The Essentials: Planning a Family Photoshoot

Happy Monday, friends!

I’m still over here, just chasing down a million possible combinations for the most perfect, most epic, color coordinated family photo shoot.

Try not to get sucked into the madness, y’all, you’ll be obsessing FOR DAYS.

Anyway, true to my nature, I’ve also been rummaging around Pinterest trying to find advice and tips and tricks and best practices for family photoshoots. As it turns out, I can find a million and a half blog graphics about family photoshoots, but very few actual, practical LISTS OF TIPS AND TRICKS.

Am I the only one that reads those things? Because a sister NEEDS her lists and tips and tricks, y’all.

Anyway, since I couldn’t find any, I thought I’d make a list here. I’d love to hear from you if you have other tried-and-true advice about setting up the perfect photoshoot for your family!

CHOOSING YOUR PHOTOGRAPHER. This is going to seem like the dumbest way to start a helpful list of tips, but hear me out, ok?

You see these amazing, glowing, Pinterest-worthy photos on the ‘gram. Find out who took them. Check out their website. WHOA, honey. They’re not in the budget. Cool. You track down your best friend’s cousin, who has a nice camera and just started taking photos. You show her the photos you fell in love with. SURE! She can totally snap that exact photograph – you, your honey, and your kids situated JUST SO on a bale of hay, with the sun shining brightly against your perfectly curled hair.

OH. And since she’s new, she’s going to give you a great deal. Done. Booked. It’s a date. You pick the perfect outfits. You obsess over the details. You crawl up on the hay bale. Maybe smack a kid or two. Everyone smiles. And two weeks later, you get to sneak a peek at your photos and they are NOTHING LIKE THE INSPO.

That’s a sad, sad tale, y’all, but it is SO common. I have a background in design and dabbled in photography for awhile, and let me tell you, it is NOT easy. It takes time and effort to develop your art’s style, and while any seasoned photographer can fiddle with lighting and play with moods and step outside their comfort zone, any GOOD photographer is going to shoot in the style that they’re best suited to.

And that may not be the style you’re going for. Those Pinterest-worthy photos may be costly, but it’s even costlier to spend REAL DOLLARS on clothes, and location, and hair and nails and all the things – and hate your photos.

Do your research. Only you can decide how to prioritize your values when it comes to family photographs – is it worth it for you to have three photo shoots in a year that you don’t love, vs. one pricey shoot that you adore?

PRE-SHOOT COMMUNICATION. Honey, don’t be shy. Now is not the time for you to assume that the photog can read minds and will assume that you’re actually allergic to hay or that you have a favorite side or that you can’t walk through a field in those cute new shoes. Talk about the shots you would like. Talk about the outfits you’re planning. Talk about things that might make your babies laugh – or scream in fear. Be sure you clearly understand the plan. Check out the location ahead of time. Let your photog know if you expect a velvet couch in the middle of your corn field. Talk about these things ahead of time, because nothing ruins a fancy photoshoot like a snarl on your face.

PREPARING FOR THE BIG DAY. If you’re doing it right, you’ve been in touch with your photog. They know what you’ll be wearing, what poses you’d like to take, and what props they’ll be working with. But prepping ahead of time for what will invariably be a stressful and overwhelming hour of your morning or evening is absolutely invaluable. Here’s what I mean:

  • Talk to your kids about the plan. Hype it up like you’re P. Diddy at a Biggie concert. It’s going to be SO FUN and you’re going to get to smile the BRIGHTEST SMILE just like the most beautiful sunshine and we’re going to get ice cream afterwards and Mommy will be so relieved it’s all over that she WON’T EVEN CARE IF IT HAS SUGAR. Truly. Your kiddo(s) will most definitely sense your anxiety (because trust me, there will be anxiety) and will react accordingly. Don’t do that to your family pictures, sis.
  • Bring an emergency kit. Over preparation? I’ve got that on total lock, y’all. I bring tape, safety pins, a brush, hairspray, hairpins and hair ties, makeup for touch ups, a tide pen, first aid kit, bottled water, snacks, a fully-charged tablet with all manner of enticing movies pre-loaded, and baby wipes GALORE. You might not use a single thing. Or you might melt down and need it all. It’s not going to hurt to have it, that’s all I’m saying.
  • Have a come-to-Jesus with your spouse. Maybe this is just us, but we argue literally every time we take photos together. Y’all need to head that off at the pass. Acknowledge that you’re stressed out and might be snappy and ask for patience – and give the same grace to your other half. You might be surprised at how much it helps to hash that out beforehand, but it. Is. POWERFUL.
  • Visit your location ahead of time, if at all possible. Scout it out, if you will. Be comfortable with the terrain. You’ll need to know if there are gopher holes in that rustic field, or if you have to park a mile and walk, because you’ll need to wear comfy shoes and carry your fancy ones. Or if there’s no shade and you’ll need an umbrella between takes. Don’t assume it will all work out because you saw someone else’s photo on the ‘gram and it seemed fine, y’all. SCOUT IT OUT.

COORDINATING YOUR OUTFITS. Anyone with a Pinterest account knows that This. Is. Crucial. It’s mama’s time to shine, and MAN, is it stressful.

So stressful that I’m still deliberating over our look, and I’ve been internet shopping for a solid week at this point, for a photoshoot next MONTH.

It’s a big deal.

Your location and your photographer’s style will definitely impact the way your outfits photograph in the final images, so keep that in mind. If a moody velvet dress and rancher hat are your jam, you probably don’t want to perch on a hay bale for a blown-out, desaturated shot. Conversely, if you’re leaning towards an airy, floaty look, you might not want to be pictured in a candlelit library. You’ll need to nail down the FEEL of your shoot ahead of time.

Now that you’ve got that covered, you’ll want to consider how to mix-and-match complimentary clothing for everyone in the shot.

While, you know, looking glam. And fashionable. And it needs to be comfortable. And flattering. And everyone’s personalities should be reflected perfectly in their own ensemble.

Just kidding.

But really, those are the expectations we have of ourselves, right? I wasn’t kidding when I said that THIS ISH IS STRESSFUL.

That being said, here are some things I find helpful:

  • Pick YOUR outfit first, mama. You dress your babies and your spouse every day. You’ve got that on lock. And guess what? You’re GREAT AT IT. But you cannot – YOU CANNOT – simply settle on your outfit because it coordinates and you couldn’t find anything you love and you hate your mom bod anyway, and besides, it’s just for pictures and it’s totally FINE. You’re FINE. But you don’t LOVE it and it fits weird but they didn’t have the right size and you’re totally uncomfortable but you’ll never have to wear it again. Right? I know I’m not the only one. Trust me. All of that shows up in your photographs. You’re going to be stiff and awkward and frustrated and probably secretly hormonal, because the way you look affects the way you feel, and the way you feel affects the way you present yourself. Find an outfit YOU LOVE for YOU, and base everything on that. You’re the hardest sell here – if you’re confident and comfortable, everyone else is gonna be gravy, baby.
  • Be careful with patterns. I don’t generally wear a lot of patterns because I’m a mix-and-matcher and also I wear black probably 5 days a week, but I’m considering a few patterns for our family photos. It’s a good idea to snap a photo of any patterned clothing items you’re considering. Zoom that snapshot in REAL CLOSE AND PERSONAL. Small, tight repeating patterns can have a dizzying effect on your photographs. Stripes can go very wrong if they get a little wavy because maybe, just maybe, mama’s got a little more back than she used to.

It’s me. I’m mama.

I find it best to stick with solids for me and leave patterns for my daughter or the hubs. J prefers smaller plaids or paisleys, because that’s what pearl snap shirts are most likely to come in. So I gravitate towards softer solids for myself.

  • Accessories don’t have to be make-or-break. My kiddo is comfortable in bows and jewelry and ruffles upon ruffles because she’s extra to the very MAX and she’s been wearing those things her whole life. If your sweet little angel hates having her hair pulled back, or your cute little man won’t keep hats on, but it LOOKS SO CUTE…. Don’t. Just don’t give yourself the grey hairs, mama. You can plan a special outfit for your little darling that is comfortable for him or her and still coordinates with everyone.
  • Get fancy with it. If you’re able to plan it out and budget for it, try to outsource your hair and makeup! Assuming that you’ve already steamed those outfits and packed your emergency bag and loaded the car with your velvet couch.. You can totally make the time for this. It’s not make-or-break, by any means, but there’s something empowering about feeling YOUR best. You’ll be setting the tone for your family’s photos, and being confident and relaxed will make a WORLD of difference.

Those are the best tips I have (so far), but I’m sure I’m missing lots of good stuff! How do you prepare for a family photo shoot?

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