Family playing in Portland Oregon - how to prepare for photos

Best Tips on Preparing for Amazing Family Photos

It’s the day of your family photos and you’re in a state of panic trying to prepare and get everyone ready. Clothes are thrown all over the beds, you are shoving food in your toddler‘s mouth while trying to put on mascara, and simultaneously yelling at your husband to hurry up or you’ll be late. Sound familiar? I hope not! But if it does, let’s talk about some tips to make this never happen again. Like, ever. Family photos are supposed to be fun and I am here to help take the stress out of it (or as much as I can). 

Don’t overwhelm your kids with info

You don’t want to over-prepare your kids for their family photos. There are a few different ways that you can accidentally do that, so let’s talk about it.

One way this can go wrong is for you to give them too much information about the photo session. Don’t go into detail about how they need to act or what’s going to happen during the session or anything like that. Don’t try and bribe them to “be good” because that is already setting the expectation that they aren’t going to like it. Instead, just tell them you’re going to go have a fun family day, play together, and explore while someone takes your photos. That’s all you need to say. 

The other way that you can accidentally over-prepare them is by coaching them to smile at the camera. Please do not do this. The goal here is to get authentic smiles and also connections between family members. I don’t need them to look at the camera all the time. I will direct them to look at me if needed but most of the time kids will just laugh at the camera anyway (because I’m so hilarious, of course). And please do not ever utter the words, “say cheese!” unless it’s the end of the session and we have not gotten a smiling photo and it’s a last resort. But I’d much rather you have an authentic smile than a fake cheese one. 

mom playing with kids - best way to prepare for family photos

Don’t be too active on the day of your family photos

Don’t have a super active day on the day of your session. You don’t want your little ones to be all worn out by the time we start taking your photographs. With your session likely later in the day, this could make for some tired kids. And since my sessions involve exploring and lots of play, your kids will need their energy!

kids laughing during family photo session in PDX

No hangry family members

Make sure to feed everyone before the session. And then brush their teeth and wipe their faces! A full belly will make a huge difference in your child’s mood (and partner’s) during their family photo session. I also recommend bringing some water and a couple of non-messy snacks if you think your kids will need them. Something they can eat quickly and not get stuck in their teeth or leave a stain if they fall on their clothing.

Wondering what snacks to bring to your family photo session? Here are some examples of great snacks:

  • Grapes cut in half (so they don’t pop and accidentally make a mess)
  • Fruit snacks
  • Apple slices
  • Dried fruit (but probably not berries, they can still stain)
  • Beef jerky
  • Mini marshmallows (just a few)
  • Baby Puffs or cheerios (they dissolve quickly)

On the other hand, here are some horrible snacks that you should definitely not bring to your family photos:

  • ❌ Gum (you don’t want to see that every time they laugh!)
  • ❌ Chocolate (so messy!)
  • ❌ Jolly Ranchers or anything that takes a long time to eat
  • ❌ Suckers (you don’t want them holding those in your photos)
  • ❌ Goldfish crackers or any crackers (they get stuck in teeth)
  • ❌ Blueberries, blackberries, anything that will stain clothing or teeth

Don’t let the kids know that you have the snacks. Be sneaky about it and only bring them out if needed. When you do bring them out, don’t let them see you have an entire container. Just grab a couple from your bag at a time, otherwise they will be walking around with the bag and we don’t want that. We can definitely take a snack break if it seems like they are getting cranky but it’s best to save that for as late as possible so they aren’t begging for a snack every five seconds. Snacks are a last resort.

Family by river in portland oregon

Book with a photographer who has a client closet

Take advantage of your photographer’s wardrobe! When someone decides to use items from my own client closet, I will steam them and bring them to the session ready to go so you don’t have to worry about that part at all. I even bring a changing tent to make it easy to get dressed on location!

Families all styled for their photos by photographer in portland oregon

Make sure the kids are happy with their outfits

Try on all of the clothes ahead of time if possible. I’m going to tell you a story about preparing for my own family photos this year. I had bought my daughter probably five different outfits because she kept changing her mind about what she wanted to wear (she is a preteen…. it’s what they do). We had finally settled on a dress but I stupidly did not try it on her ahead of time. So here it is, 30 minutes before we need to leave the house, and she tries the dress on. She doesn’t like the way it fits and doesn’t feel comfortable with it. Luckily I had so many outfits to choose from so we found something that would work but it would have been a lot easier and smarter if I had tried it on her ahead of time and made sure she felt comfortable wearing it. So yes, I do recommend trying on the clothing ahead of time. 

If you’re borrowing from my client closet, you have the option of scheduling a try-on appointment with me. Until my studio is built, I’m currently meeting clients partway between our houses with a handful of their favorite dresses and my changing tent so you can change wherever we meet. But soon you’ll be able to come to the studio and try on anything you’d like!

Family laughing in the rain with the oregon city bridge behind them

Be ready early

Give yourselves more time than you think you need when preparing for your family photos. Like 30-60 minutes more. If you’re ready ahead of time, you’ll be relaxed and not feel all stressed out and rushing to do everything last minute. Because I know from experience that if I’m rushing, I get snippy with my husband😆🤦🏻‍♀️. And you want to be a happy family for your photo session, not a tense and upset one. 

And if you need help with styling your hair or doing your makeup, read this blog post for hair and makeup tips.

Families cuddling and dancing during family photos - how to prepare

No sleeping in the car

Do not let your young children fall asleep on the car ride (unless it’s a pretty long drive and they have time for a full nap). This is a recipe for a cranky and upset child. Do whatever you have to do to keep them awake even if that means one of the adults sitting in the backseat with them. The only way that sleeping in the car is a good idea is if you have a long drive and you plan to arrive at least 20 minutes early to give your child time to wake up and get used to their new surroundings… which brings me to my next tip!

Dad lifting daughter into the air while he kisses her

Give kids time to get acquainted with a new location

If you know that your child needs time to warm up to a new location, I recommend getting there a bit early and just letting them explore and get comfortable with being there. This isn’t necessary for all kids, but it can be a lifesaver if your small child needs it. You can even wait to get them dressed until it’s time for the session so they don’t mess up their nice clothes before we start.

mom cuddling toddler

Plan a special surprise for after your family photos

Your family photos should be a fun event that the kids look forward to! Especially if you choose the right photographer, they should be able to play and be super silly most of the session, anyway. But one thing you can do to make it even more fun is to plan something they enjoy afterward. You don’t need to use it as a bribe or a way to get them to behave (I don’t need them to behave anyway!), use it to extend the fun! Let them know that you’re going to go have fun family playtime while your friend Miss Becca (that’s me) takes some photos, and then you’re all going to go to ice cream to celebrate! Or whatever else you want to do after (play a family game of Mario Party, get dessert, make a craft together, etc). This is setting the kids up for a positive view of their photo day and something they will look forward to every time.

Family running around and laughing at river in PDX

I hope you have enjoyed these tips on preparing for your family photos and that it helps make your day go smoothly! If you still need to book your fun family session, you can contact me here and we will start planning an awesome adventure!

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