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Smile or Else! A Friendly Guide to Taking Family Photos and Keeping Your Sanity


I have yet to brave the battle of a family photo shoot since having a child, yet as a photographer I have witnessed this feat of strength with many a family over the years. You spend weeks carefully selecting outfits for your family, dressing everyone in warm and cozy cable knit sweaters in the sweltering Louisiana heat to pretend fall actually exists here, and promise your children a lifetime supply of ice cream to prevent a meltdown (pun so incredibly intended).

All of this work for a simple photograph to hang on your wall or for a Christmas card to be shared with family and friends. Despite the effort you put forward, it is easy to wonder if it is worth the hassle and if there is any way to make it through without feeling like your family is enduring cruel and unusual punishment. I am here to assure you that indeed, there is. Here is my advice on how to prepare your family, your expectations, and get photos you are sure to treasure without losing your mind!

  1. Shop photographers.
    These days everyone knows someone who is a photographer, and you may be feeling pressure to hire your cousin’s best friend. I encourage you to let that go and hire a photographer whose photographs you want hanging on your walls for years to come. Take time to look at local photographers’ works and see who is best fit to capture your family! 
  2.  Don’t match, coordinate.
    My mom did it. We have photographs from the late 80’s with my mom, sister, and myself all in the exact same dress. At some point people thought it spectacular, but I am here to clear the air. It is not. Photographers I know encourage families to coordinate by picking a color scheme, while allowing everyone to dress in a way that reflects their personality and style. Let’s leave the matching outfits in the past where they belong, along with scrunchies and mullets. 
  3. Do not look at Pinterest.
    I think Pinterest is fantastic and use it for recipes, décor inspiration, and I even used it to help plan my own wedding. However, I have also seen it as a harmful tool of comparison. I have had people show me photographs they found on Pinterest they want copied exactly. While I understand, I challenge you to trust your photographer to do their job. If you followed Tip #1 and shopped around and hired a creative you trust, let them do their job. And remember, the family in the photo from Pinterest is not your family. Find a way to make your photo shoot unique and special in its own way. 
  4. Communicate with your photographer.
    If there are specific shots you would like, make sure to send a list to your photographer before the actual photo shoot! This will help ensure the photo shoot runs seamlessly with less time for your children to have meltdowns while the photographer has to rethink their plan, and you walk away confident your photographer captured what you were hoping.
  5.  Relax and capture reality.
    Perhaps I communicated this in my other tips, but it is worth saying again. Don’t focus your session on perfection, but rather on reality. Do not put undue pressure on yourself to fabricate what you think of as perfection. Instead, embrace your reality. Even if you get a shot of siblings playing (arguing) or one child not smiling quite right. No matter what the dynamics, your family should be captured and celebrated as it is. Do your kids love the park? Maybe try shooting there playing on the swings with your kids. Do you love to bake? It may be a good idea to a shoot at your home, or bring along everyone’s favorite baked treat. Think of what makes your family shine and focus on that, then embrace it. That is what it should be about. 
  6. It is okay to negotiate.
    Perhaps the most difficult part of family photos is getting littles to both look at the camera AND smile. This is where I endorse negotiations and encourage parents to come prepared. Here is what you need to know:
    • Plan around naptime! The last thing you want is a shoot scheduled during witching hour.
    • Bring a favorite toy to be used in between shots or to encourage a smile.
    • Snacks are the most useful of all weapons (ones that won’t make a mess in between pictures!).
    • Plan something fun AFTER the shoot (Think playground, ice cream, 7-day cruise- you get the idea)
    • Family photos are some of my favorite sessions to shoot. Not because I love discovering ways to get twelve people to all look and smile at the same time, nor do I enjoy bribing toddlers. No, I enjoy family shoots because I value what they capture: your tribe. I believe that despite the fact it may not be perfect, your family is worth capturing in images to be treasured for a lifetime. So let go of some of the pressure and all of the matching clothes and make some beautiful pictures!

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02 Oct 2017


By Leah Conti

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