This Little Miggy Stayed Home: 10 Tips for a Great Family Photo Shoot

Monday, December 05, 2016

10 Tips for a Great Family Photo Shoot

We just got our new family photos back (above) and I love them! If there's one thing I've never regretting investing in over the years, it's good family photos. We have so many great ones that hang in our home from different periods of our life and I love it! I love to see where we were as a family at the time--How many kids? Where did we live? What was our style?--and the different vibes each session brings (I'm loving the moody fall vibes of this latest session). Since Christmas card season is upon us I thought I'd quickly share 10 tips for a great family photo shoot. I'm certainly no professional, but over the years I've learned a thing or two about what I like and what works for our family.

1. If someone asks to take your picture, say yes!
I've had a couple of photographer friends reach out over the years asking if they could take photos of us for a project they were working on or even just to build up their portfolio and I always say yes--the results have been some of my favorite photos ever. Frankly, we've been just plain lucky to be friends with so many amazing photographers over the years, and while this certainly wasn't planned you might want to start making friends with good photographers. :)

2. Find the right photographer. 
First, I very much believe in paying for art and creative services but we've been lucky enough to call a lot of great photographers friends and have had anywhere from free sessions (they asked to take pictures) to trades (a painting for photos) to generous friend discounts that still ran us several hundred dollars (because they are really that good!). (I did one time ask a professional photographer friend to take photos of us and I wasn't sure about the price and it ended up being free and for a long time I felt bad/awkward about it. This friend assured me that we were cool however, but still... I won't ever ask something like again without making it clear I'm willing to pay.) First, the more professional they are, the more you should expect to pay. There is a big differences from someone who makes a living as a photographer vs. someone who dabbles on the side, or is just trying to get their feet wet. You should pay accordingly. A great, professional photographer won't be cheap, which also means you deserve to get what you pay for--so ask for references, look at portfolios on line and find a photographer who's style speaks to you and then pony up. If you're not happy with the final results you should be vocal about that as well. If you can't afford a pro that's fine! Ask someone who does it as a hobby, or who is just starting out. You should still pay them or offer a trade, but the prices should be much, much lower. We've actually been lucky in this area as well! I've had some really talented friends who weren't professionals but who did a fantastic job. 

3. Take photos in your home! 
This is my favorite thing ever. I LOVE having family photos of us in our home. It can feel a little revolutionary the first time you attempt this (and granted, parts of your home have to be clean and even a little styled to pull this off) but the end results are so great. 

4. Coordinate, but don't match and choose outfits you actually wear.

Easily one of the most stressful aspects of family photos--what to wear?! Are we going dressy, casual, is there a theme? A friend of mine, stylist Kendra Smoot, once gave me the tip of choosing one color and giving pops of that color throughout the photo. So if you're wearing a blue dress, someone else wears blue socks, while someone else has a blue tie or hair bow (as demonstrated above--Kendra helped style these photos). This is great advice! Over the years I've gotten a little more brave with branching out from that formula but keeping with the general idea of cohesiveness without being match-matchy. i.e. trying to mix patterns and solids, keeping the colors in a similar range (no mixing fluorescent with muddy neutrals) and also mixing dressy with casual. That's a personal thing of mine--I don't ever really like things being too dressy. 

And the last piece of advice is more for kids because I will totally cop to buying a new dress for family photos, but for kids, I try not to buy something brand new and expect them to want to suddenly put it on and take some photos. Kids are creatures of habit and springing too much on them before photos--even a new outfit--doesn't always have the best results. If I have bought new items for family photos, I made sure that they were able to wear it a few times before family photos, so it wasn't brand new.

5. Bribes!
Piggybacking off that last one be sure to have plenty of bribes on hand for young children. The idea of family photos seems so painless in theory, but for some reason there almost always seems to be a lot of tears involved for toddlers and this last time was no exception. We kept lollipops on hand and a promise of treats afterward for the big kids. We still had some incidents, but it sure helps!

6. Embrace imperfection and be flexible (in other words toddlers be crazy)
A week before this last family photo session Zuzu ran into the wall and got a big bruise on her forehead. I was a little bummed, but shrugged my shoulders and said whatever. And at the actual shoot it was chillier than expected so there are several photos of her wrapped up in her dad's sweater...I was sorta worried about that, but in the final photos it's fine--it's real life! She was even a little grumpy and frowny at times, but whatever! She's two and she's still adorable. 

However, you should also be flexible on the other end of the spectrum as well--we were supposed to do our family photos the week before we actually did them, but Zuzu had been sick and even though she was on the mend personality wise she would have been a wreck to work with. I called the photographer and asked if we could reschedule. I really wanted to get our photos done quickly, but in hindsight it was the right thing to do because even though she was still a little toddler-y in our photo shoot, she would have had the demeanor of a rabid hyena when she was recovering from being sick.

7. Be yourselves. 
Act natural. Ha! Worst advice ever because what does that even mean? But part of the reason I like doing photo shoots in our home is because we have a chance to do things we actually might do--like sit at the table and color, or go out back and swing on the swing set. I love getting shots of us being us. That being said it can feel really awkward to try and "be yourself" while someone is pointing a camera at you, but I find chatting--with the photographer or among ourselves--helps keep things light  makes me feel more at ease. 

8. Smile.
OK--this seems obvious, but what I mean is if you're taking lifestyle type photos, you want to make sure to still have a smile on your face, even if the moment isn't a "show me all your teeth" smile. This is hard for me as I'm not someone naturally super smiley, but the photos usually look better, softer, if you've got a smile, even a slight one. 

9. Mix it up
bottom: Mark Warnick
Make sure to get different combinations of people in your photos. Mom with the kids, dad with the kids, just the kids, a couple of the kids together, mom and dad... I love having all these choices for different people in different photos. I don't worry about having every possible combination (the bigger the family, the harder the task) but I definitely like to have some variation. 

10. Don't be afraid to look away.

For lifestyle type photos it's easy to look away, but even for a good ol' family sitting I love it when not everyone (or anyone!) is looking straight at the camera. Often this happens when we're chatting or telling a joke and the photo has a really natural feel to it. I don't mind a good ol' everyone looking at the camera saying cheese moment, but I think I like the other ones just a bit more. 

Anything I'm missing? I'd love to hear your best family photo tips!

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