let’s talk family photos

what’s the saying, “do as I say, not as I do?” this is one of those times I hope to impart some learning from my own mistakes. the subject: family photos. well really, any photos where you are paying a professional photographer to capture an important moment in your life – engagements, weddings, newborns, families, furbabies, etc!

I will start by saying, I love family photos…when they are done! HA! but seriously, it’s always a joy to get back the photos and see little moments in time captured so beautifully and to ACTUALLY be in the pictures! raise your hand if you are always the one behind the camera and not in front?? that’s me to a T. however, I will also say that family photos are also a source of stress and don’t always go according to our picture perfect plan. I’m here to share some lessons I have learned over the years in hopes to spare you some heartache.


LESSON 1: location is not that important.

don’t stress over your location. it’s not THAT important, unless it is. here is what I mean.

our wedding ceremony was held at the church I grew up going to. it’s not the prettiest of churches and doesn’t offer many spaces on the exterior that I (read that again, I) thought was pretty or worthy enough to use for pictures. I spent a month trying to scout locations nearby and coordinate timing with transportation and the photographer to make it all “work.” well guess what, it was a massive waste of my time and SO MUCH STRESS. I finally went to our photographer saying, I just don’t know how to make an alternate location make sense. and you know what she said, “don’t worry about it! we’ll get exactly what you want working with the grounds of the church.” I didn’t believe it was possible, but she’s the professional and worked her magic. what IS important, the overall look/vibe you are going for. communicate with your photographer if you want outdoor, indoor, grassy, rustic, industrial, field of flowers, etc. then let them do the heavy lifting. odds are, they have a few locations in mind that will fit your theme and suggest what they know will work great for lighting. it’s amazing what a photographer can capture within a sliver of grass, or against a brick wall, or tucked behind some basic bushes. I am being serious!

now, here is an example of when location matters…. this was worth every freezing minute of our session. but this is what we wanted!

LESSON 2: plan your outfits to be coordinated versus matching AND well in advance.

okay, before everyone says “duh, stefanie.” let me explain. first, in my opinion, I find coordinated outfits to look better and more timeless than the “matchy matchy” outfits, especially for family photos. think more of an overall color family versus just everyone wearing blue or white. some of my favorite pictures are from our family shoot last year and I just loved how the overall color scheme worked instead of having everyone in jeans and a red sweater sort of thing. catch my drift?

coordinated, not matchy matchy

next when it comes to outfits, pick the toughest one to dress first, then work around. for most of us moms, the most difficult person to find something great for is ourselves. so start there! pick something you LOVE and feel great in. then coordinate the rest.

and last when it comes to selecting your outfits, plan for spares and extras. I have made many mistakes with this and FINALLY feel like I am prepared for the worst (but always hope for the best). for example, if you are outside in the fall or winter, make sure to bring outwear for the whole family that you would be OK with being photographed. remember how I mentioned we froze earlier, well we FROZE during that maternity shoot because we didn’t bring any coats, the next time we froze was with landon as an 18 month old because again, didn’t bring anything appropriate for photos! learn from me. also, pack a backup for everyone especially if you are photographing with kids. it will never fail to have a diaper blowout or potty accident when you are least prepared. or the time we were taking landon’s newborn photos and he peed all over me….yeah…I didn’t have a spare prepared so I did the rest of the photos in a pee soaked shirt and we carefully placed his body in ways to disguise it.

LESSON 3: bring toys and snacks to keep your kids happy.

if you plan ahead, you can make this work well even if there is a tonka truck in your perfectly planned and curated photo session. I didn’t understand the need for toys and snacks until we had a very testy toddler who HATED anything to do with pictures or a stranger. sound familiar? I remember feeling bummed (i’ll get to the attitude lesson next) that we had a bright blue snack cup in our pictures because we needed anything to stop him from crying and to be distracted. i wish i had planned for it to be IN the pictures… that is why I say, if you plan ahead, you can make things blend better – like buy a stainless steel snack cup or bring a brown ball instead of an orange ball so it’s not so obvious. bring whatever will keep your kids happy because nothing is worse than the screaming, crying, freezing child who refuses to smile one time… although we had that and I still love the pictures (more on that next).

LESSON 4: it’s all about your attitude!

nothing goes according to plan, so just roll with it! if you keep your expectations in check, you will not be so stressed when it feels like it’s all a disaster (because it will feel like that)! for me, this has been the biggest lesson learned. it starts with the fact that my own, adult husband, has a bad attitude about taking photos. sometimes it feels like I am dealing with three toddlers! but in all seriousness, it’s not his thing and I understand that. SO we agree to put on our best faces for the time allotted and PRAY the kids cooperate at least a little. they are the wildcards you cannot control. chances are that even through all the crying, fussing, tantrums, etc. your photographer will snap a good one. AND even if they don’t, I have come to embrace it all in the season you are in. it is all a season. I have embraced it so much that I sent out christmas cards last year with a tearful landon alllllll over them (because even when he’s crying, he looks cute). I have also changed my attitude so much about embracing our seasons that I PLANNED to bring his golf club for this year’s pictures. to my surprise, we didn’t need the basketball or golf club! I was SHOCKED in the best way possible!

LESSON 5: pick the right photographer and package for YOU.

this one also seems like a no brainer, but it wasn’t always so simple for me. the photographer we have been using lately offers 15 minute, 30 minute and 1 hour packages ALWAYS. she doesn’t have to have a day full of “mini” sessions for me to snag the shorter time slots. this is one of many reasons why I love her. I used to think we needed an hour. false. you really could get away with 15 minutes and come out with so many options. what I have settled on for us is 30 minutes. it’s the perfect amount of time to keep everyone in their best moods. plus, it’s just the right amount of time that we can scoot around to different spots within our location to get new backgrounds. also, in regards to your photographer, find someone whose style provides what you need. it’s more than just the overall look of their photos. I mean that mostly in the sense of direction you will get from him/her. do you want someone who will just follow your lead? or do you need someone who likes to help with poses? mike and I are not very affectionate people in public or in front of other people, so WE need someone who can give us a little direction otherwise we just feel uncomfortable and awkward. I know that’s not everyone! and I will say that is not every stage of life or event. for example, our wedding, we didn’t need much direction! it’s a day all about our love and we wanted it documented naturally. family photos, that’s a different story. we want more direction so we can get good, smiling shots of the whole family and the boys.

the last thing I will say is to know your audience, aka your partner or kids, and know when to call it quits! just because you paid for an hour, doesn’t mean you should use the full hour especially if the entire crew is crying or not cooperating. same thing in reverse, if you paid for 15 minutes and it’s going great, ask if you can extend and pay for more time! this is also why we only do paid sessions one time per year – it’s just not worth it to ME.


I hope this helps a few of you out there stressing over that so called perfect family photo. don’t let instagram fool you, we are all on the same struggle bus. and if you are one of those moms with the unicorn kids and husbands who LOVE these sort things, cheers to you! I would love any tips on how to train my crew lol

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