offered a digital option, but I charged a good chunk of change for it.  I also sent a letter with the CD to my client advising them on proper sharing methods, as well as my personal recommendations to quality print houses.  {Printing high-quality images at Walgreen’s results in low-quality images, but it’s not the fault of the photographer.  It’s the cheap printer.}
If your photographer offers a CD, be prepared to pay the price.  In my mind, it’s worth it because I can use those images again and again for photo gifts, scrapbooking, holiday cards, etc.  I also have them preseved for years to come.  Most photographers store their images for you, but not permanently.  They will eventually be removed from their hard drive or host site.
**A little sidenote to clients – photographers will thank me for this**
Do not balk at the cost of the session fees or print prices.  A photographer’s work does not end when your session is over – that is only the beginning.  You don’t see the hours upon hours of editing and behind-the-scenes work that goes on to make those amazing images you see in your gallery.  I promise it’s worth it.  I promise they work a lot harder than you will ever know.  They don’t get paid for the session – they get paid when you order prints.  So be nice!  And if you can’t afford it, don’t book it.  Just sayin’.  🙂


Try very, very hard to enjoy your family portrait session.  The more fun you have, the better your pictures will turn out, guaranteed.  You want to look back for years to come and see the joy in your family’s faces, not the misery of being forced to smile!  Don’t pose too much – act natural and be yourself.
There’s a great little e-book by Rebecca Cooper that talks about this very thing.  It’s geared more towards you taking great pictures of your family, but it will totally help get the point across anyway.
{Don’t Say Cheese! by Rebecca Cooper}

There you have it – 8 Tips for a Successful Family Photo Shoot.  What did I miss?  Leave me a comment so everyone can see!
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I'm Kirsten & I'm happy you're here! Sweet Tea & Saving Grace supports women seeking to find balance in the busy, deepen their faith, and instill joy and love in their homes, lives, and blogs by providing encouraging and inspiring content and valuable resources. My prayer is for you to leave here better than when you came. Be blessed!