LEAH RIFE PHOTO

How to Have an Amazing Family Photo Session

After photographing so many amazing family sessions, I started realizing a few things. Family photos are, obviously, important to people, but often I hear clients make comments about how stressful they are, what a hassle they are, and it sort of turns into something they feel obligated to do or have to get through. And I get it. I’m a mama, and let me tell you that I know what it’s like to try to wrangle two wild children, while wearing nice outfits, and not lose it in front of our photographer.

Wow! Should family photos be this stressful? I’m not sure they have to be! With a little bit of preparation, tips, and realistic expectations, I think you can have a family session that is not only less-stressful, but enjoyable. If you’re stressed during and even leading up to a session, it’s going to show up in your photos, and do you really want to hang up a pretty picture on your wall and remember how freaked out your kid was, or how frazzled you felt inside? No! You want to remember the sweet moments, the way your son’s smile was since he had just lost a tooth, or the quiet moment you stole away with your partner while the kids ran around you.

Here are some of the best tips I’ve learned over the years of photographing families, and I want to share them with you! These are in no particular order, so keep that in mind. And know that at the end of the day, these are just suggestions. Each time I work with a client, I get to know what’s important to them and their story so I can document them well.

No one-size-fits-all-approaches with me.

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Location

Okay, so location is super important in my mind. If you’re booking a scheduled mini session with me, chances are it’s going to be in a location I’ve pre-picked out. The tradeoff for a shorter, cheaper session is that there are less custom options, however when you book a full session, this is where we can get super creative and intentional in your locale.

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What locations are important to you? Not what’s the most popular on Pinterest, or will look the absolute coolest, but what’s going to really make your session meaningful. Sometimes it’s in your home. Sometimes it’s at a special creek you love to visit. Maybe you just really, really love water and so we find a place that fits your vision.

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Locations for family photos can be anywhere – and I keep gently letting clients know they can think outside the box. For my own family photos last fall, I realized dragging my kids to a pretty park wasn’t what we all loved, so I had our photographer come to our house, and we ate tacos on our patio and then got photos in some of our favorite spots in the yard. And you know what? They were by far my favorite family photos ever. Sure, Johann had sour cream on his face at one point, and Finn’s pants got a little dirty, but those smiles were the most genuine I’ve seen from my boys who typically don’t love getting their photos taken.

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Have a favorite pizza place your family loves? Let’s go there and get photos of you eating with your bunch. Just remember, you don’t have to have a forest, or field, or background like that. Those are amazing and I love them and they fit really well for a lot of families, but if that doesn’t make your heart light up, this is your permission to find a location that speaks to you and your story. I’ll help you brainstorm, and it will be a collaborative effort.

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Outfits

I get this one a lot! How in the heck do you pick out outfits? What I love to say is think about your location. What sort of vibe/color is there and that could help inform you on what to pick out. Earthy neutrals tend to work really well – greens, blues, whites, creams, browns, corals. The focus of the photos should be you and your family, and whatever background is behind you should compliment the colors so you show up well. 

Add texture by layering jackets, accessories like hats, and different kinds of materials. This will make your session pop and you’ll look vibrant. Mix some prints for an added element, but try to stay away from super tiny pinstripes or checkered shirts – I’m looking at you, fellas. These can sometimes look super weird in post-processing, and end up taking away from you as the subject.

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Think about the weather. Is it going to be super hot? Maybe go with colors and textures that won’t show sweat spots or make you miserable. I’ll do my best to edit out sweaty armpits, but if you’re sweating buckets, you’ll probably not be loving your photos.

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Overall though, I love telling clients to wear things they love and make them feel comfortable. You hate wearing dresses? Don’t wear one to your session, then! You want to use this as a chance to get really spiffed up because you never get to dress up? Then do up your hair, put on that fancy outfit, and let’s make some memories! I want you to feel like you can be your amazing self 100% and not feel forced to look a certain way just because you’re getting photos taken.

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Getting Kids to Cooperate

Pick a time of day where your young kids will be happiest. Maybe this is after a nap, after a meal, or at a sweet spot in their schedule. I’d rather work with non-golden hour light and have a happy kiddo than have really awesome light and a miserable toddler, and you would too! Trust me.

Bring incentives. Okay, fine, bribes – bring bribes. But hey, if your kiddo can understand that they get something out of the photo session too, it could make for a more cooperative and fun experience for everyone. I default to parental preference here, and encourage you to bring whatever you are comfortable with. Suckers, snacks, a promise for getting to do something special like dinner out or ice cream after, or a fun movie to watch on the way home. You know your children best! I bribe my boys with cakepops from Starbucks or extra screen time when we get our photos taken and it makes for a win win situation.

Bring a luvie or other special prop. If your child needs to feel safe, and having a little luvie is something that helps them feel safe, then bring it. Sometimes it can be really sweet to incorporate them into sessions!

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Bring water bottles, wipes, a comb, and tissues. There’s a high chance your kids might mess up their hair, get something on their face, or need a drink, so having these in a bag we can have nearby will be super helpful! Also bug-spray if it’s mosquito season!

How I work with kids. Since I’m a mama myself, it’s easy for me to talk to and relate with children. I work really hard to flow with kids and engage with them so they feel valued and aren’t shoved into poses or looks. I’ll never make your kiddo do anything they’re uncomfortable with, so if they’re crying or not cool with sitting, I always suggest we move into a different look or spot and just sort of roll with them. I usually bring a prop to get the kids to look at me and I work really quickly to snag that one shot that is going to be a good one. Bottom line, if your children feel safe, valued, and free to be curious – I can usually get some really great images of them. This is another reason why familiar locations can help because they allow the children to be comfortable and feel safe.

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Adding Movement

One of the best ways to get really awesome photos, help keep your kids engaged and having fun, and giving you a chance to be yourself, is adding movement. Swinging your kids around, letting them jump and move and wiggle, and snuggling up are all going to be a great break in between posed shots, and add to the experience. I love telling parents to engage with their kids the way they do at home – a favorite handshake or little game they play, or a special hug or mugga mugga. These are some magical moments.

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Groupings and Posing

Mixing up groupings will not only give you all a chance to breathe, but allow me to get a mix of little details and looks and a variety of images to give you in your gallery.

I usually have the whole family, parents with kids, just kids, just parent/parents and any other grouping you love. You might have more than one kiddo, and I really want you to have a photo of just you and each child as well as the bigger groupings. And I’ll steal you and your partner away for a bit to get you both without the kids, or just you if you’re a solo parent because I know how easy it is to make the photos all about the kids. You’re important too and just as much of an individual as you are apart of your adult relationship or family.

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When I give direction, I try to offer suggestions for you to stand and sit in ways that look really natural. I totally understand you might feel awkward – but trust that I’m there to make sure you look good and feel comfortable. If a client is nervous they aren’t showing up well, I’ll show them the back of my camera and ask them if they are liking how the images are looking and if they want to tweak anything.

If posing sounds like a word that makes you cringe, don’t worry! I work to feel out how comfortable clients are during sessions, and I always let them know to tell me if they don’t feel comfortable or if I’m giving them some directions that don’t feel true to them.

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My biggest goal is to make you feel comfortable enough to shine through your photos with all your amazing personality, so any direction I give will naturally flow into the shots that I take. Sometimes the actual directions or prompts I give aren’t what I’m going to photograph, but maybe the reaction to the prompt, or the few moments after the looks are where the magic hits and I document that moment.

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Expectations

Having expectations ahead of time, based on your kids’ personality and your family’s personality, will help you feel realistic going into sessions. I call myself a lifestyle photographer for a reason – I do my best to always get really awesome photos of you all looking at the camera, but those wild in-between moments can be really awesome too. Embrace them! Think back to photos from past sessions and remember which ones were your favorites. Chances are some of them were the ones where no one was looking at the camera! If you are the kind of person who wants super posed, elegant looking family portraits, then maybe I’m not the best fit for you. You as the client get to decide what kind of photographer you want to work with, so finding someone who’s style and method match with your vision and expectations will really help you have an awesome experience too.

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 And that’s another reason why having a longer session can be helpful. It frees us all up to take our time getting great images – no rushing around, no feeling stressed out that the kids aren’t cooperating. We aren’t shooting the whole time. We’re walking and talking, and I’m listening to your kiddo tell me about his friends from school or his new toy he got for his birthday, all while carrying my camera and shooting the candids in between the more posed ones. The extra time allows for us to be less rushed and more intentional and it becomes more than a shoot – it’s an experience you get to share as a family.

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And a note from me: You never, ever, ever have to apologize that you are too awkward, weird, or feel like you’re make me feel pressured. It’s my job to make you feel at ease during sessions, and my job to photograph you well, so just take any pressure off of yourself and trust me to do my job while honoring your unique story and personality.

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Printing Your Photos

How many times have you received your photos from a session and then not done anything with them? I’ve done that too, so no worries! But your photos aren’t doing you any good just sitting in your inbox, or even downloaded in a file with a few posted here and there on social media. You should have images displayed or in a book so you can see them and they can continually bring you joy! With every gallery I send – and it’s send digitally – you have options. There is a really simple and easy option to print your photos directly from your gallery. That’s right – no downloading needed, no uploading to some printing website that may or may not have great quality.

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You can create favorite lists, and select images when you click on the shopping cart icon from your gallery with me, and I’ve pre-selected a really high quality professional printing lab that takes the order, processes it, and ships it directly to you all with a really fast turnaround. The photos you get are high resolution and ready to print. Want a book or an album? There are options for that too. There are simple directions that walk you through how to print your photos, but I’m always available to clients to help if they need.

I just printed a photo album for my family session from last year, and the process was similar. My photographer delivered the gallery, Landon and I chose the images we loved, and created an album. Now we have a lovely book to look through and reminisce from our patio taco dinner! I can’t recommend printing your photos enough!

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Those are my biggest tips and methods! I hope you feel like you can have really amazing family photos without feeling frazzled or stressed out. These experiences should be beautiful and fun and meaningful, and that’s how I aim to work with every amazing family client of mine.

If you have any questions, or want to talk to me about working with your family for a photo session, I would love to talk to you. You can email me at leahrifephoto@gmail.com or head to my inquiry form and fill it out to get started!

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© Leah Rife Photography  |  all rights reserved | Copywriting by Amanda Burg Design Studio

Hey friends, my name is Leah Rife! I am a wedding, family, and lifestyle photographer based in Indianapolis, Indiana. I’m also the creator of The Haven Mentorship, a regular resource, and workshop for photographers.