Eight Tips for Family Portrait Success

November 2, 2023


As the mom to a toddler and a sought after Northern Michigan photographer, I know how daunting it can be to plan for a family portrait session… half your family doesn’t want to be there, the other half is anxious about how they will look, and everyone is worried about how the kids will behave. You are juggling a lot of different personalities and individual worries and needs. Here are a few tips to help set you off on the right foot.

Relax and Have Fun!

Relax! Truly. I know it can be triggering to hear someone say “relax” when you are feeling the least bit relaxed, but being calm and happy is going to be the most important part of the puzzle. I have found that the most successful sessions are the ones that are relaxed, goofy, playful, and don’t have a big agenda other than capturing people having a good time. People are playing with each other, goofing around, tickling the kids, playing tag. The more fun it will be, the more happiness and personality will show through. We always start with more formal, posed portraits and then slowly shift into a more playful mode.

What to Wear

Pick out everyone’s outfits and try them on way in advance. (you wont believe how many people don’t try the clothes on until the morning of the shoot only to find out that they don’t fit). Be sure that you have some alternates in case it ends up being super cold the day of the shoot.  Choose a neutral outfit color and fill in with accent colors. It looks great if you’re coordinated but still get to show your individual style. See below how the Schiff family selected blue and pink pastels to mix in with with their white, khaki, and denim? For more tips on what to wear, check out this Pinterest board.

Come Organized

Make a list of the groupings you want to capture and send them to me. We want to get as much as we can in the time we have together, but also want to leave some space to breathe so everyone stays happy and calm. Rushing never makes anyone happy. Leaving some time for candids and playful portraits at the end is always fun.

Pick Your Battles

If you have young children in your family portrait, try to plan an easy going afternoon leading up to your photo shoot. It has been my experience that the kids don’t need to know about the shoot until shortly before we meet and, when you do talk about it, tell them how fun it is going to be because we will be running around, playing and taking a few photos. When kids sense a BIG DEAL, they don’t always respond with their best selves. If they, and you, are relaxed and are having fun it will be reflected in your portraits.

Pick your battles. If you have a three year old that is insisting on posing with their toy car or their worn out stuffed puppy, let them. We are documenting who everyone is at this moment in time and it’s not worth the tears and red puffy face to try and get that toy out of their hands.

Big Emotions

It’s okay to have BIG emotions! I’m family oriented and present when it comes to your shoot. My goal is for it to feel fun and easy, for all ages! I have a toddler myself, so I know how they operate. If your child has sensory issues, sensitivities, or is even just having a grumpy day, just let me know! I’m more than happy to work with you and beside you so even the most meltdown filled moments leading up to shoot time are nothing but a memory and even something we can laugh off later as we “ooo” and “awww” at your thoughtfully crafted images.

Snacks, Snacks, Snacks (and spare clothes)

If you have little ones, have a back up outfit ready in case someone gets their snack all over their top or someone else ends up in the lake. Also bring snacks, a bottle, m&m’s… whatever they might need to feel comfortable, comforted, and motivated to follow direction.

It’s Okay to Have a Drink

Adults can have BIG emotions too! I’ve been around a lot of nerves to know they can sneak their way into smiles, poses, and even candid shots. I invite you to let down your guard in whatever way feels most natural to you! Loosen up, tell some jokes, play with your kids, do a cartwheel! In all seriousness, feel free to have a cocktail before and/or bring one to the shoot. Tap into your inner goof. Come on, it’s for the kids ☺️

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