There’s a reason why when someone’s house in on fire the one thing that they run to save — after family and pets — is their photo albums. Other than the people themselves, there is almost nothing that is more valuable than the memories that we share together.
Thats why taking family photos is so important. In the years to come, those photos will be your connection to the past. To children that have grown and loved ones who have passed. To that ugly wallpaper in the kitchen of your first house, and the milestones you celebrated along the way.
While the quality of the photos isn’t as important as the memories behind them, learning to take better family photos can help you capture moments in a way that truly does them justice. Professional photographers Kenzie Staheli from Kenzie Mae Photography and Laura Coppelman of Laura Coppelman Photography have some tips for making the most of your family photos.
Family Photo Shoot Ideas From Pro Photographers
First Things First: You Should Take Family Photos
We get it. Family life can be hectic. And taking great family photos isn’t always on the top of your list of things to do. However, someday you’ll wish that you had captured more of this special time in your life. So for the sake of your future self, it’s worth the effort to fit it in.
Photographers Staheli and Coppelman both agree that family photos are extraordinarily important. They always encourage people to take photos with their family, whether it’s professionally done or not.
Authentic Moments Make The Best Family Photos
Coppelman’s family photography philosophy all comes down to the unseen moments of authenticity. “Because I see photos as a visual story of one’s life, my approach to ‘family photography’ is a little different. My goal is for a photo to draw you in and take you back in time. For you to feel what you felt again, and to be reminded of a precious moment in the story of your life.“
“Traditional family photos are great, but I’m more interested in the unscripted moments. I prefer candid, authentic interaction, as I find that’s what reflects the true energy between loved ones.
I’m after more than the obvious photos. I’m looking for the way a mother’s eyes swell with love when her child hugs her, or the magic in a child’s eyes when he discovers something new. I want what’s honest.”
And Staheli added, “Your family is only at each stage of life one time. Each moment is a moment that you will never get back. Yes, family photos are beautiful to hang and have throughout your home. But more importantly they are beautiful memories to cherish forever.”
How To Get The Best Family Photos From Your Session
Both Coppelman and Staheli said they like to get to know their clients ahead of the shoot. They ask a bunch of questions about every member of the family who will be present — parents and children, alike — to get a feel for each person’s personality as well as the family dynamic.
The main goal is to help people relax and feel more comfortable so they’ll act more naturally. If you’re at ease, you’re more likely to let your guard down and relax — and that’s going to mean a better experience, which means better family photos.
Coppelman jokes that her family photo sessions aren’t exactly silent.
“We’ll laugh, we’ll dance, we’ll play, and when the time is right, we’ll just be. My style is rooted in natural interaction and conversation between loved ones. That always pulls out a family’s unique dynamic. Some families are more silly, others are more serious — I let them set the tone and I’m along for the ride.”
“During the session, I love to play games that will help the family have fun and be their true selves,” says Staheli. “If I know that Dad loves to rough house and play a lot with the kids, I try to incorporate that into my shoot. If I know the kids are into a lot of sports, I know they are probably a very active family who loves to have fun. Or maybe the family is very low key, quiet and snuggly, so I try to take more of those kinds of photos.”
Coppelman also likes to ask her clients questions during the shoot.
“The most effective way I’ve found to get authentic interaction between loved ones is to get them talking to each other. I might put them on the spot a time or two in the spirit of sharing and connecting.”
Staheli makes sure to pay attention the whole time, even when families think she might not be. “If one of the kids is having a hard time in the photos I love to give Mom time with them to help soothe and comfort. A lot of times this can help capture a very tender moment.”
What To Wear For Your Family Photo Shoot
If you ask your photographer what you should wear to your photoshoot, they will all say the same thing. Wear something you’re comfortable in. A photoshoot is not the time to wear pants that are just a little too tight. Coppelman says to wear clothing you feel comfortable moving around in:
“I want families to come as they are. I provide a lot of guidance before a session, from wardrobe to location to everything in between, but my one rule of thumb is that all the details feel like an authentic reflection of who the family is. I’m a big encourager of moving and breathing during a session. I’ve found that people often subconsciously stop doing both when they’re being photographed.”
Family Holiday Photos
Taking family photos around holidays is pretty inevitable because that’s the main time when the most family members are together. Aunts and uncles come in from out of town, students are home from college, and people tend to put on clothes that are nicer than sweatpants.
You’re together and enjoying each other’s company — and you’re ready to bring out all of your strange family traditions. (Let’s be real here — everyone’s family has their own quirks, and most of them come out during the holidays.)
The best way to capture those is to do in-home shoots so you can get your own decor in the background. It’s also a great opportunity to take the same photo every year so that you can watch the family grow and change over the years.
The holidays provide a unique opportunity to focus on the authentically real moments of our lives, no matter how imperfect they are. If you’re the type of family who dresses up in matching pajamas every year, go ahead and do that. If you play cards or a board game after a holiday dinner, get some photos of everyone gathered around the table.
Whether you’re hiring a pro or snapping the photos yourself, try to capture your family in their natural habitat. Don’t settle for boring poses with the entire family where everyone is doing their best to suck in their gut and tilt their heads just so to hide a double chin. People tend to take better photos when they’re relaxed and happy. It’s your actual family traditions — the real things you do together — that you’ll want to remember most.
Book Mid-September To Mid-May
Photographers (especially smaller operations) like to do family photo sessions during the spring, autumn, or winter — basically, outside of wedding season. Prime wedding season is typically Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend.
Many times, family sessions must happen on a weekend because that’s when most people have time off work. But during wedding season, it’s not unusual for photographers to have a wedding booked every single Saturday.
So for planning your family photo session, aim for times outside of that window. The bonus for you is that you can often get some amazing colors into your outdoor photos — the leaves changing on the trees, or the quiet cleanness of freshly fallen snow.
DIY Family Photo Shoot Tips From The Pros
You don’t need to spend $10,000 on a professional-grade camera to take stunning photos of your family. Chances are, you already have a high-quality camera right in the palm of your hand. Most modern smartphones are great for photography and come with impressive hardware that can rival impressive professional gear.
If you’re planning to take your own family photos, there are some things you can do to make sure you get the best possible result. Here are some tips from the pros to help you get a gallery wall-worthy family photo.
Assign A Leader
Anyone who’s ever had to plan a family event knows that organizing a group of people (especially ones you’re related to) comes with its own unique challenges. Everyone has an opinion (even when they say they don’t), people have conflicting schedules, and inevitably, everyone starts talking over each other.
It’s a natural group dynamic that there are leaders and followers. This is something you need to take advantage of in this context. While someone may emerge as a leader naturally, it’s simply easier to assign this responsibility ahead of time. Perhaps the oldest sibling, or someone with a strong personality.
Make sure everyone knows who’s in charge so that they know who to take direction from. This doesn’t mean other people can’t offer input. (Yes, Uncle Steve, the water would be lovely in the background.) But ultimately, one person will be in charge of making sure everyone is in the correct place and paying attention.
Don’t Look Into the Sun
In order to avoid shadows, you often see subjects placed facing the sun. The theory makes sense, but in practice, you end up with a group of people squinting at the camera. Let’s face it: no one likes a photo of themselves squinting.
You don’t need to avoid outdoor photoshoots because of the sun. You simply need to use it more strategically. Find some shade, like a tree, a front porch, or a big umbrella and have your subjects stand under it. Shield yourself from direct sunlight to solve your squinting problem. Just make sure that you still have enough light to take your photo.
Include Your Family’s Personality
As both of our incredibly talented pros have mentioned, every family is different. They each have their own dynamic. And while it’s important to get those group shots where you can see everyone’s faces, it’s also fun to let people goof off. It’s the best way to get pictures that capture the unique personality of the group.
Maybe your family is pretty goofy and would prefer to make funny faces in photos or arrange themselves into a pyramid. If you’re all rooting for the same sports team you can all wear your team’s colors. Get some photos taken of your family playing their favorite sport together.
These moments are snapshots of the fun your family has together — snippets of the love you show for each other. You’ll appreciate these photos later in your life when you reflect back upon your time together.
Remember That Imperfection Is Perfect, Too
Along with showing some family personality, it’s important to embrace the imperfect parts of our lives. Getting your entire family to do the same thing in a group photo is tough. Kids are going to dab, or give each other bunny ears, parents are going to swat their hands away, and teenagers will roll their eyes.
If you get photos of these candid, not-supposed-to-be-seen moments, DON’T delete them, no matter how much your cousin begs you. For better or worse, this is your family. It may not be funny at the moment because you just want to get this picture taken so everyone can eat. But, chances are it will be funny two years from now.
Remember the time we tried to take a family photo and it took an hour because no one would cooperate? Remember the time mom made us all wear jeans and sweaters for an outdoor photoshoot in August? It wasn’t funny when you were sweating through your clothes, but you can laugh about it now.
It’s the stories behind these imperfect moments that matter the most. It’s these little moments that make our lives unique and special. These are the stories you tell over and over. If you delete the photos, you’re literally trying to forget they happened. Instead, print them out and relive the memory every time you pass by it in the hallway.
Displaying Your Family Photos
Whether you hire a professional or just use your own iPhone, don’t let it end there. Make sure you display your favorites in your home — and not just the perfect ones where everyone is smiling for the camera. Include some that aren’t picture-perfect, but are perhaps what you need on rough days.
Staheli says that “Photos are memories standing still and captured forever.” That’s really a perfect way of describing the importance of family photos.
“I cannot tell you how many times I have been editing a session and starting to get emotional because I truly felt like I captured an unforgettable moment between a Mom and her baby or something else special. Getting family photos taken is something that you will never regret.”