How to Prepare for your Family Photo Session

It's that time of year again - time to get some family portraits taken! Whether you want new portraits to print out for your photo wall or you want an updated family photo for your yearly Christmas card, you want to make sure you do it right and get the most out of your photo session. Here are some helpful tips and things to remember when preparing for the perfect family photo session! 

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1. Schedule at least a few weeks in advance.

By scheduling your photo session weeks in advance, it'll give you time to prepare yourselves. You can set up appointments to get hair cuts, decide on and find coordinating outfits, make sure that clothes fit and don't have holes or stains, and get everyone's busy schedules in sync for the time of the photo session. Make sure everyone will be able to make it. One person forgetting or missing in your family photos could make your photos feel incomplete. Trying to not schedule pictures the same day or close to activities that could leave a person sunburnt or fatigued and unable to stand and smile for an extended period of time is also something to keep in mind. 

2. Discuss what's going on with EVERYONE.

I really believe people in general do better when they know what's going on. If they know when it's going to happen, what they will be wearing, where they will be going, generally how long it will be, and what's expected of them, most people can behave accordingly. This especially helps with those dads, teenagers, and children who may be unenthusiastic about getting photos taken. Let them know the whole plan and what's expected and give them time to prepare themselves for it! Pump it up to sound like a big fun outing and more of an experience as opposed to a chore. Be POSITIVE - talk about how fun it's going to be and don't forget to plan a reward for afterwards, something else that they can look forward to, like getting ice cream! ;)

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3. Choose your Style & Location with Your Photographer

Figure out how you'll be using your photos and talk about what kind of photos you're wanting with your photographer. For example, if you want to update grandkid pictures for your photo wall and want a 5x7 portrait style photo of each grandchild, let your photographer know that so they can focus on getting that for you! If you really don't care about formal and posed photos, and would prefer a greater variety of candid or natural looking shots, let your photographer know that as well. If you want a giant landscape canvas of the whole family for the mantle, let the photographer know. Also let them know what kind of location you're wanting and whether you want a lot of the scenic background in your photos or you prefer nice and close portraits focused on the people or maybe a little of both. Obviously there may be limits to what your photographer can do, but communicate with them what you are wanting and work together and you will all be happier. Basically, express to your photographer what you want so they can do their best to get you what you want! :)

4. Talk with your photographer

Discuss with your photographer any family dynamics that could create awkward moments when posing. For example, if a couple is divorced but want family photos for the kids, you may want to give the photographer a heads up so they aren't asked to pose like a couple in love. If you have anybody with handicaps or anxieties, discuss things that might be an issue for the photographer beforehand so they can prepare alternatives. Again, just communicate and everything will go so much smoother.

5. What to Wear for your Family Photo Session

When choosing outfits for family photos, it's better (and easier!) to try not to be too matchy-matchy. No more jeans and matching shirts. Instead choose a few neutral colors and maybe one or two pops of color. Avoid clothing with large, bold patterns or stripes, they tend to stick out more instead of blending in. Don't wear shirts with writing on them or characters and such. Stick to solids and small prints. 

Try to make sure to dress appropriately for the weather. You don't want anyone to be miserable because they are too hot or too cold. I love layers - they create a lot of texture and look great in photos. Accessories are great too, they also can add texture and little pops of color that look great as well. 

6. The day before your photo session... 

Make sure clothes are washed, pressed, and all ready to be worn. Make sure everyone has directions and knows where you're meeting. Verify with the photographer to make sure everyone is on the same page. Make sure everyone gets a good night's sleep! 

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7. Before the session starts...

Eat! Make sure nobody is hungry - especially children. Children are so much happier with a full belly! I know photoshoots usually occur around dinner time and people are often tempted to skip dinner and plan to eat after, but dads and children tend to get grumpy and impatient on an empty stomach. So my advice is to plan a big meal before, and plan a treat for after! :) I know, I know - kids get messy and you don't want to get nice clean clothes dirty right before pictures. So I suggest either changing them into their outfits after they eat or cover their outfits with an apron or large t-shirt. Either way, I believe that happy, messy children in photos will mean more to you than clean, sad children in photos. :P

8. Naps

Try to make sure little ones get a nap before they come but not RIGHT before photos. I know this one is difficult. I have 5 kids myself, and trying to control when they fall asleep or don't fall asleep is sometimes impossible. In the summertime, photoshoots are sometimes scheduled after a child's bedtime because that is when the light is the best. Moms worry about their children getting tired and grumpy after their bedtime, but from my experience, unless the child is overtired, they are usually more just curious and happy to be outside having a new experience. So by giving them an earlier nap, they should be fine staying up later for photos. On the other hand, if your child falls asleep right before your photoshoot and is woken up before they are ready, that usually causes a grumpy child as well. I know it's difficult to control naps, but if at all possible, try to give them an earlier nap. :)

9. Be on time

I feel like this is kind of a given. If you're late, you lose valuable shooting time and it might frustrate and annoy others in your group which will cause tension which doesn't help people relax for photos. The golden hour (the hour before the sun sets) has the best light for photographs. But the problem is that it always goes by so quickly! As a photographer, I like to get started a little before that perfect golden light arrives, just to get past the initial stiffness and fake smiles. Then when that perfect light comes, everyone is feeling much more comfortable and relaxed and you get the perfect expressions to go along with the perfect light! :) 

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10. Things to bring

I am an over-packer. I always bring way more than I need, but the old adage often is true - it's better to be safe than sorry! Some things that you might want to consider bringing are comfortable shoes. If you want to wear heels for your photos, but walking from one location to another is going to be uncomfortable, you may want to bring tennis shoes to change into for those short walks. If standing for long periods of time is difficult, you may want to bring something to sit on while the photographer is focusing on others in your family. You should pack water and snacks in case little ones do get hungry (they will!). Don't pack colored drinks or sticky snacks or you'll be wiping dirty hands and faces constantly, which brings me to something else that you definitely will want to pack with you - wipes! A few other things you may want are a comb or brush, chapstick, a change of clothes (accidents do happen), lint roller, and a favorite toy for babies or toddlers. 

11. Do a quick self inspection

Make sure keys and phones are out of pockets (you don't want any weird lumps!). Take off any sport watches, bands, hair ties, or scrunchies from your wrists. Wipe kids' noses and eyes and make sure they are free from boogers and dirt. Check clothes for excessive lint or fur. If you or anyone in your family is feeling ill or has a fever, reschedule! 

12. Relax and have fun!

Once you've made it to the location, it's time to relax! Don't force smiles and don't force kids to smile. Tickle, snuggle your kids, play with them and laugh and try to just enjoy the time with them. If you are stressed, kids can usually pick up on that stress and will feel grumpy and anxious as well, so just remember to relax and have fun and trust the photographer! :)