10 Tips for Fabulous Family Portraits

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Family portraits season is upon us so I thought it might be a good time to throw some tips your way. If you are planning a professional portrait session for your family, here are a few things to help you get the most out of the experience.

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1. Plan ahead

Don’t wait until the last minute to schedule your portrait session. September through November is the busiest time for most portrait photographers. Consider scheduling your session in August or July when you and your photographer are less stressed.  Take advantage of Daylight Savings Time.  The longer days means a larger window of available session times.

2. Consider the end at the beginning

Maybe your portrait session is to celebrate a special occasion or to document your growing family. All very good reason to schedule a session, but, what will you do with those images? Will they just live on your computer? I hope not! Consider where in your home you might like to display your images. Or perhaps an album or photo book would work better for you. Are these images primarily to be used for a Holiday card or announcement? Pre-planning with your photographer before you have your session will help her know what kinds of images will best suit your purposes.

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3. Think outside of the box

It is easy to get overwhelmed when trying to get it all together for a photo session.  That stress leads to the tendency is to resort to the easy and familiar.  However, if you followed my advice in number one and gave yourself some lead time,  you can start thinking of a few creative ideas to add to your session.  Will this be a Holiday card? How about carrying wrapped boxes or wearing ski caps in a few photos?  Are you documenting your growing family?  Maybe everyone could bring a treasured childhood stuffy?  Adding a bit of whimsy and personality to your session will set it apart and keep it fresh.

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4. Select your location

This could be an entire article all on its own.  There are many factors to consider when selecting your location. Here I will only highlight the most important.  First, your images should reflect your family’s personality.  What are your interests? How do you spend your time together?  Are you homebodies or outdoorsy? Don’t assume you have to go to a park or the beach.  Urban and architectural points of interest can make for unique portraits.   Second, think about your color pallet.  Where are you hanging this image?  How is your home decorated?  Will the whites, bright blues, and tans of a beach scene compliment your home or would the deep greens, browns, and golds of a wilderness location be a better fit?    Third, are there any legal restrictions at your location of choice?  Most private locations and many public areas, including parks and beaches,  do not permit professional photography without a special permit, which can be costly.  Be creative, but check the facts.  Your photographer will have some suggestions for you, but don’t limit yourself.

5. Consider time of day

Golden Hour.  That special hour before sunset when the light is at its glorious best.  Oh that all photo session could be scheduled for Golden Hour.  But they can’t.  Great light is important, the lower in the sky the better, but it is not the only factor to consider. When can everyone gather?  When is my child at his best?  Is there a time, or day, when my location is less crowded than at other times?  Talk to your photographer and choose a time that will have as many positives as possible for all concerned.

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6. Coordinate clothing

Gone are the days of the matchy-matchy family portrait, or at least they should be gone.  Your goal here is to coordinate while still maintaining individuality.  When choosing your color pallet consider the decor in your home as well as your location.  A simple rule of thumb, choose one main color and one accent color, then supplement with either warm or cool toned neutrals.  Not everyone has to wear every color.  Let everyone add an accessory that fits their personality, a hat, vest, accent jewelry.  Mix it up.  One final clothing thought, think about your shoes and those of everyone in the photos.  Make sure the style and color blends well with your other choices.  Nothing can ruin a nicely coordinated group than the lone pair of huge white and orange athletic shoes!

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7. Come prepared

Imagine all the contingencies. Consider your hair and the weather.  Will you need hairpins?  A comb? Hairspray?  What about a snack for the kids?  Water?  Hand Wipes?  A favorite toy or blanket for the little one?  A change of pants for the toddler?  Make sure everyone’s nails are clean and clothes are wrinkle free.  Is the photographer’s number in your cell phone?  Have you printed out a make to the location?  The more prepared you are before the session, the smoother it will all go.

8. Listen to your photographer

Your photographer is a professional.  They have the experience necessary to make sure you will look your best.  Listen to your photographer’s directions on posing, interacting, and connecting with the camera and with your family, and take the lead in encouraging everyone else’s cooperation.  You and your photographer are a team.  Help them help you create beautiful portraits.

9. Make it an event

Take the day off!  Spend the day getting the last minute details ready.  Relax!   Get your nails done. Make this a special and important event for everyone.  With the exception of possibly holiday photos, most families only have a formal family portrait session every 3 to 5 years. Even if you have one done yearly, making it a happily anticipated family event rather than a dreaded intrusion into your busy schedule will create not only better photos, but also better memories.  When the session is all over, celebrate!   Take everyone out for a special meal.

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10. Follow through

You went to all that work to coordinate schedules, find the perfect location, purchase just the right outfits, and plan a few fun and whimsical touches, don’t leave all those beautiful images hidden on the internet or on your harddrive.  Too often we have great plans and projects that never get completed (remember number 2?)  Before your photo session even takes place, schedule your design meeting with your photographer.    Your photographer is an artist and well prepared to help you in selecting artwork to compliment your home and enrich your life.  Take advantage of her experience and artistic eye.

What are your tips for a great family portrait session?

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