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Planning a Family Portrait Session


Planning a family portrait session should not be a complicated affair, but I get asked a variety of questions about planning one so I thought it might be a good idea to throw it all together in one big blog post and cover any concerns or questions you might be thinking! 

This post will cover everything from ideas for locations, right through to how to get your kids to pose and whether you need to have that ‘stand and smile’ photo or not. So, if you’re ready, let’s do this shall we? 

Where should we have our family portrait session?

The very simple answer here is… just about anywhere you like! Obviously there are considerations that you need to take into account such as how far away do you want to travel? How far will your photographer travel? What kind of backdrop do you want for your photographs – green and natural? Big sweeping vistas? Your favourite park? Colour and flowers? Or something a bit more urban, perhaps? What is the weather going to be doing? What time of year is it? 

My usual recommendation is to choose a spot that means something to you as a family – perhaps a favourite park or space where you all go walking or playing together. 

Outdoor shoots are always great fun but the weather has to be taken into account, of course! If it’s raining are you the kind of family who would still go out in your boots and with umbrellas at the ready? Then great, let’s do that! Or would you rather come up with an indoor back up plan instead? That’ll work too.

The possibilities for location really are endless and you may have a place in mind but, if you’re struggling to decide, have a chat with your photographer and get their take. They’ll be able to give you good advice from a photography perspective which might help you make your decision.

Oh, and one very important point, make sure the spot you’ve chosen is on public land and you’re allowed to be there or, if it’s on private land, that you have permission. Also, if you’re asking your photographer to come and photograph you at a ticketed event, they may advise you that you’ll need to buy them a ticket, so keep that in mind too 🙂

When should we have our family portrait session?

This is less difficult to advise on because timings usually come down to a photographer’s best friend… light!

You’ll find most photographers will shy away from the middle of the day when it comes to portrait sessions, unless you’re going to be shooting somewhere where there’s plenty of shade. Harsh light is a tough one for portraits and not always very flattering! So, if you ask a photographer when… the answer is usually going to be early in the morning or later in the afternoon/evening, a few hours before sunset. 

That being said, another factor to take into account here is the age of your kids and their routines. Particularly young children may still take naps during the day and if a shoot interferes with that then the likelihood of getting happy, smiling photos greatly reduces, I find! So, if your little one has a specific routine, discuss this with your photographer and the two of you can figure out the best time to plan the shoot for with these things in mind.

What should we wear to our family portrait session?

Lots of photographers will advise you in different ways. Some may specifically advise matching colours, for example. Or to go with a smart-casual appearance. 

Honestly, for me it comes down to you feeling comfortable and great about yourselves. If you’re comfortable in what you’re wearing, that comfort and confidence is going to shine through in your photographs, and that’s much more important to me than what you’re specifically wearing! 

A few tips though – try to avoid clashing colours and big, bold prints as they can be quite distracting. And also avoid wearing anything with an obvious brand logo or slogan for the same reason. My general recommendation is to dress for the occasion! If you’re going for a walk in the park, perhaps leave the high-heels at home, you know? And for a bit of variety, think about using layers – scarves and hats, for example. 

Can we bring props?

This is a great question! And the answer is absolutely! Or, rather than “props”, what about bringing items that your kids can play with – a football, scooters or bikes, maybe? 

I tend to find starting out with whatever you’ve brought along helps kids to get comfortable in front of the camera and gives the whole family something to concentrate on until you’re used to having me there taking your photograph! 

Other ideas to occupy little ones and that make for some great photos – bubbles for blowing, stopping for ice creams, reading a book together, bringing an old camera of your own. I’ve even had one family playing with a hosepipe which was a lot of fun, even if everyone did get a bit wet!

Also, perhaps not strictly a prop but families also like to bring along pets if possible and that’s just fine too. In fact, a dog walk is always a great way to start a shoot.

Will we have to pose?

Most families want at least one or two shots with everyone looking at the camera and smiling – that’s a given. I’ll do those when it feels right, and if everyone is obliging! But, for the most part, I photograph you all interacting together because that shows you as you all actually are, which is far better than stiff, posed images if people aren’t happy doing that!

My typical method is to get you sitting or standing together in a particular spot and then we might play a game, or I’ll get one of you to tell a story, or maybe I’ll get you to do a bunch of star jumps! So be ready for a bit of activity and spending time together – after all, that’s what being a family is all about, right?

While we’re talking about posing though… I do a lot of family shoots where there are multiple generations present. There’s a lot to be said for having the generational family photograph with everyone standing together. For starters, older family members may not be able to run around or do star jumps (!) but also, photographs like that are the ones that many family members will end up printing and hanging on their walls. They tell a story all of their own and they definitely have a place of importance in a family shoot, if that’s the kind of shoot you’re wanting!

What if my little one is in a bad mood or doesn’t want to smile?

Well hey, that’s all part of it, isn’t it? 

As much as it’s lovely to get photos of everyone smiling and laughing, that isn’t what life is always about, is it? Honestly, some kids just don’t want to have their photographs taken. They might stand with a grumpy face, or cover their faces, or cry, or fold their arms and stick out their bottom lip and that’s perfectly ok. They’re people, just like you and I and no amount of cajoling is going to make things any better! 

In those instances, I try to encourage everyone else to keep interacting and not be distracted by the grumpy one in the group. My shoots are a couple of hours – I’ve yet to find a little one who can keep up a bad mood for that long and I’ll invariably get one smiley shot of them at some point. Sometimes you just have to be patient and let things happen!

So there you have it, my guide to preparing for a family portrait session. Photographs included here are from recent family sessions with the Davies Family in the woods, the Brennecke Family at the local park and the Spencer Family at a local gardens – all lovely families and all really fun shoots! 

You can book your own family portrait session with me just by hitting the button below! I can’t wait to capture your family 🙂


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