A Survival Guide for Family Portraits

You’ve heard the expression: “A picture is worth 1,000 words,” meaning it’s easier to show something in a picture than it is to describe it with words. But when it comes to family portraits, there’s a lot of secrets those beautiful family portraits don’t divulge: like how much time went in to coordinating outfits, deciding on a location, picking a time, and then hoping the weather will cooperate.

And the day of the session? There’s planning, especially if little ones are involved: making sure naps are taken, snacks are distributed, and the various necessities for a successful photo session are packed. And having older children isn’t necessarily easier: their attitudes can be as big as they are—plus, weeks before they had to carve time out of their schedules by taking off time from work, getting a haircut, and more. Not to mention showering, shaving, getting dressed and being ready on-time the day of the session. Whew.

So why bother? Well, a picture can’t adequately portray that the time and effort are worth the investment—because it may not be apparent until years later. You don’t realize how quickly life changes until it happens: a loose tooth, a growth spurt, a hairstyle change. Or more tragically, family dynamics change and a loved one gets sick or moves away. When that happens, photos become more precious than platinum. Hopefully your life won’t be touched by loss, and you can look back on these images with a fondness—laughing at the hairstyles and clothing choices. Remember pictures of your family back in the 80’s? Is big hair coming back? I hope not!

I always encourage my clients that what they get out of a session is directly related to what they put into it. In other words, if you don’t bother to iron a wrinkled shirt, coordinate your socks, or think about what to wear, your images will reflect that. And that’s a waste!

I have several “survival suggestions” for portrait sessions to make the process go smoothly:

  1. plan ahead! We always tell our kids that if something is causing you anxiety, then plan it out! That’s why every one of my clients gets a FREE style guide when they book a session with me. It’s full of things to consider… and things you maybe didn’t consider.
  2. pick a photographer that is easy to work with. This is more important than you realize. If a photographer adds to your stress or doesn’t help you feel relaxed in front of the camera, your images will reflect that.
  3. make it fun! Sure there’s some work involved, but it can be fun too! It’s a chance to spend time together, show each other how much you enjoy each other’s company.
  4. don’t bribe. Reward instead. Trust me on this one: bribing never goes well. There’s no joy in their faces, just a creepy smile that says “I’m only doing this because I have to.” You can see it in their eyes. And if they’re really little, all they'll do is whine and chase after mom, begging for [insert bribe here].  DON’T DO IT.

That’s it, friends! I promise you all the planning, coordinating… and yes, ironing, is totally worth it. I’ve never had a client regret getting their family’s portrait done. But I have had lots of people tell me they wish they’d done it more often, or better, or that they never even did them…

P.S. You don't have to have young kids to do family portraits. You can do it at any age and stage. I was in high school the first time my family had a professional family portrait done.