Family Photos – Tips For a Successful Photoshoot

We all know how stressful planning a family photo shoot can be! From wardrobe planning, to getting everyone ready and making sure everyone stays clean, happy and cooperative – family photos can be totally exhausting. Over the years, I’ve photographed hundreds of families… as well as been on the other side of the camera to have our own family photos taken. I’ve seen firsthand what it takes to have a successful family photoshoot and I’m here to share my tips! Below are my top 5 tips when planning a family photoshoot from start to finish.

Tip #1:  Location and Time of Day are Important!

Location is an important part of your shoot. Do you envision having photos done in a natural setting with prairie grasses, trees and wildflowers? Or do you love the urban vibe with fun city backdrops. Both types of settings can be amazing and fun for family photos! It all depends on what your goal is for the final product and what works best for your family. That said, the time of day is equally important when planning your photoshoot. We all love the warm glow of evening sunlight and how pretty it can make photos. That time of day is called the Golden Hour and it’s likely your photographer’s most favorite time of day to shoot! It’s the most flattering light to shoot in and it’s worth keeping your kiddos up a little later for. Here are my helpful tips for planning the location and time of day for your shoot:

  • Consider your family’s personalities when deciding on a location. Are your children easily distracted? Then plan for a shoot where there will be minimal distractions, noises or people – such as a quiet park or conservation area.
  • Plan your wardrobe based on the location setting. If you are planning an urban shoot, brighter colors, jeans and fun shoes might be an option. If you are planning a shoot in a natural location with prairie grasses then think softer, organic colors and flowy dresses. *More on this topic down below*
  • Schedule your session for the Golden Hour! Consider the time of year and the sunset time when scheduling your shoot. If you are not comfortable keeping your kiddos up late in the summer to catch the golden hour (which can be after 7pm during June and July), then plan your shoot for April or September when the sun sets earlier.
  • Plan your photoshoot at a location that is special to your family. Does your family have a favorite park or hiking trail? Or does your family love getting ice cream at a local ice cream shop? Planning your photoshoot at one of your favorite locations will make your family feel more comfortable and relaxed.

Tip #2:  Wardrobe Planning

When thinking about what to wear it’s good to think about the final result. Are these photos for a holiday card, or will they be going up on your wall at home? Will the colors you select go with your home decor? Where will your photos be taken… a natural field/park or more urban/city setting? Also, dress for the weather of that season. If you are having photos done in the summer, wear summer-like clothes. If it’s fall and a bit chilly, make sure everyone has enough layers and will be warm enough. Here are some tips for selecting the right outfits for your photos:

DO:

  • Plan your outfit first (that’s you mom), then figure out everyone else’s outfits next. Mom’s outfit should be the basis for the rest of the family. Decide on what type of outfit, colors etc you want to wear, then coordinate the rest from that point.
  • Dress for comfort, if you are uncomfortable in your clothes it will show. Also dress in clothing that is flattering and forgiving for your body type.
  • Pick outfits that have slight color coordination, or colors that complement each other.
  • Do add small pops of color & Do pair some patterns, or florals with solid colors.
  • Pick outfit colors based on your photoshoot setting. Think soft, natural/organic tones for natural locations and richer, bolder colors for urban locations.
  • Dress in layers as needed based on the weather. Late fall the temps can get really cold – think about incorporating cute hats and mittens for the family to wear in the photos.
  • Think about shoes! Shoes are important too as they will be in the photos as well. In the right setting and weather conditions, barefoot can also work great.
  • If your little girl is wearing a dress, have them wear either leggings, small shorts or a diaper cover/bloomers underneath. We don’t want undies or diapers to show.
  • When in doubt, reach out to your photographer for some styling tips!

DON’T:

  • Don’t be too matchy, everyone in the family does not need to wear the same color.
  • Try to say away from bright, primary colors such as red*, primary yellow or royal blue, fluorescent colors, too much white or too much black (*Red can look great for holiday photos against evergreen backdrops, but keep in mind that small pops of red work best!)
  • Avoid clothing with large visible logos, wording or characters
  • Avoid too many patterns
  • Avoid putting one person in bright white and one person in black – it makes proper camera exposure tricky

Tip #3:  Open Communication With Your Photographer

Something you may not think about is how important open communication is with your photographer before your session. Be upfront with your photographer about your family’s personalities, likes, dislikes or insecurities. Your photographer will then be able to better plan your photoshoot and be prepared for any challenges ahead of time! Here are my tips on communication before your photoshoot:

  • Inform your photographer about any physical insecurities you or a family member may have… extra baby weight, double chin, or acne/complexion issues. There are things your photographer can do to during the shoot to downplay those types of things. Extra editing can also be done after the fact to remove some acne, scrapes, or scars.
  • Inform your photographer of any birthmarks that you would like to keep visible. Does your child have a birthmark on their face that could easily be mistaken for a scrape or smudge? You wouldn’t want your photographer to edit that mark out, so tell them about it before your shoot begins.
  • Be upfront about your family’s personality or potential challenges. Does your significant other hate having photos done? Well, your photographer can do and suggest things to help them relax and enjoy the shoot. Does your child have a fear of bugs or are they easily distracted or have high energy? Your photographer can plan around that to help make the shoot go smoother. And if your child has a social/sensory disorder, it’s always nice to let your photographer know ahead of time so they can tailor the session to accommodate accordingly.  

Tip #4: Prepare Your Kids & Provide Incentives

I suggest prepping your kids a few days before the shoot. Have a little discussion, and tell them that a photographer will be taking some photos of the family having fun. Show them other family photos on your wall or around your house and talk about how great it is to have those photos. Keep talking about how much fun it will be to explore and have fun as a family with the photographer. Maybe even let your child help pick their outfit to wear, letting them choose between two different options that you set out.

Every child and family is different, but if your kids are like mine, then a little incentive can go a long way! Incentives can come in lots of different forms, positive reinforcement or rewards for good behavior. If you choose to provide an incentive for your kids, talk to them about getting a special treat at end of the photoshoot as a reward for good listening and behavior. Maybe something like going out for ice cream or to their favorite restaurant afterwards or something small like a sucker or new toy. Younger children may need more positive reinforcement throughout your session. I’ve found that mini-marshmallows, puffs, fruit snacks or smarties are a small, easy incentive treat that is eaten quickly with little to no mess.

Tip #5: Relax and Have Fun!

The best advice I can give parents is to relax! Family photoshoots don’t have to be stressful, they should be fun for you and the kids. If you show up to the shoot relaxed and ready to go with the flow, then you will have an easy, fun shoot. Let your photographer guide your kids and family. Your only job is to love on your kids and have fun with them! Be prepared to do lots of snuggling and saying silly things to get your kids giggling. Here are a few tips for you and your kiddos to enjoy your photoshoot:

DO:

  • Let your kids be themselves, explore and have fun! A photoshoot shouldn’t have to be a chore – it can be fun too. Let them climb trees and jump off rocks or play with sticks. They are kids and that’s what they do best.
  • Enjoy your kids! Consider this your time to be silly with your kids, love on them, snuggle and hug all you want. Singing songs, tickle fights, and silly jokes are all welcome at your photoshoot. The best smiles are the genuine ones where you and your kiddos are enjoying each other’s company!
  • Love on your significant other/spouse. Not only is your photographer capturing your family interactions, but they are also capturing the love of the adults too. Take some time during your photoshoot to smile and be present with each other, maybe get a few photos of just the two of you as well!

DON’T:

  • Never yell at or discipline your child during a photoshoot. This will damper all the fun and your photos will show it. If your child seems to be misbehaving or having trouble listening during the shoot, let the photographer take the parenting reins and redirect your child. Whether that means moving onto the next pose or setting or taking a break to let your child explore as they wish. Consider the photographer the expert since they’ve likely run into this situation before. Your only job is to relax and have fun with your kids.
  • Don’t always look at the camera. Some of the best family photos are those where the parents are just looking and smiling at their kids. Dads especially seem to be conditioned that they must always be looking at the camera. Throw out that misconception! You don’t need to look at the camera at all times – instead, check out your hot spouse or your cute kids. When it’s time to get that treasured shot of everyone looking and smiling, your photographer will direct you to do so.

Other Quick Tips:

Here are a few other general tips to having a successful family photoshoot!

DO:

  • Bring a bag of supplies such as water bottles, kleenex/wipes, bug spray (for skeeter season), and small incentive snacks like mini-marshmallows or fruit snacks.
  • Bring a stroller or wagon for getting little ones to and from locations that require more walking.
  • Definitely bring mittens and coats for photoshoots in colder weather (anything below 50 degrees). Even if only to wear in-between shots, it’s important to keep everyone warm and happy!
  • Consider bringing a special blanket or quilt from home to incorporate into your photoshoot. This should be something you don’t mind washing if it gets dirty.
  • Bring along a grandparent, nanny or other person to help behind the scenes – either with getting giggles from kiddos or just keeping everyone happy and safe.

DON’T:

  • Avoid bringing these items to your photoshoot: Other food or snacks, iPad or other entertainment device, and toys or lovies (unless you are ok with those being in your photos)
  • Say NO to bulky pockets! Be sure to remove all unnecessary items from your pockets before your shoot begins – such as car keys, cell phone, sunglasses etc. This just adds extra (and odd-looking) bulk to pants and is difficult to edit out after the fact.

I really hope these tips can help you have your best family photoshoot yet! Remember, having photos taken of your family is more that simply getting that prized Holiday Card shot. It’s about capturing these special moments in time that your family will cherish forever.


Destiny is a family & newborn photographer based in Middleton. She and her husband have twin boys that keep them very busy! Between working from home, volunteering at school or shuttling kiddos to soccer practice – life gets a little crazy. Destiny left her full-time job in the broadcast weather industry in 2017 and decided to focus 100% of her energy on growing her photography business. She is also a lover of local craft beer and their 12 year old chocolate lab, Ella. For more from Destiny, please check out her website: www.destinydphotography.com or find her on Facebook or Instagram!
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