Tips For A Successful Family Photography Session

Tips for a successful family photography session

I have yet to meet parents who do not love the idea of having family photos. As your babies get older, having beautiful portraits to look back on is a gift. Family photos are one of the only ways to preserve time and your future self will surely love to look back at the memories. However, while everyone has good intentions, in reality, there are several barriers to actually getting them done. One of which is the thought of going through all of the efforts for family photos, only for them not to turn out.

After a decade in the industry, I can tell you that the most important part of family photos is the preparation. There are many variables to consider including location, wardrobe, moods, hunger, and weather to name just a few. A lot of our time will be spent trying to minimize these variables for a successful family photography session.

Location Scouting

My first tip for a successful family photography session is to pick a great location. When planning our session, I often begin with the location. For me, a great location offers an element of privacy, is easy to get to, and has a great view. Luckily, living near Banff National Park provides endless beautiful locations.

I often work with families who are visiting the area for the first time. For this reason, I do all of the location scouting for us and will let you know where to meet me. In general, we will do our family photo session in a field, near a lake, or anywhere with a beautiful mountain view. Depending on your family’s personality, I will pick a location that suits you best and offers the best lighting for our session time.

Time Of Day

In an ideal world, all photo sessions would take place during golden hour on a beautiful sunny evening. But as much as I wish it were true, this is not always possible. Especially when working with families with young children. I share my time between Golden BC and Banff National Park, both of which are far enough North that the summer sunrise and sunset times are extreme.

This leads me to my second tip for a successful family photography session: to find a balance between the best light and toddler nap schedules. What this means is that if it is too late for your family to stay up until sunset we can find a location with more shade. Or maybe we push the kid’s naps until later in the day so they can stay up. We will make a plan that works for your family and still captures great light. Rest assured that when you work with me, you will not be left alone to figure all of this out. Included with your booking is location scouting and scheduling assistance.

Wardrobe Coordination

The next variable we plan for is wardrobe. This is by far my most asked question and where we will spend most of our time preparing. Most families put lots of thought into their wardrobe because it adds personality and interest to their photos. Having great outfits makes your photos great. Luckily, I love to help with this part of the process. Included with your booking are guides that walk you through how to coordinate outfits for best results. I have also been known to hop on a video call to go through your closet together!

Some general outfit advice is to pick 2 to 3 colours and try to coordinate everyone’s outfits within them. Do opt for different textures and accessories, don’t go for distracting patterns or logos. For more details, you can grab my free what-to-wear guide here.

Warm clothes

One of my favourite tips for a successful family photography session is to make sure everyone dresses warm enough. I think that we can all agree that we are more happy and comfortable when we are warm enough. There are a couple of different ways we can achieve this. The first is to add a sweater or dressy jacket to your outfit. Or, you can bring a blanket to keep warm between photos or wrap everyone up. Overall though, my preferred way to keep warm is to wear thin wool base layers under your outfit.

Relaxed Atmosphere

Once it is finally time for your family photography session, it is important to create an atmosphere that allows everyone to relax. My number one tip for a successful family photography session is to create a space where everyone feels comfortable enough to be themselves. When everyone feels calm, we have a much better chance to create candid and natural photos. When we keep the kids engaged, they are more likely to have fun and smile for real. The goal is to document your family just as they are, so let’s set everyone up for success by keeping it cool.

Props + Activities

Speaking of blankets, while they are good for warmth, they also make a great prop. Sometimes having something to do or a prop to interact with helps you to relax. Consider bringing a blanket, toy, photo, guitar, or any other important item to your photo session. Having something to focus on encourages everyone to have fun together, which results in more naturally candid moments to photograph.

Let everyone be themselves

Occasionally during photo sessions, parents or partners will keep reminding family members to “smile” or “behave”. There is nothing that halts the flow of a session more than a parent standing behind me, forcing their kid to smile nicely. I completely understand how a parent might want their kid to be smiling, but making them do it is going to give a much different result. My approach is to play engaging games with them so that their smiles come out naturally.

The same thing goes for other adults or spouses, just let them be themselves. Love them for who they are during our photo session. These are the real-life things you are going to want to look back on.

Keep The Kids Engaged

So how do we keep the kids engaged and encourage those real smiles? Well, it is very simple: we do kid things. A successful family photography session will include games, songs, running around, exploring, etc. In general, I will guide you through more dynamic prompts during the first part of our session to let the nervous energy out. Then once everyone is feeling calmer, we will work on more cuddly, quiet moments to photograph.

Keep it Candid

My superpower is the ability to feel your energies. I am really good at getting a sense of what your family’s vibe is and guiding you through prompts that suit you best. During our session, you can expect me to give gentle direction as needed. There are also times when I will take a step back to let your personality shine through. A successful family photography session is a balance of me guiding you into candid moments, as well as letting them arise naturally.

Snacks + Bribery

First of all, everyone performs better when they are full. Please make sure that everyone has had a meal before our photo session. From there, it is a good idea to bring a few snacks. Occasionally during a session, we need to reset the mood, and stopping for a snack is a great way to do that. Sometimes having a break and something to eat improves everyone’s mood and we get great photo results afterward.

I am also not above bribery, within reason. My theory is that it is better to engage with each other as much as possible, and then pull out bribes as a last resort. With kids, if we start the session with bribes, we won’t be able to get away from them. For best results, we will play games and have fun… and maybe use the odd bribe near the end of the session when needed.

Great snacks to bring are anything that is not messy, like a granola bar or apples. Great treats for kids include goldfish, puffs, or small candies.

Embrace Imperfection

Finally, one of my favourite tips for parents is to let go of perfection. Life with kids is certainly not perfect. In fact, it is a little chaotic but generally full of love. For me, a successful family photography session will embrace that. If we reframe our thinking and worry more about connecting rather than perfect smiles, the result will be more genuine, heartfelt images.

If you love the idea of naturally candid family photos, I would love to work with you. This part of your life is beautiful just the way it is and I guarantee that you will cherish these images for the rest of your life.

Hey, I’m Jena

LIFESTYLE FAMILY + WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER BASED IN GOLDEN BC AND SERVING BANFF NATIONAL PARK, CALGARY AREAS + TRAVEL

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