Top 7 Tips | How To Prepare For a Family Photo Shoot

Hi everyone! Many of you ask what you should do to prepare for your family photo shoot, so I thought I’d do a quick post on some tips. I have been a professional photographer for almost fifteen years now, and over the years I’ve witnessed quite a few stressful situations. Not paying attention to just a few simple things can quickly throw a family photo shoot off course. Taking a little time to prep in advance can make a huge difference in the outcome of your photo shoot!

I understand that it is easy to get stressed before a photo shoot. Picking out outfits, making sure everyone is dressed and clean, making sure their hair is brushed, and showing up on time can be very stressful on the parents, and kids can pick up on the stress. (Believe me, I truly understand– As the mom of two young kiddos I know that the struggle is real! It’s easy to put details on the back burner until the last minute, but if you want great photos it’s imperative that you’re prepped and ready to roll into your photo shoot.

With that in mind, here are 7 tips that will greatly increase your chances of a successful, stress-free photo shoot.

Mom and toddler daughter pose for a family photo shoot in Franklin TN

  1. Choose outfits a few days ahead of the big day.

Many times, parents will text me 2 hours before their shoot and say, “Krista, I’m in a complete panic, I still have not figured out what we’re wearing!” Then they arrive at the shoot with three armloads of clothes in complete meltdown mode. The kids are crying, everyone is a mess and then they throw armloads of clothes on the counter and say: “WHAT SHOULD WE DO!???” Now they’re super stressed– and so are the kids– and so is your photographer!

For family photos, I recommend clothes that compliment each other in color (rather than trying to match in exact outfits like jeans and a white shirt). For fall – I love rust, oranges, deep inky blues, mustard yellows, dark grays and other warm tones. Instead of putting everyone in blue jeans and white shirts (looks way too matchy/ traditional) I recommend choosing colors that compliment each other and are pleasing to the eye. Outfits that match exactly can be cute if it’s only mommy + me type photos, or just the kids in all matching outfits but avoid putting large groups of people in all matching outfits (to avoid that 1980’s awkward family photo look ;-))

Many times, it’s hard to know where to start. Looking at all of the clothes in multiple closets and then trying to imagine how to put them together is overwhelming! Here’s my recommendation: Start with ONE favorite outfit. Whether that be a favorite outfit of yours or one of the kiddos, start with that one outfit and then build everyone else’s to compliment the colors and feel of the first outfit choice.

With the arrival of Pinterest, it is easy to get tons of great ideas online in plenty of time before your shoot. Pick out your clothes at least a few days in advance. Don’t forget to try them on–can you imagine dressing kiddos right before the shoot only to realize that the clothes don’t fit? Now the child has nothing to wear. Big problem! So be sure to not only pick outfits, but try them on a few days prior to your shoot to avoid any last minute catastrophes. 😉

family maternity photo session with beautiful clothing

  1. Be wrinkle-free.

I’m not bringing up this topic to make you start a new chore at home–trust me, that’s the last thing a mom needs! But here’s what tends to happen: people will pick out their clothes and try them on… and then they toss them in a bag and forget about them. What happens next, you wonder?  I’ll tell you: they show up with wrinkled clothes stuffed in a grocery bag and then say “you can just Photoshop all of the wrinkles, right?” Truth be told, it takes quite a lot of time to get wrinkles out of clothes in Photoshop. Making a pinstripe or patterned shirt look unwrinkled with Photoshop is quite a labor-intensive job, and your photographer is not going to take hours of time to Photoshop each photo just because you showed up unprepared.

Iron your clothes, friends! Do it the night before and hang them up on nice hangers. And I get it, ironing stinks, so if you don’t want an extra thing on your to-do list, just drop off your freshly-laundered outfits at the local dry cleaner and ask for the press-only service.

Last note: unless you’re an expert at steaming clothes, I wouldn’t recommend a steamer. It usually isn’t successful for most folks (A+ for effort, though!). Generally, steamers don’t seem to work very well unless it’s done by a professional at the cleaners.

  1. Well-fed kids take better pictures.

Make sure that you’ve fed your child prior to pictures! You would not believe the amount of times parents show up to a shoot and casually mention, “Yeah, the kids haven’t eaten today… we didn’t have time…so we’ll just eat later.”

Well, no wonder your kiddo is crying, cranky and misbehaving! As photographers, we do our best, but we are not magicians. If your child is miserable and hungry when they show up, it is really hard to get them in a great smiley mood. Please feed your child as close to normal mealtime as possible on the day of your shoot, or give them a quick snack before they dress in their photo-shoot clothing. If you are bringing an infant to the shoot, plan to arrive early so that you can feed and burp them before the session. 😉

mom and baby pose for a family photo shoot n Nashville TN

  1. Make sure you have wipes and tissues on hand.

Getting the boogers out of your child’s nose and eyes before you arrive at the shoot can be a simple thing that quickly turns catastrophic. I usually see parents show up in a rush, pull their kids out of the car only to find that their nose is crusty and hasn’t been cleaned all day.  It might even be just one little teeny tiny boog up in their nose that happens to be the culprit.

Guess what happens…. Mom does the unthinkable and dig in their child’s nose for five minutes trying to get that one little bat in the cave out.  Of course, the child starts to scream at the top of their lungs and turns red in the face, their nose starts running, and the parents start panicking. It starts a chain reaction that takes at least ten minutes to return everyone to normal. Before you get in the car to drive to the shoot, clean your kiddo’s nose so they can return to a normal mood by the time you arrive 😉 Red faces and noses and teary eyes are very hard to Photoshop!

  1. Leave early.

As a mom, I know that this can be a tough one! I get it! It feels like Mission Impossible to make sure your kids look picture perfect: their hair is brushed, their clothes are ironed, they have shoes, they’re fed, they’re happy.

There’s more to leaving early than arriving fresh and ready (as opposed to the inevitable rushed and sweaty). Here’s what’s up: as photographers, we usually try to plan your photos around the best time of day for you. This is usually right before sunset. If you arrive late, you’ll completely miss the golden hour. Not only will you be taking photos in the dark, but everyone will be stressed and on edge (which never is a good thing for family photos!) Young children especially need a few minutes to warm up and settle in, so arriving a little early and hanging out for ten minutes helps them be more comfortable and at ease.

  1. Bribe your children!

After the photo shoot a trip to the ice cream shop, a kid’s meal from their favorite drive through, or a surprise toy from home is never a bad idea. You’re spending good money for these pictures, so why not go one step further and spend five dollars to offer your child a gift in exchange for good behavior? Side note: try not to bring suckers, or anything the can eat as a treat for DURING the shoot. Well meaning parents sometimes give their child a blue sucker or food 2 minutes into the shoot. While that seems reasonable in the moment, now your child’s mouth is blue or full of food when they smile :-/ Also inevitably, they will want more- and get upset when we don’t give them more through the entire photo shoot.

  1. Stay safe.

Do not put your children or your family in a dangerous situation. I know this should be obvious, but after years of photographing families I can tell you firsthand that it is not. Many times, I have parents ask me to do things that I am uncomfortable with. Here are a few of the uncomfortable things I’ve been asked to help stage over the years (and for the record, you should not mimic the following requests):

  • they want to put a newborn baby into a glass jar with candy for “a cute photo”
  • they want to stand the family in the middle of a busy road to get a “cool photo of the family like the Beatles and Abbey Road”
  • they want to position their family close to the edge of a cliff
  • they want their 2-year-old to stand in the middle of a swiftly moving stream or get in a river
  • they want to perch a one-year-old (who can barely keep their balance) on top of a high piece of furniture that they will likely fall off of
  • they want their 5-year-old to stand in the middle of the railroad tracks

This should be obvious, but please do not ask your photographer to put your child in a dangerous situation.

What do you think is the biggest challenge in preparing for a successful family photo shoot?  Whether it’s getting everyone ready or finding a time that works for everyone’s schedule, there are bound to be some hurdles, but hopefully these tips that I’ve shared will help your next family photo session go as smoothly as possible!

P.S. Are you an aspiring photographer? Check out our sister site, Real Life Captured, where Krista shares tips and tricks for better photos.


no comments
Add a comment...

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *

Krista is a Nashville, Tennessee based wedding and portrait photographer. Visit the "About" section for more info!