Preparing For Your Family Photo Session

Family Photography Prep Sheet

So you booked you family photographer (ME!), found a great backdrop to shoot against, and even got some tips on how to dress for the shoot. All set right? Well, not entirely. I’ve found mental preparation to be just as, if not more, vital to the success of family photo session. Not that any of my sessions have ever gone wayward, (touch wood) but some certainly flow better than others and I’ve taken note as to why. So let’s spend the next little while talking about how to prepare for and run a family session.

Choose a Comfortable Location

Choose a spot where you will feel at ease. This could be in your home, on your favourite hiking path, wandering the streets you love to explore or together on a beach. The location SHOULD NOT STRESS YOU OUT! Don’t choose to shoot in the streets of Seoul if you have little tikes, you’ll constantly be worried about them getting hit by the drivers here. Choose an area where cars aren’t allowed, where they can run freely and the most you have to worry about is a stumble and a scrape. If your toddler has no regard for self preservation, and tendency to throw him/herself off of stairs or into water, better stay away from the river and the palaces with ponds.

It’s not just kids you need to consider. Think about how the place makes you feel. Would you rather hang out in a five start hotel restaurant or a smoky hole in the wall Korean BBQ joint? Doing a photoshoot at a location you aren’t comfortable in will only make it worse. Agoraphobic? Then stay away from the palaces and Myeongdong or visit when they are the least busy.

Now there are people, like myself, who immensely enjoy pushing their comfort zone. For instance, I love sneaking my way onto rooftops and doing weird things in public spaces. If your family wants to risk streaking across the Blue House lawn I’m your guy. Just put some careful thought into what makes you happy.

Rock Some Comfortable Clothes

You’ve likely already received the wardrobe tips I send out. Aside from choosing something that coordinates well with each other and your surroundings you need to choose something that makes you FEEL good. Heels may be uncomfortable but many women just feel like a million bucks in them. That’s fine, wear them then and bring a comfy set of shoes to rest in between. The point here is not to wear those jeans you’ve been trying for the last 3 months to fit into and just aren’t quite ready for yet. You don’t want to spend the session worrying about if you are spilling out over them. Avoid that stretchy shirt that looked great on the muscle bound mannequin  in the shop but kinda looks sausage-y on you. Wear things you love, things you know make you look your best.

Involve the Kids

Kids love to be part of the decision making process. Make a family night out of planning this photo session. Explain to your kids that you’re going to be meeting a photographer at given location and that he loves trying new ideas. Show them my 365 collection (warning not all images are child friendly) so they see I’m not serious and have creativity.

BEFORE you go scouring Pinterest and google pictures for “family photo ideas” come up with your own first! SERIOUSLY, it’s too easy to get tunnel visioned if you search for inspiration before thinking on your own, I know, I’ve made the mistake too many times. Here’s what you do:

a. Have each family member come up with a family pose they want to try. Each one should be unique. DO NOT shoot down ANY ideas no matter how crazy they are. Just write them down and say “Sure, we will ask Greg if he can do that”.

b. Have each family member come up with an individual portrait they want to try. For example, maybe the daughter wants to be doing a kick in front of the palace in her Taekwondo uniform.

c. Come up with three props that would be cool to have on a photo shoot

After you’ve come up with these things on your own you can then go to the internet for more inspiration and bring as many ideas as you like with. Remember each child is responsible for making their idea happen. Get excited about it!

If bribery works in your family, then do it

There are mixed feelings on bribery. Sometimes the promise of ice cream can be enough to make a child on the verge of a tantrum change their mind. You know you family best so do what works for you.

Rest Rest Rest

Get LOTS of rest the night before, in fact, everyone go to bed an hour earlier than your ideal bedtime

Give Yourself an Extra Hour, or Two

The easiest way to ensure minimum stress before your family session is to imagine it starts an hour earlier than scheduled. Then give yourself an extra half hour on top of this to leisurely get ready. Worst case scenario you show up an hour and a half early to the location. No problem. I’m always at least thirty minutes early so that means you have at most one hour to kill at a cafe or playing at the park. Leaving at the last minute will guarantee every thing that can go wrong will go wrong and you’ll work yourself into a frenzy before we have event started

Compromise With The Kids A Little

Today you’re going to choose your battles VERY carefully. You’ll be more lenient than usual. You won’t bend over backwards for them or tolerate disrespect but today also isn’t the day to be setting precedents. Today it’s all about BEING a family and for just half a day this means staying off the phones as much as possible and doing what your kids want to do. If they want you to chase them, chase them. If they want to play I Spy With My Little Eye in the subway for what feels like hours, play it. If she wants to be carried, carry her. Make this out to be their super special day. Something so amazing they remember it and want to do it again because it was so much fun. The only condition is that they have to let me follow you all around to document it.

During the Shoot

Engage with your kids. Every parent and teacher knows the more you want a kid to so something the less they want to do it. During this session we will not DEMAND anything of them. If little Robby doesn’t want to be in the photo, fine, I’ll capture mom and dad celebrating a moment of peace without little Robby whizzing around. More often than not kids want to be part of the photo once they see everyone else having a good time in it.

Again, we’re not going to tolerate disrespect or dangerous behaviour but we’re also not going to let a five year old who doesn’t feel like sitting on dad’s lap destroy our session. Engage with your children, take interest in what they are doing and want you to do and there will inevitably be moments where you all come together naturally, these moments will be the most beautiful. When I spot a moment like this and capture it, I may then ask mom or dad to reposition themselves around the child/children or offer some ideas on how to interact and get more options out of the moment.

Finally, please note that it’s also critical for me to create a rapport with you kids. Usually I try and do this as early as possible in the session. I may put down my camera completely and just run around and play hide and seek with them if that’s what’s needed to build their trust. If they’re more shy and reserved in the beginning I might hold back and let them come to me a little more. Just never worry about “is he getting this? Are we getting good shots? Are we loosing time?”. Trust me, I’m getting it 🙂


Okay not finally. Here’s one last point I need to mention. I’ve noticed that mothers are the hardest to capture in a relaxed state, I attribute this to the fact that they are the ones on constant lookout. “Is that chocolate on Jimmy’s lip? Is sally going to get grass stains on her skirt?” and the biggest one “Is everyone happy and looking at the camera?”. What ends up happening is that EVERYONE IS happy and looking at the camera EXCEPT for mom. We can photoshop out chocolate and grass stains, even snotty noses, we CAN NOT photoshop a mother’s head towards the front if she is looking sideways. So moms, please give yourselves a well deserved rest and let me tend to the details 🙂

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