How to Prepare for a Family Photoshoot

Dreading the photoshoot

I know even starting to think about preparing for a family photoshoot can be daunting. As a photographer specializing in kids and families, you would think it’s easy for me to get my own family ready for a session. That would be false. I have very few family photos that were prepared for and staged correctly, because I can’t get excited about the prep work.

Last year I had big plans for our family photo for our Christmas card. I had the location, I knew the time we had to be there, and I knew the poses.  What I thought I knew, but didn’t, was what everyone was going to wear. My daughters both claimed they had red dresses they could wear, and I went with that. My husband is always in blue, so that’s easy. And then I picked some neutrals for myself.  Flash forward to minutes before we had to leave in time to make it for the sunset, and I see how ridiculous the red dress looks on my almost 11 year old. How did her legs get so long? Why is that dress so short? Why do they make a dress that fits (sort of) an 11 year old but looks like it’s meant for a 5 year old?  Too late to change, I was forced out the door and would figure it out later. Sound familiar?  Sounds dreadful. And that is why a bunch of us never make time for photography sessions. Too much work to get there.

(I cropped her to help minimize the absurdity of the short dress!)


What to wear for the photoshoot

With a little bit of forethought, you can take the headache out of the photoshoot.

First of all, talk to your photographer about locations. Depending on your backdrop, you should pick colors accordingly. On the beach I would recommend bright pastel colors because of the muted sand and water colors.  Although I’m not a huge fan, having everyone in jeans with white tops looks good on the beach as well. Neutrals with a pop of color that transpires through most of the family looks great too. Woodsy backdrops would be best with solids and small patterns, and earthy tones.

For all family sessions, let the children take the lead. They are the main players in any photograph anyway, so why not let them standout? If anyone is going to have a pattern or a bright color, let it be the children. Choose their outfits first, and work the parents clothes around them. As we get to the older children, say, teenaged boys, this no longer applies. If you make them the center of the photograph they will hate it even more than before! For teens, let them be comfortable. The more pressure you put on their clothing, and the more uncomfortable they feel, the more it will show in the photos.

Regardless of what you wear, just get yourselves in front of the camera! Especially you moms….don’t make my mistake and take photos of your kids all the time and never get into a photo yourself. What will everyone look back on and reminisce? You need to be in there. So at least once a year, make it a priority. You’ll thank me later. 🙂


Family photo shoot Del Mar Beachbeach photos in La Jollawhat to wear for the photoshootsweet hugging family with little girlswhat to wear for the photoshoot
When to schedule your photoshoot

If you have little kids, timing is everything. If you’re a photographer, timing is everything. Herein lies the problem.

For the kiddos, you need to work around nap times, crabby times (witching hour), and dinner time. For the older kids, we need to consider the endless after school-into evening events they participate in all year long!

From the photography aspect, we must work with the times that offer the best lighting, this is especially true if we’re talking about a beach session. So this means early in the morning, as close to sunrise as possible, but definitely before 9am. And in the evening there is a magic “golden hour” and that is when I try to schedule all my photoshoots. In the winter, the sun sets at an unreasonable 4pm! So that means “evening” shoots start in the 3 o’clock hour. Great for little kids, sometimes not so convenient for moms and dads that work. In the summer the opposite is true. Sunset can be as late as 8pm, which makes it tough for the younger crowd who is used to bedtime at 7pm.

We can usually figure out a time that works for everyone though. With some careful planning ahead, with naps, snacks, and various tricks I have to entertain, we can keep the littlest clients awake and smiling. And sometimes we can even convince those teenagers to get dressed and out of the house before 8am.

The other thing to consider is your hair! Don’t cut your (or anyone else’s) hair the day before a photoshoot. There is something a little obvious about a fresh cut. If you time it right, a haircut about a week or two before the photoshoot is best. Buzz cuts and tight crops will have time to mature a bit. New lengths and layers will have been given the time to figure out how to style. And no one will be constantly messing with a do they are unsure about.

Just do it

When you’ve read all the recommendations, and done your best to follow directions, throw it all out the window if you can’t conform and JUST DO IT!! I can’t stress this enough. Get those family photos! I wouldn’t care if you don’t match. If your daughter wears a Sleeping Beauty dress. If your son got a haircut the morning of. If the sun is shining down on us because high noon was the only free time you had. Just do it. Get those photos. You won’t regret it. Well, maybe immediately following the photos you will, but one day, I promise, you’ll be so happy you have them!

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