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Preparing for a Family Photo Session: What professional photographers wish you knew

Preparing for a Family Photo Session: What professional photographers wish you knew

Ahh, family photos - the ultimate "Instagram vs. Reality." We all see (and post) those snapshots of sweet smiling faces, holding hands, frolicking in a meadow in the golden glow of a perfect sunset. But we all know that what likely led up to that gorgeous shot was a quick toddler meltdown, a blowout that meant an outfit change for the baby, a shoe gone missing, and a parent offering unlimited screen time "IF YOU'LL PLEASE JUST SMILE NICELY FOR TWO SECONDS."

All jokes aside, when you have little ones, family photo sessions might feel a bit daunting. Capturing the love, joy, and memories of this moment in your family's story is well worth it, but babies and toddlers aren't exactly known for their predictability and emotional stability 😜 That's why we talked to a few professional family photographers to get their advice on preparing for a family photo session. Here are some of their tips to help you ease your worries and know what to expect on the day of your shoot.

Let Your Kids Be Kids

We heard versions of this one from all the photographers we spoke to. Once your little ones are on the move, it can be nearly impossible to get them to sit still - and that's totally fine! "As a photographer, I like to let the session flow around the kids. If they want to play in the water instead of sit and smile, I let them play. If they see a pretty flower they want to pick, we go pick some flowers! The more natural they get to be in a somewhat unfamiliar environment, the better your session will go," says photographer Rachel Collings.

Photo: @jennakutcher; Pictured: Cream Linen Romper

Go With the Flow and Expect the Unexpected

One of the best things you can do to prepare for a family photo session is to expect - and even embrace - the unplanned parts. As parents, we often go in with expectations of how the day will unfold, what poses we want, and high hopes that everyone will be calm and collected. While things might go totally as planned, it's best to allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised by the "imperfect" moments along the way.

"You want your family to be represented through your photos in the truest, most authentic way. So try to let go of the expectation that everyone will be sitting hands folded with picture-perfect smiles in every photo. Let this session be an opportunity to capture your family’s love for one another in a raw and genuine way," Rachel encourages. Kids can pick up on our moods and energy, so a flexible attitude can help bring out the best in everyone.

Communicate With Your Photographer Ahead of Time

It's worth investing in a photographer who knows family photos inside and out. Ask around for recommendations from friends or check Google and social media. Find someone whose style matches what you envision (i.e. bright and airy vs darker and more dramatic, classic poses vs more candid, etc.). "Be forthcoming with your photographer about your kid's temperaments and your family's special needs if there are any," says Sydney, owner of Cast & Forge Photography. "The more info the better!" 

Photographer Lindsey Meffert also recommends letting your photographer know ahead of time what your kids’ favorite games, songs, or TV/movie characters are. "Candid, playful moments are my favorite and I love capturing games like airplane or tickle fights with each other! And if kids are feeling shy in front of the camera, I’ll reference their favorite character. For example, I’ll say, 'Mickey Mouse is in my camera and is looking for your awesome smile!'"

Then Let The Photographer Take the Lead

On the day of the shoot, you can relax and allow the photographer to do their thing. "Your photographer is the professional, and you're paying a lot of money for their expertise, so let them be the boss," Sydney encourages.

Rachel echoes that sentiment. "Don’t stress, this is your photographer’s job! Easier said than done, I know! All you need is your beautiful selves, and your photographer will do the rest. The more laid back you are, the more laid back your kids will be and you can allow the session to flow easily and most important, naturally."

Bring Snacks - And Maybe a Favorite Toy

Food makes for a great incentive (i.e. bribe) for little ones and keeps any hunger-induced meltdowns at bay - for you and the kiddos. Bringing along a favorite stuffed animal or toy can help kids feel more comfortable in an unfamiliar environment. Plus it makes another handy incentive or distraction if needed. Just be strategic about when you get it out. A pro tip from photographer Kristin Caldwell: "I bring bubbles along to any shoot with toddlers." Cute, simple, and great for candids!

Plan Your Day

If your little ones have a typical meal or nap schedule, consider timing your family photo session around it so everyone is feeling their best. If you have a newborn or lots of kids, you might even want to consider an in-home photo session. "I've done several shoots at the family's home to be able to make the most of time around naps," Kristin says. 

Give yourself plenty of time to get ready, and turn it into a fun family activity. "Tell your kiddos ahead of time that you’ll be ‘playing’ photos!" Lindsey says. "You can make it a fun family day by promising your crew an ice cream treat or dinner at your favorite restaurant afterward to help keep your kids’ energy and excitement up through photos."

Dress Comfortably

Of course you all want to look your best, but make sure everyone's comfy - especially when it comes to shoes since you may be walking, running, and romping around in nature for the photos. Check the weather report to make sure everyone will be warm enough and do a test run of all the outfits to make sure everything fits right. When it comes to coordinating outfits, neutrals are always a good option, but if you need more ideas, check out Pinterest (we have a whole board with family photo inspo!) or read our blog post on 5 Tips for Picking a Baby Photoshoot Outfit.

Photo: @mrslindseyroman; Pictured: Gray Striped Linen Romper


Special thanks to photographers Sydney, Rachel, Lindsey, and Kristin who shared their tips and wisdom with us! You can also check out more of their work on Instagram: @rachelanncollings@castandforgephoto, @lindsaykmeffertdesign, and @kristincaldwellphotography.

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