12 Tips for Successful Family Photos

April 13, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Jessica Hughes Photography

I’d be lying if I said family photos are never stressful but, with the right preparation, they won’t be! Here are a few time tested solutions that have worked well for my clients on family photo day, and I hope they help you as well.

The key is to plan in advance and know what to expect, so that on the day of your session, you can be present and fully enjoy the time with your family! My clients often tell me that they had no idea a photo session could be so fun, and I want you to feel that way too!

Here are my top 12 tips for a successful family photo shoot:



It may sound cliché, but after all, your love for your family is probably the reason you wanted family photos in the first place! In the end, it’s not about what clothes you wore, or what location you chose, or how much you weighed. It’s about capturing what life is like right now. It’s about snuggling, tickling, and playing. It’s about showing your children how much you love them so that they have these memories 20 years down the road.



Nothing spoils a child’s good mood (or dad’s for that matter) faster than too many clothing changes, too many locations, and too many props. I know it’s tempting to get caught up in those perfect Pinterest photos, but the best images happen spontaneously as a result of your unique family relationships. When we’re not working off of a checklist, we’ll have more time to create organic images that you’ll love. Try to limit your top priorities to one or two things (ex: a family photo and a sibling photo).



On the day of the session, plan to leave an hour earlier than you think you need to (especially if this is your first time having professional portraits taken). The time we’ve chosen for your session is very specific for lighting reasons, and starting on time will set us up for a great session.

Plan to arrive at your session location at least 15-20 minutes beforehand to allow time to find parking, make any last-minute clothing adjustments, and find our meeting spot. If you know you tend to run late, I would even recommend getting an even earlier start than you think you'll need. If you're late and feeling rushed, the whole family will feel that stress and anxiety, and it will often show in your photos.  Arriving early is the most helpful thing you can do for a smooth session!



All professional family photographers have seen their fair share of meltdowns, and we work through them every time! Please don’t get mad at your kids if they’re “not behaving.” The best thing you can do is model positivity and let me interact with them naturally. A great image only takes a millisecond to capture, so we’re probably getting a lot more great material than you think! Kids (and even babies) pick up on their parents’ stress levels, so laugh it off and know that happier moments are soon to come. And sometimes, that temper tantrum ends up turning into a hilarious image that you’ll cherish for years to come!


There’s nothing more stressful than trying to get out the door and realizing you have nothing to wear. Plan your outfits well in advance so that you’ll know if something doesn’t fit or needs ironing. And speaking of clothes, it’s a good idea to layer your outfits so that you have outerwear on hand if it’s chilly — and you can take off that coat if we end up with an unusually warm day! Check out this page for more tips about what to wear!



If you can, take the day (or afternoon) off of work and don’t schedule any activities for the kids. Give yourselves a relaxing morning at home and save your energy for later!  If your session is an early morning one, having the day off can put everyone in a great mood to start your session.  I know it's not always a possibility, but minimizing the craziness of everyday life can help keep you from feeling frazzled by the time you get to your photo shoot.



Instead of telling your kids that we’re going to have photos taken, tell them that we’re going to have an adventure and go play with Miss Jess (or whoever your photographer is). It’s the truth!  If you have the time, bring along a change of play clothes and give your kids a chance to enjoy the area after your session.  It's a great way to reinforce the fun aspect, which may make life easier next time you plan photos!



You may be tempted to stay up late prepping for your session, but do try to get plenty of rest the night before your shoot.  Not only will you feel good, but it will help minimize dark circles under eyes, twitchy eyelids, and all the other little idiosyncrasies that come from being overtired. 



Well-rested, well-fed kiddos are a must (this goes for moms and dads, too)! Make sure everyone gets a great nap and a good meal before the session. The best light in summer happens around sunset so, if your session is in the evening, I suggest trying to push naps a little later than usual in the week leading up to the session.  If your child tends to fall asleep in the car, get to your session earlier so there's time to shake off any post-nap crankiness.  Bringing along snacks and drinks is also helpful (especially for full length sessions), but please be sure they are neat food items that won't stick to teeth or stain faces/clothing (avoid Oreos, fruit punch, and the like).  



While the parent in me hates bribes, the photographer in me loves them.  For a special occasion like family portraits, a lollipop, favorite toy, or trip for ice cream can make a huge difference in attitude! Just make sure to save it until after the session — once the bribe comes out, it’s really hard to put it away without tears.  Bribes should be a last resort, after all other efforts have failed to help your child stay calm and focused.



Here’s a simple checklist to make sure you’re ready with everything you need:

  • comfy walking shoes
  • something to sit on (blanket/quilt)
  • backup clothing (dirt/spit-up/food happens!)
  • lint roller if you have pets
  • your child’s favorite toy
  • food & water for snack breaks
  • keys/phones out of pockets
  • scrunchies/fitbit/sports watch removed from wrists
  • sunglasses put away
  • kids’ noses and eyes wiped
  • clothing ironed
  • bug repellent for ticks and mosquitoes (and make sure to check yourselves immediately following the session)



On the day of the session, it’s normal to be nervous (it means you care!). But the best way to love your shots is to let go of those nerves and trust in the photographer you hired. Know that you’ve planned and prepared to the best of your ability, and now your photographer is here to take the reigns and create family portraits that you’ll love. For a couple of hours, you don’t have to be the one to make all the decisions…enjoy it while you can! 


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