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Planning your Holiday Family Photos Shoot

Updated: Jul 16

It’s that time of year again and the holidays are almost upon us – it’s time for new photos and get your holiday cards out!

You’ve booked your family shoot and paid the deposit and the shoot date is coming up and still so many questions!

Here’s a checklist that will walk you through every step of the family portrait process to help you feel confident and prepared for your session.

My role as the photographer for you family photo shoot is to be welcoming, putting you at ease and helping you look your best in the photos — even if you hate getting your photo taken or don’t know how to pose.

Whether you feel bad asking me yet another question or it is just too embarrassingly close to shoot time to inquire more, this post will be your go-to guide to your upcoming family shoot.

Whether you are wondering what you should wear, if you should tell your kids ahead of time that they have to pose for photos for an hour, or how you should prepare your family, I’ve got you!

1. What should I wear? What looks good/bad on camera?

Coordinate your wardrobe, but not too much. There is a fine line between coordinating and too matchy. Remember those photos from the 90s where everyone was wearing white polos and khackis on the beach? Yeah, probably best to leave those in the 90s. Today it’s all about coordinating.

Craft a palette choosing a few colors you love, then plan the outfits around a color story. For instance, utilized blue, yellow and white.

Selecting complimentary patterns, or colors (think pastels or varying shades of the same color) are a great way to go. You do not have to match. In fact, it looks better when you don’t.

Focus on timeless pieces. You don’t want your photos to look dated 10 years from now?

Therefore, stay away from super trendy items. Only wear things you feel great in and that flatter you. Sometimes it helps to get an outside opinion.

Some thing to also keep in mind is the weather if it gets cold or it starts raining it could ruin the shoot if you have not planned for it. Bring with you to the shoot a combination of cooler and warmer clothing or be prepared with some rain wear or umbrellas.

Bring some fun options to the shoot, bowties, suspenders, hats, flower headbands, chunky scarves—these create visual interest and movement in your photos, and really help the images stand apart. Photos are a special occasion; take advantage of this fun opportunity to dress up a little more. Brainstorm about specific props, mementos, or special types of images you want captured. Some families bring heirloom quilts, a special stuffed animal, an embroidered keepsake, etc. Some families know they want a very specific type of photograph taken. If you have these preferences, be sure to brainstorm them in advance and let me know as well!

One of the biggest mistakes people make is wearing something sleeveless. No matter how fit you are, this is a hard look to pull off! If it’s a hot day, try a dress with a cap sleeve or ruffle instead. It is much more forgiving. Avoid any shirts with writing on them too. It is distracting in the photo and makes it harder to look cohesive with the rest of the family.

Bring a change of clothes if you want more than one look, or in case you get muddy, have a potty accident, etc

Don’t wait ‘til the last day to decide what to wear, plan your outfits at least a week in advance! For some reason, it’s harder to objectively critique our outfits in a mirror, than in a photo. Feel free to text me photos of your wardrobe if you’re having a hard time choosing! I’m happy to help. You want to wake up feeling relaxed and prepared, so plan these details out early.

Remember the focus should be on you and your family’s emotional connection, not the clothing but outfit choices are comfortable and attractive.

2. Be well rested and well fed.

Be certain not to schedule your photo session around your child’s nap or bedtime. Crying, hungry or tired children is not fun to deal with especially at a much-awaited family photo shoot.

When it comes to deciding the time of the shoot, I recommend avoiding lunch, dinner, or nap times. That way, you aren’t messing up with your implemented eating and nap schedule.

If this is a bad time for your children, talk with me before the shoot. We will be able to shoot at any time of day by utilizing areas of open shade that will give your skin a beautiful hue and put a sparkle in your eyes.

Don’t show up to a photo shoot on an empty stomach. I meet many families who come to a photo session with dinner scheduled at the end. If this is your plan, be sure to give everyone a healthy snack before the photo shoot. It is not only essential to make sure the kids are fed (and have had their naps) before the shoot, but also you and your partner, or whoever is involved in the shoot! The last thing you want is your stomach rumbling while you are trying to wrangle your wild kids.

3. Be sure to leave plenty of time to get ready.

Moms are often rushing around before a photo shoot, making sure that their family is dressed and ready. I always encourage mothers to have their hair and makeup professionally done. This will prepare mom for her pictures and when mom is feeling pretty and confident, this will reflect on the rest of the family as well. Leave plenty of time for showers, baths, dressing, and grooming. When a family shows up to a family photo session rushed and disorganized, it sets the tone for a rushed and disorganized session. Give yourself extra time so that you are ready before it’s time to head out that door.

Please don’t promise the kids a prize after the shoot otherwise they will keep thinking about the prize and not corporate because kids are impatient! Let them feel like they are just going out and playing.

Some things to consider before your photo shoot:

Make hair, nail, and/or makeup appointments for before your session. Make sure your roots are touched up and you aren’t wearing chipped nail polish to your session! These are small details but we want everything to be perfect.

Prepare your kids (and husband!) with laid-back, low-key references to let them know what’s happening. Tell them you will be “hanging out with our friend Photographer!” or “going to the park to play!” and keep things fun, lighthearted, and casual. (Families have shared that this tip is especially helpful if they have a particularly shy child.) Remember to also clean your kids nails and remove the green nail polish from your 3 year old daughters nails.

And of course, make sure everyone gets a great night’s sleep and eats a good meal beforehand.

4. Ask your kids to bring one of their favorite toys

Even if your shoot is only an hour long, that is a long time for a kid to sit still. I highly encourage you to let your child bring their favorite toy along for the experience. Not only will it entertain them when they get fussy and restless, but it might make them more eager to be part of the shoot if their toy is getting photographed too.

5. During the shoot

Don’t think of it as a photoshoot where everyone has to smile. The forced smile will never look better than the natural smiles. Think of it as a family walk in the park instead to ease the pressure off things, rather than a stressful photography session. Relax and have fun! This is the best way to attend a photo shoot.

As a photographer, I usually don’t start to shoot right away, I will spend a little getting to know you while I set up my equipment and get everyone comfortable with me.

Relax and just have fun. The best photos are the candid ones of you being a family, rather than the posed ones. Get some of those too, but try to just relax, play, and be yourselves. Try not to focus on what you want the result to be and just enjoy the experience. You’ll get the best (and most honest and real) photos that way.

So many times I have found parents who stand behind the photographer and scream, “Say cheese kids!” Yelling and demanding young children to look at the camera to smile will only stress your children out and will result in strained, unnatural and often unflattering photographs. Step back, and allow me to naturally interact and talk with your children. This will result in natural, gorgeous smiles. Help me to capture the true essence of your child’s personality by talking with and coaxing out those smiles naturally and easily.

I make them do things like hug their parents, whisper in their parents’ ear, run away, or tickle each other. Those tricks will usually make them laugh and relax. After a few laughs the kids are usually ready to do most of the things you ask them to.” If the kids feel comfortable, the whole shoot will be easier on everyone!

6. How to Pose During Your Photo Session:

While I will have a million great poses for you to do, if there are certain poses you like that you’ve seen families do online, bring in some examples! I won’t mind because it is your shoot after all. I recommend browsing on Pinterest and seeing if any pose really catches your eye. However, that does not mean you should develop the list of every single pose you want for all your photos. The location or weather may not allow the capturing of all your poses but sometimes offer even greater option and I will consider the poses you gathered as part of your research to be included in the shoot as far as possible.

I however like to create more candid shots by interacting playfully with your children. Laugh, play, tickle, and snuggle. This is how we’ll capture the REAL moments. Not everyone has to be looking at the camera. Actually, I usually encourage my gentlemen to NOT look at the camera. (they seem to prefer that, as well!) I like to especially encourage my dads to focus on their partners and their kids.

Bring an activity that you enjoy doing together as a family. My most successful family sessions have incorporated an activity that the family loves to do together. This gives you something to do with your hands and feet, engages the little ones, and brings an authentic smile to your face. Do you love to read together? Bring some books. Is your favorite dessert ice cream? Bring some ice cream bars or drumsticks to your session or better yet… hire an ice cream truck to come to your session. Love to play board games or cards? Plan to play a round of Uno or Monopoly during your family photo session. Other ideas include: football, piggy back rides, races, bike riding, hiking, singing, picnics, the ideas are endless. When families are engaged in doing something that they love together, the photographer will have the opportunity to take some beautiful and authentic photographs.

When in doubt, just smile and look at your family lovingly. Stand close together. Actually, as close as possible :) Expect me to move you around to different spots to capture images. The more variety we get, the bigger your gallery and the more great shots we have the opportunity to create together!

Don’t be afraid to pick up your children and toss them in the air. Give your wife a sweet kiss on the check. Tell your husband how much you love him and appreciate him for being there for your family. Have fun. Laugh. Giggle. Joke. Embrace. Kiss. Snuggle. Play. Doing these things will allow me to capture the emotion and true beauty of your family. Leave the stiff “cheese” faces for Aunt Marge at the next family reunion. Show me who you really are, so that I have the opportunity to capture your love through her lens.

The best photographs are often the ones where everyone is engaged or interacting with each other. Understand that not every picture needs to have everyone looking at the camera and smiling at the same time. If you are engaged as a family and loving on each other, your eyes will be on your family members and your smile with be natural. These are the photographs that you will cherish most because they depict your family connection and your love.

Relax, slow down, and don’t force anything. Don’t feel pressured to make everything perfect! Just be present with your family and I’ll do the rest. And don’t stress if any of the kids get fussy! As an experienced photographer, I’ve seen it all before, trust me. Just snuggle your kiddos and we can still capture beautiful images :)

7. How do I get kids to behave?

Remember your kiddos are just kids. They aren’t professionals, or even grown ups. So pick the time of day that they are in the best mood. For us, it is the morning. We’ve always shot around 10 am until lunchtime and it works perfectly. For others, it might be after nap time. Whatever it is that works best for your kids, try to work with them. Because if they are going to have a meltdown or be uncooperative, it will be the day you have a photoshoot scheduled.

It’s all about keeping the atmosphere fun and light. Don’t speak harshly or reprimand your children during the session. It won’t help. When parents yell at their kids or threaten, it ruins the moment, the tears start flowing, and you’ll have to stop taking photos so everyone can regroup. Instead, be silly! Play games during your session, make faces, or give your little one a tickle. I will help guide you through this process.

It’s important to talk to your kids about the session ahead of time, Hype it up as a really special event and explain how excited you are to give these photos to grandma or to hang on your wall.

Incentives work too! But don’t tell your child you will go for ice cream afterwards, or offer another activity they love as a reward. Bring treats, like fruit snacks. I always have a bag in my pocket and it saved many session!

Little ones aren’t incentivized by something in the future, but the promise of immediate reward (e.g. 1 fruit snack) might be all they need to sit in place for a little longer.

I don’t recommend chocolate — due to the obvious mess-factor — or suckers. Children get upset when you have to put them aside for a photo.

8. If everything goes wrong? Consider Rescheduling

If the kids or anyone involved in your shoot is sick or having an off day, consider rescheduling the shoot. There is no point dragging your kids to it after they had an all-day tantrum, only to take the photos and realize they are screaming or crying in all of them! When multiple people are involved in a shoot, things don’t always go according to plan. I am aware that things can go wrong. Send me a message as early as possible if today really isn’t a good day and I will understand.

9. In Closing

Last step to complete your portrait experience: ENJOY YOUR PHOTOS! I am passionate about printed art because then you can see it and appreciate it in your home every single day. I can’t wait to help you create something beautiful, timeless, and meaningful, just for your unique family. During the in-person ordering session I will reveal the photos as well as assist you to order the best heirloom prints for your family.

And that’s it! Hope this checklist will provide you some guidance planning and enjoying your family photography session. What to wear, how to pose, how to plan, and what to do.

Thank you for choosing me to be your trusted family photographer. I can’t wait to get to know your family and leave you with beautiful artwork you will love for decades to come. Contact Me Now if I can help you to plan your next Family Photo Shoot.


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