Hey friends, Drew here, and I have to admit that family photos were pretty easy for my family growing up. Why? I’m an only child. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
It took very little effort for Mom, Dad, and me to get into the same frame and smile at the same time.
I should also mention, it was the 80s and 90s, so the standards for a family photo were, let’s say, more relaxed than they usually are now.
But over time I’ve learned that it’s not nearly as simple for most people. My wife has a big, fun, vibrant extended family, which usually comes with its own brand of fun chaos whenever we attempt to take good family photos.
But taking family photos is important. Whether good, bad, boring, chaotic or ugly, these photos are the ones your grandchildren will look at to learn about their parents growing up, or what Grandma used to look like. You’re documenting the history of your family legacy.
With that in mind, I wanted to compile some advice on taking great family photos and how to do it well. Of course, I’m not the real expert here, so I brought in some help, in the form of some professional photographers, Kenzie Staheli from Kenzie Mae Photography and Laura Coppelman of Laura Coppelman Photography. They shared their philosophies on taking family photos and some of their best tips.
Professional Photographers’ Family Photo Shoot Ideas
First Things First: You Should Take Family Photos
Despite you probably reading this post to improve your family photos, the biggest takeaway here (and I know Staheli and Coppelman both agree with me here), is that you SHOULD DEFINITELY BE TAKING FAMILY PHOTOS— even if you can’t afford to have it done professionally.
In fact, Laura is almost more in favor of the unscripted, candid shots over those professional posed portraits anyway:
“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 Kenzie Staheli added,
“Your family is only at stages of life one time. They are moments in time that you will never get back. Yes, they are beautiful to hang and have throughout your home, but more importantly, they are beautiful memories to cherish forever.
There’s just something about Dad playing with his kiddos, Mom sharing a special moment with her little one, or everyone sharing the joy in just being together that melts my heart in a photo.”
So, we’re all agreed: we need to be taking family photos. Most of the advice here is great even if you are taking photos yourself, except for this bit.
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, then again 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.”
Even with my own daughter, it’s those quiet moments that are the ones I want to remember, but I rarely get a photo of. These images will be the ones you treasure for the rest of your life.
“We’ll laugh, we’ll dance, we’ll play, and when the time is right, we’ll just be.
What to Wear for Your Family Photo Shoot
Ask your photographer what you should wear to your photoshoot; they will all say that you should 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.”
Wow. I never thought about that last part, but it’s so true. I always freeze and hold my breath until the photo is taken. But it’s not a portrait of a corpse, these photos are meant to be of a happy, living, breathing, smiling, family.
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. (Don’t worry, I already l know your family is weird, mine is too. Normal is just a setting on your dryer.)
The best way to capture those is to do in-home shoots so you can get your own decor in the background. A friend of mine has a family tradition of buying their kids silver bells at Christmas, which one daughter hangs in between the ballisters in the stairway. They take photos on that staircase every year so they can make sure to include those silver bells.
Also, pictures in front of the fireplace or the Christmas tree are just classic. And bonus points if you have ornaments that have been passed down through your family, as this is a great chance to showcase them.
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. Honesty, 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.
“Photos are memories standing still and captured forever”
DIY Family Photo Session Tips
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 come with impressive hardware that can rival impressive photography gear. This is especially true if you’re rocking the latest iPhone or a flagship Android phone (like our CMO’s Pixel 3a).
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.
Assign a Leader
If you’ve 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, and 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 (Mom).
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, Karen, 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. Being shielded from direct sunlight will solve your squinting problem. But you’ll still have plenty of light for 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 and 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. Please take photos of this kind of stuff.
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 (let’s face it– some of the adults will be rolling their eyes, too).
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. You will never regret getting your family pictures taken.”
And please, when you get a good one, send it to us @FractureMe, or just share them below!
We want to see your favorite family photos — especially the funny ones.