Updated: Jan 23
While family portrait sessions can often feel stressful, I have some tips to help you plan ahead, pick outfits, and hopefully experience a more fun, less stressful portrait session.
As Moms, we have a lot of expectations about our family portraits. We want to look fantastic while simultaneously appearing loving, candid and joyful. Without a double chin. We want our outfits to be cute and flattering, and our photographer to be friendly, funny, and pose us well, while not really looking posed. We want our children to behave, smile their real smiles, and look as cute as we know them to be. And, we want our spouse to be loving and engaged, and have fun, without asking if we are done yet. All of this isn’t too much to ask right? …. Well, you probably already know that when we expect all of those things to happen at the same time perfectly, we typically end up disappointed in some area. They never are perfect (because there really isn’t any such thing) and by the time the entire experience is done, we swear these sessions off for another year, and just want to go have a big fat big fat glass of wine. Or is it just me?
So as a family photographer who has been at this for well over a decade and a Mom who has been on the other side of the camera, here are some tips to help make your session more fun, and your photos to look as beautiful as possible!
1. Plan ahead, but don't over think it. As a Mom, the last thing you need to do is add a bunch of pressure and stress to your plate beyond what is already on it. You can always wear clothing you already own and shop your existing closets instead of getting new outfits for everyone in the family. Just make sure the clothes are clean and pressed. Or give yourself an hour shopping time at one place like Nordstrom Rack, Old Navy, Target or TJ Maxx and pick a few new things out while using what you own for the rest.
2. A great rule of thumb is to choose 2-3 general colors for the entire group, and then bring in a pop of color for the 3rd or 4th color, or a pattern for 1-2 individuals in the group. Don’t forget layers and accessories - (jean jackets, scarves, statement necklaces, etc) as they add a lot of visual interest.
For example, start with one outfit that you love and build the rest of the family outfit around that. Here are some more examples of clothing color choices that all work beautifully together.
3. Dress to accentuate your positives and minimize the things you don’t like as much. For example, if you dislike your arms, wear long sleeves or 3/4 length to cover them, or layer with a cute jean jacket or other top layer. Family posing (and lack thereof) is very different than headshot or fashion posing for one person, so its best to compensate for the “flaws” you always notice about yourself first in photos, and cover up what you don’t love. You can also use things like jewelry or scarves or statement pieces/ accessories to visually distract.
CLOTHING SPECIFIC TIPS
Wear a nude or strapless bra with sleeveless tops to minimize straps showing.
Do your own nails the morning of the session or have them done
Bring some accessories like hats, scarves or layers for simple, quick change options.
Gray is the most versatile base color that goes with everything
It's much more flattering and visually interesting to mix 2-3 colors, rather than everyone matching.
WHAT TO AVOID
Avoid horizontal stripes and bold patterns. They add weight and are typically the first thing to pull attention in the photo.
Avoid short skirts because you will likely be sitting sometimes and that can get awkward.
Likewise, avoid low cleavage shirts because with kids sitting on your lap or otherwise hanging on you, things can show more than you intended.
Avoid spray tans before the session
Avoid overly casual clothing like grungy old shorts or jeans, or things too baggy, too tight, or otherwise poor fitting. You may not be as happy with the outcome.
WORKING WITH YOUNG CHILDREN
5. I try and suggest to parents not to over-direct their young children to look or behave perfectly the entire time for a long portrait session. In a decade of taking family photos, what I have seen consistently is that the best photos come from allowing children to “just be” sometimes. We set up expectations to get that “perfect Pinterest photo” and odds are, it was a naturally candid moment or expression that often cannot be recreated in any exact manor.
Likewise, if you have young children, try to make it a fun adventure you are doing together, and keep it as light for them as possible. There is no such thing as a “perfect family” so try to keep your focus on what matters the most to you - how much you love these people of yours.
SET YOUR SESSION APART WITH UNIQUE STYLING THAT FITS WHO YOU ARE
6. If you want to bring a little something extra to stylize your photos a little more, bring items that can help set your photos apart. Chat with your photographer about fun ideas for your shoot. For example, fresh flowers are always a great add and can make any shoot prettier. Do you have a family quilt that your grandmother made and has a lot of sentimental value for your family? What about bikes? Do you love to ride bikes as a family? There are lots of cute ways to incorporate those into full lifestyle family sessions. For families with sports lovers, bring footballs, or other “toys” that you can all play with together or represent what you love doing together.
LOCATION & TIMING
One thing to keep in mind about the location is that lighting is actually more important to how your photos will turn out than the backdrop or location. Great lighting can produce a better, more compelling image against a plain cement wall than bad/harsh lighting with a pretty backdrop. If you can marry the two, then you should end up with some really beautiful photos.
With that in mind, I typically recommend scheduling sessions in the hour or so before sunset, so we can take advantage of the golden light -- the prettiest and most flattering of the day.
SHOWCASING YOUR IMAGES AFTER THE SESSION
Think about how you want to use these images? Are they only for your social media feed or holiday card, or do you also want to put up a nice 4- or 6-frame grouping on your walls so you can enjoy these images for years to come? If so, take into account your home decor for the room you will place them and the other artwork on your walls. Do the outfits compliment those things?