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10 Essential Dos and Don'ts for Family Portrait Photography

By: Christopher Todd

Award-winning Orange County photographer specializing in people with 20+ years of experience

10 Essential Dos and Don'ts for Family Portrait Photography

By: Christopher Todd

Award-winning Orange County photographer specializing in people with 20+ years of experience

In this article, you will find dos and don'ts along with our best family photography tips to achieve a successful portrait session.  

Family Photography Dos and Don'ts For A Successful Photo Session

There is a good reason why moms are willing to go the extra mile to get great family photos. It's one of the best ways to preserve childhood memories and capture special moments in time.

Is it worth getting the family together all dressed nicely, choosing the perfect location, for the perfect photo session, arriving on time, and telling your kids and husband it is going to be fun? YES! It is 100 % worth it.

I am a dad of 2 teenage boys and my wife and I know the challenges of getting our boys to smile and cooperate for photos. But I am also a family photographer and I know it is possible to achieve a successful family photo shoot, get great photos, and have fun.

It might seem like a daunting task to plan family portraits. I get it. That is why I want to share with you my 10 essential dos and don'ts for family photography so you can have a successful photo session. I hope you find these tips that I have accumulated over the many years of photographing families helpful. 

Whether you have toddlers who are on the move or cranky teenagers like mine, I will help you learn how to prepare for your family photoshoot. Family photos are a beautiful keepsake that can be treasured for years to come. Learn about Christopher Todd Studios' family portrait photography.

Table of contents
    family portrait in park with wildflowers
    family portrait in park with wildflowers

    1. Plan in advance

    One of the first things you should do when preparing for a family photo session is to plan ahead. Consider what you need the photos for, whether it's holiday cards, prints for your home, or gifts for loved ones. This will help guide your decisions on location, outfits, and overall style.

    Plan the location, outfits, and timing of the photoshoot to ensure everyone is prepared and in a good mood. Don't wait until the last minute: Avoid waiting until the last minute to schedule your photoshoot, as it can lead to stress and rushing. 

    Pro tip: Don't wait to schedule your session for the right moment. Waiting for the right time, getting braces off, waiting to lose 10 pounds, waiting for a tooth to fall out, whatever it might be, before you know it 6 months will have passed by.

    The one thing you can't get back is time. Kids will change in the blink of an eye. So don't wait, get those family portraits taken. When you look back on those photos you will see how precious those moments were and how you did a great job capturing them. 

    family with earth tone color scheme posing for family portraits with tree in background
    family with earth tone color scheme posing for family portraits with tree in background

    2. Choose a suitable location

    The location of your family photo session can greatly impact the overall feel and look of the photos. Consider whether you want a casual or formal look, as well as what season you prefer. Outdoor locations can provide beautiful natural lighting and backdrops, while indoor locations can offer a more intimate and controlled setting. Choose a location that reflects your family's personality and style. Think about your style and what type of portrait will look nice hanging in your home. 

    Once you have decided on a location your next step will be to start planning outfits. A great place to start is to think about the natural environment you will be photographing in. What colors will you be surrounded by? This will help pick a color scheme which we go into detail about here. 

    Dad embracing young daughters on the beach
    Dad embracing young daughters on the beach

    3. Plan outfits ahead

    While you don't have to match exactly, in fact, please don't do this, however, it is important to coordinate outfits. This will create a cohesive and polished look in your family photos.

    Choose outfits based on a color palette  Stick to a color palette or theme that complements each other without being too matchy-match. For example, you could choose a neutral color scheme with pops of color or stick to complementary colors.  Wear outfits that complement each other rather than matching outfits. You don't want to detract from the individual personalities in the photos and look too staged. Don't wear busy patterns or logos that may distract from the focus of the photo, which is your family.

    This is a great opportunity to offer family members choices and get them involved in what they will wear. When kids and adults come to the session feeling comfortable and confident in their outfit choices they will be happy and this will reflect in the photos. Especially teenagers, don't have them wear something they hate. 

    Compromise on outfits to ensure everyone is happy. But be sure to follow certain tips and guidelines when choosing an outfit. For example, don't have your teen show up in athletic shoes. 

    I can tell you from over 20 years of photographing families in California that what families wear plays a huge role in the outcome of their portraits.Take a peek at this comprehensive guide on Choosing and Coordinating Colors for Family Photos. 

    family portrait of shoulders and below
    family portrait of shoulders and below

    4. Don't stress about imperfections 

    Firstly, keep in mind that no family is perfect, and that's okay! The goal of family photos is to capture the love and connection shared between family members, not to create a perfect image. Rather create an image that is meaningful and captures the essence of your unique family. 

    Remember that the goal is to document genuine moments and create lasting memories, so embrace imperfections and enjoy the process.

    When it comes to family photos, many of us strive for perfection. We want everyone to look their best, with perfect smiles and flawless outfits.

    However, it's important to remember that imperfections are what make our families unique and beautiful. So, instead of stressing about them, embrace the charm and character they bring to your photographs.

    Playful young family in photo studio with grey backdrop.
    Playful young family in photo studio with grey backdrop.

    5. Make sure everyone is well rested

    When it comes to capturing beautiful family photos, ensuring that everyone is well-rested is crucial.

    This tip becomes even more important when younger kids and teenagers are involved. Lack of sleep can often lead to crankiness or lack of cooperation, making it challenging to capture those genuine smiles and joyful moments.

    Avoid over-scheduling activities on the day of your photo shoot. Keep the day open and the photos your main priority for the day. I like to block schedule my calendar this helps with making sure there is plenty of time on the schedule.

    From years of experience I know when families come to their session from another event or activity such as a soccer game, birthday party, or sleepover, the kids are not relaxed, parents or more stressed out, and the overall vibe is more tense.

    Rather, than scheduling activities before or after your session keep the schedule light. Maybe have a relaxing meal at home beforehand or some downtime before the session. 

    outdoor family photo young girl wearing light purple dress and little boy wearing blue sweater
    outdoor family photo young girl wearing light purple dress and little boy wearing blue sweater

    6. Don't come hungry to the photoshoot

    Hangry kids and spouses are never ideal for a photo shoot. Keep that blood sugar well regulated so it doesn't dip to low causing what we all know to be a hangry episode. This goes for moms as well. 

    It is ok to bring snacks for kids under 5 but avoid giving them till the session is over. I get it though, sometimes it's unavoidable for toddlers who we all know have a mind of their own. Keep the snacks limited and mess-free. Try to keep snacks hidden and controlled. Keep food in small quantities or hand it out to kids.

    Easy snacks to bring:

    • Fruit snacks
    • Goldfish
    • Apple slices
    • Beef jerky
    • Dried fruit

    Avoid messy snacks:

    • Hard candy or lollypops. These take too long for kids to eat interfering with taking photos.
    • Strawberries, blueberries, or other juicy fruits. Could stain the outfit and make a mess. 
    • Gum 

    Bring a spare water bottle and keep it on hand. But don't let the kids over-drink. Since photo sessions are typically around 45 minutes in length,  family members should be able to go without a potty break.

    I bring up water because my son is always thirsty when I need him to cooperate. I bring a water bottle for those moments when he wants to find a drinking fountain. Maybe it's a stall tactic, whatever it may be I'm ready and prepared.  

    best irvine family photos
    best irvine family photos

    7. Arrive early to your session

    Be sure to arrive early, especially if your child needs to acclimate to their surroundings. You be the judge on this one. If a playground is too tempting and results in tantrums stay clear of that area. Offer some time to play after the shoot is over.

    Know where you are going and how easy or difficult parking will be. Nothing says a family outing like mom and dad arguing over where to park, or better yet can't find a parking space and now you are running late. 

    If teens are involved be sure to give them plenty of time to get ready. They tend to move slowly and on their own time. Let them know ahead when they need to be dressed and ready to go. Unfortunately, they might need a few reminders. 

    Sunset family photo of mom and dad and ten children posing on the beach for photoshoot
    Sunset family photo of mom and dad and ten children posing on the beach for photoshoot

    8. Plan a surprise treat for after the photo session

    Let the family know you have something special in mind after the photos are taken. This can be as simple as getting an ice cream, bringing the kid's favorite candy, or grabbing a hamburger at In N Out.

    Maybe it's just some extra time set aside to go to the playground. Base it on your family and what works for them. 

    If you decide to bring a treat be sure to give it to them after the session is over. 

    Letting them know you have planned a surprise treat for after the photos is a great way to extend the family time in a fun way. This helps make taking photos fun and memorable. 

    young girl and boy playing in park
    young girl and boy playing in park

    9. Don't worry about kids cooperating

    Anticipating whether your children will cooperate with the photos can be one of the biggest stressors for parents.

    Most likely they won't fully cooperate, but a good photographer will be patient and get what they need regardless.

    I've seen it all. Kids can be unpredictable so if you come to the photo shoot telling yourself to expect the unexpected you will find it easier to deal with a meltdown or whatever other surprise your child throws at you.

    A good photographer with plenty of experience will be able to get the perfect shot, even if it takes a bit longer than expected.

    I always come to my photo sessions with a relaxed and calm vibe and I bring lots of patience. It's my job to get your kids to cooperate. I do this through years of experience. Take a look at these funny family portraits. 

    large family portrait at beach
    large family portrait at beach

    10. Be open to suggestions

    This means you should trust your photographer. Hopefully, you hired the right photographer for your family. I encourage you to be a full participant in the photo session and let the photographer lead and guide you and your family.

    Have confidence in them. Allow them to lead the session. Expect your photographer to try different techniques during your photo shoot.

    When small children are involved I like to Get down to their level: Take photos from different angles and perspectives, including getting down to the children's level to capture their point of view.

    In addition, I like to try a variety of poses, including group hugs, holding hands, and playing games to get natural, candid shots. It might feel awkward but these prompts help create great photos with natural laughs and expressions. Here are 5 prompts for "candid" poses that will look nice. 

    Pro tip: Forcing smiles can result in unnatural and awkward-looking photos. Instead, we will encourage your family members to genuinely smile by engaging in activities or conversations that bring out their natural happiness. A genuine smile will always look better than a forced one.

    Bonus tips for families with young children

    As a parent, I know that every stage comes with its own obstacles based on age. Here are my bonus tips for planning family portraits with toddlers and young children.

    • Bring a backup outfit, just in case there is an oh sh*t moment. 
    • Don't let kids nap in the car unless they can have a full nap. This will help avoid a cranky child. If a nap is unavoidable, be sure to give them 15-20 minutes to be awake at the location before the photo session begins.
    • Let them know you have a special day planned, and that the family will be dressing nice, and meeting a photographer/friend. Be sure not to overwhelm them with too much information. Keep it simple. 
    young family with boy and girl posing on the beach for portrait

    Bonus tips for families with teens 

    • Give plenty of reminders leading up to the photo day. Teens like to forget when it comes to family obligations.
    • Let them know your expectations, but don't put pressure on them. Keep it fun and easygoing.
    • Be sure they like their outfit and that they have tried it on a few times a couple of days before.
    • Inform them of the small details, place, how long it will take when you will be leaving the house, and if there is a small activity or treat after.
    • Give them a small task to do during the shoot. This will help get them engaged. I like to ask teens to take behind-the-scenes videos with their phones. 
    Huntington-beach-photography-spot
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    FAQ

    Some of our most frequently asked questions from our families?

    Have more questions? Get in touch with us to start planning your family portrait today.

    Meet Your Family Photographer

    Call Me Chris

    I won't bore you with too many details, but I will say that I consider myself to be the luckiest guy in the world and I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity to merge my passion and career.

    A couple of quick things about me personally. I was born and raised in Orange County. I currently live with my family near Huntington Beach where I love to surf or be in the ocean with my boys.

    My passions include art, traveling, and of course photography.

    Male photographer holding camera.

    Meet Your Family Photographer

    Male photographer holding camera.

    Call Me Chris

    I won't bore you with too many details, but I will say that I consider myself to be the luckiest guy in the world and I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity to merge my passion and career.

    A couple of quick things about me personally. I was born and raised in Orange County. I currently live with my family near Huntington Beach where I love to surf or be in the ocean with my boys.

    My passions include art, traveling, and of course photography.

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