4 Ways to Prep for Your Family’s First Pro Photo Shoot

It can be a challenge to capture multiple children smiling in unison, but with the right preparation, beautiful family portraits are within reach.

With high-resolution cameras now built into our phones, it’s possible to capture a beautiful, stunning family portrait without bringing in a pro. But there are many advantages of hiring a professional. For starters, you’ll avoid the uncertainty of using a camera’s self-timer, and you won’t have to ask a friend to take the picture for you.

You’ll also receive lots of options, increasing your odds of capturing a moment that you’ll be proud to display, and to treasure for years to come. A professional photo shoot may stretch over an hour or two, often including multiple natural backdrops, poses, and candid scenarios.

Before booking a photographer, ask them what to expect. The detail of their recommendations may help you determine if they’re the best fit for your family.

Once you’ve settled on a date and time, here are some family portrait photography tips to help you prep for before the big day.

Treat a family portrait session like an event

You’re investing in photographs of your family, so it’s important not to show up without any forethought.

  • Book your session for a time when everyone can arrive relaxed and unhurried. Immediately after work, fresh from picking the kids up from school and before soccer practice is probably not the right time! Find a day when everyone is off work or school, or an afternoon with no other appointments or conflicts.

  • If you have kids, get them excited about the shoot far in advance. Plan a surprise or a special treat like ice cream or mini golf after the shoot, so that they look forward to the entire day. You don’t want your kids to think of the photo shoot as something scary, or worse, a chore.

  • Plan haircuts and other appointments (i.e. makeup, nails, if applicable) in advance so that your family can show up looking their very best. Don’t leave getting yourself ready for the last minute!

Plan your clothing (but don’t stress over it)

Clothing doesn’t have to match to look good together. Choose a single color—like blue—and complement it with neutrals like white and black.

Some families like to wear matching clothing for their shoots, whether that’s black suits or the classic jeans-and-a-white-shirt. It’s more common these days, however, to simply coordinate with a simple color scheme that doesn’t necessarily have to match or be identical.

  • Choose a base color like blue or red, and ask everyone to wear something with that color. Everything else they wear should be a muted neutral tone like black, white, or khaki.

  • Alternatively, go completely neutral to keep the focus on happy faces. An example is a mom with a black-and-white checkered shirt, a dad in a white shirt with black jacket, and kids in white shirts with khakis, or a white dress.

  • Want to look extra festive for the holidays? Have fun with traditional holiday colors like red and green, winter whites, or metallics. You can even add a dose of humor by dressing everyone in ugly Christmas sweaters!

  • Try on your clothing a week in advance, and take a photo together at home to make sure the outfits all look good together. Then you still have plenty of time to find something else if an element doesn’t work.

  • Don’t be afraid to mix it up! The unifying color element could be hot pink or neon green. It’s all about what best conveys the attitude of your unique family.

Prep the kids

A beautiful moment captured with your family can become an heirloom that’s passed down for generations.

If you’ve got little kids, your most important prep job is to anticipate the things most likely to trigger meltdowns: poor sleep, hungry tummies, and boredom.

  • Feed children before the shoot! Hungry kids are squirmy, restless kids. When they’ve just eaten, they’re far more likely to relax and smile.

  • Photographers hear, “They didn’t have their nap today,” far too often. If your children are used to naps, schedule their shoot at a time and day when they can arrive well rested.

  • Don’t be afraid to bribe them. A few treats on hand can keep a photo session going from location to location, rather than ending after 15 minutes because they won’t sit still.

  • Seek out a photographer who takes photos in multiple scenarios at one shoot (you’ll also need a location with several options, like a horizon view, a wooded background, etc.). The time between photo spots is a chance for kids to run around and get their energy out, before focusing for another 10 minutes on the task at hand. If you try to take more than 15 minutes of pictures in one place, you will likely lose their attention.

  • Bring their favorite stuffed animal or toy to comfort them. And if a crying session breaks out, have everyone take a break, walk around and then try again without becoming stressed out about it.

Be ready to go with the flow

If you are stressed out and unhappy, it will show in your pictures. Don’t worry about weather—the best lighting for portraits is often on the cloudiest, dreariest days. If rain or wind or bugs do force you to change your plans, take it in stride.

Capturing a beautiful, memorable family portrait starts with creating a beautiful and memorable moment! So prepare yourself and your family for a happy gathering, and the photographer’s job will simply be to capture the magic that’s already there.

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Hunter McRae

Hunter McRae is an award-winning photojournalist and photography blogger for Shutterfly, based in Charleston, S.C. Hunter’s career has taken her on a world-wide journey that has allowed her to continue refining her photography skills. For more tips on how to make the most of your family photos, check out Hunter’s blog.