6 Tips for Great Family Photos
If you’ve been following me for a while you may recall that I quit photographing families several years ago. It’s not that I didn’t love families, my issue was that often parents arrived expecting perfectly posed, staged, and stagnant photos… and for their kids to behave impeccably. It was unrealistic and I just felt uninspired. There’s nothing wrong with a posed family portrait – I just didn’t like the pressure to deliver an entire session of perfection that wasn’t always going to happen without massive manipulation lol!
After a long break from family photography, I discovered documentary-style family photojournalism and it felt like home. Completely candid, zero prompting, messy moments, honest depictions of everyday life… man, I love capturing days like that for my clients. I also understand that not every family is quite ready for so much “realness”, so I began offering gently guided hourly sessions as well. With a little education and a little expectation setting of my own, I’ve found that family sessions don’t have to be the way they used to be. I’m thrilled to have my clients come back and embrace a more natural flow that leaves room for real moments, even while being lightly directed. As I think back on the families I’ve had the pleasure of photographing lately, I thought I’d share some tips for great family photos with you!
Here we go:
1. Prepare your family in advance. Forcing your partner and kids into photos isn’t going to end well for anyone. There may be some groans and grumbles when you announce that you’ve booked a family session – that’s normal, don’t get upset. You set the tone! Explain to them that it’s important for you to have memories not only for yourself but for them to have one day. Let your family know that you’ve chosen a photographer who wants the whole family to have fun together during the session and who won’t force them to sit still and stare at the camera for hours. If they’re still grumbling… a little incentive never hurt anyone. Maybe since you’re all out of the house together you could all go out to a movie afterward, or for ice cream, or grab Happy Meals. I’m not above offering a reward for cooperation, but I’ll let you make the call on that one.
2. For the love of god… chill. Parents, your kids are taking their energy cues from you! I’m going to say it again… KEEP CALM. If you book a session with me, please understand that I believe in candid, child-centered photo sessions. That means that if you’ve got a wild little one who loves to run, we embrace that. I will do my darndest to get the sweet snuggles you’re hoping for, but forcing a child into a stagnant or forced pose is usually a disaster. This is not the time for you to get flustered or upset if your child isn’t doing what you want – let them be little. Remember, this is who they are and they grow up really freaking fast. I promise that the honest moments will mean more to you one day than a perfect portrait. So one more time, chill, breathe, enjoy this time. Save the stern tones for another day – we’re here to enjoy ourselves and capture honest moments. Leave space to let them happen.
3. Get on board. I don’t want to point fingers but occasionally one parent or partner gets their knickers in a twist over photos. They don’t want to be there and let me tell you – it doesn’t feel awesome for me to have to work twice as hard to make this person happy. I understand how dentists must feel. I usually chalk this poor attitude up to nerves & fear, but wow it can create some uncomfortable moments at times. If you’ve ever given your partner or photographer a hard time because you hate having your photo taken, just remember that you’re making this way harder than it has to be. If you choose to enjoy your time as a family I promise it won’t be a painful hour. You might even (gasp) enjoy spending time with people you love a lot!
4. If you have really small kids who nap, try to schedule your photos around their “happy” times. Having said that, light is extremely important for great portraits so being flexible will absolutely affect your final images. When working with very young kids I find that first thing in the morning is the most fun, it means parents need to get up extra early to get ready before their littles wake up but it’s typically worth it. I also love shooting at golden hour so if your kiddos are okay to be up a little late one night, that’s even better. If you want to shoot in your own home, mid-day is fine. Try not to stress over their mood before the shoot – as a mom I know that kids are fickle little creatures and they may do a complete 180 once they arrive at the session. And if they don’t, well, we’ll do our best to help them have fun!
5. Let’s talk outfits because I know that everyone stresses over this. You don’t need to match, you don’t even need to coordinate. If your family is more comfortable in shorts & t-shirts than in flowy dresses and khakis, great, let’s embrace that. Be yourselves! If you do want to coordinate that’s fine; I will recommend avoiding bright reds & oranges and opt for comfort. If you can’t move in your outfit, it’s the wrong outfit. Make sure your footwear is appropriate for your session location (no stilettos at the beach please) and make double sure that your clothing is weather appropriate. If your child is too cold or too warm they won’t enjoy themselves and neither will you.
6. Finally – bring snacks, soothers, and stuffies. If your baby is screaming any time she’s not using a pacifier, just let her have it. You’ll remember that about her when you look back on photos. Is a stuffed panda bear going to ruin your images if your little guy clings to it for security? Absolutely not. Panda is part of the family. And snacks, well, who doesn’t love snacks. It’s always smart to have something in your bag if a kiddo gets hangry.
Family photography doesn’t need to be rigid and perfect. Every family has their unique differences, and dare I say flaws, that make them special. That’s okay! Perfection does not exist and I think it’s about time we begin accepting that every family’s images will be different from the next. Come to your session ready to play, love, and embrace all the imperfection that makes your family oh so special.
To check out more images and see these tips for great family photos in action – start here: The Tieu-LaFrances