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How to have a family photoshoot without having a nervous breakdown

:::Overheard during my family photo sessions:::

“Are everyone’s kids this crazy or is it just mine?!”

“Why cant they just be normal for an hour?”

“Did you even manage to get ANY photos of us looking normal?”

“My husband didn’t want to do this, can you tell?”

“You really are so patient!”


I have been photographing families for 12 years, so I have heard these questions/statements a LOT. And i’ve seen the same thing happen with almost every session. The kids take a while to settle in to this new concept, find their feet & understand the boundaries. Meanwhile the mum stresses because inevitably she’s the one who booked the session and the dad checks his phone, tries not to look grumpy & counts down the minutes until it’s over.

So, I decided it was time for me to write a quick guide to help you before & during your photo session with me or with whichever family photographer you may choose to hire!

1.  Remember why we are doing this

Before you get carried away on a wave of stress about your clothes, your hair,  the scratch on your face or how much you weigh, take a moment and remember why you decided to have a photo session in the first place. You wanted to capture a moment in time. You wanted to remember your family as you are right now. Because you know how kids seem to grow up at lightning speed & we haven’t managed to invent a backwards button. Your photo session is a kid of time capsule, a glimpse into what life is like in your family right now. So lets make your session all about that – your family’s favourite song, a big bundle on the blanket with lots of tickling, running races, a family dance-off, who can jump the highest…

2. Plan for what matters most

We are working against the clock with kids. They inevitably start to get worn out and are reaching their limit by about 45-50 mins in. We really want to maximise the time we have, so i strongly advise against changing clothes & staging too many images. We will have a list of few  ‘must-have’ poses e.g., (the whole family together, individual sibling poses, group photo of all the siblings) and then we get to be creative & spontaneous. Props are definitely encouraged but only if they are going to add fun, nothing that is going to make them roll their eyes or be miserable!

3.  Timing

If our photo session is scheduled for 9:30am, tell yourself (and most importantly, your family) that it starts at 9:00am. You need to allow time for the inevitable pee stop along the way, or maybe someone forgot something at home, plus this way you will have time to find parking and find the session spot without having to worry about being late. And that in itself can set the tone for the whole session

4. There’s no such thing as kids being ‘normal’ at a photo session

Whenever we have guests coming over who have never met us before, i always say to my family “can we please just be normal this time?”. But after all this time, i now say it as a kind of joke. Because i know that they are just being them – loud, quirky, just ever so slightly bonkers & utterly hilarious.

I have been in the photography business since 2007 and so i promise i am not lying when i say I’ve seen everything. I have seen tantrums & meltdowns and everyone in between. The worst thing you can ever do is to threaten or scold a kid for not behaving during the session. Your job is to stay calm & have fun & let me handle everything else. I have NEVER walked away form a photo session without capturing heaps of great images – you just don’t see it happening between all the other things going on!

5. Plan clothing in advance

This one really catches people off guard. They forget to check that the clothes are clean/fit properly/ have been ironed. They forgot to look at the outfits as a whole and see if the colors all look good together (remember, these photos will hopefully go up on the walls of your house & you will be looking at them for years to come)

If the weather is at all unpredictable, remember to bring an extra layer in case the kids get cold. And if you’re planning on a beach session, bring  change of clothing as they always end up in the sea by the end of the session.

I made this Pinterest Board a while back to help my clients coordinate their outfits – take a look!

6. Sleep + Snacks

I used to think this one was obvious but it really isn’t – it’s one of those things you wish you had thought of before. Make sure your kids have slept well the night before and have had something to eat & drink before the session starts. It’s also a good idea to bring with something for them to eat during the session if they get hungry (NB: needs to be something that won’t make a mess on their skin and clothes)

And lastly, pay attention to little kids’ sleep schedules when picking a time for your session – you don’t want to find yourself in the middle of a photo session with a kid who needs to go to sleep. That aint pretty!

7. Don’t scare the kids!

If you approach the photo session  with a positive attitude it will make such a massive difference. When you give them a pep talk before the session. instead of saying “you’d better behave yourselves or else i’ll be taking away your iPad for the rest pf the week”, tell the kids that we are going to have a photo adventure. Tell them my name & tell them all about the fun running races, games & competitions we are going to have (obviously for teens, this doesn’t work. They are a whole separate blog post in themselves)

8. Treats (aka bribes)

I bring with treats for the end of the photo session and you should df bring something with too. It gives them something to aim for when they are really getting tired and we need to keep them going for a few more minutes. Plus the fact that they really deserve a treat at the end for being so awesome!

9. Turn it into a family trip

Depending on your schedule, its always nice to make a bit of a trip out of your session. Plan to stay on afterwards and go out for milkshakes/ice cream/something that the kids enjoy. Bring something with for them to play with during and after the session like a football or frisbee.

10. Relax & trust me

And lastly, I know this is hard, but I really want you to relax and trust that I know what i’m doing. It may seem like noisy chaos to you, but just know that i am busy behind my camera, watching and waiting for those magic moments and expressions. You’ve done all the planning & prep and now its time to leave it to me and immerse yourself in the moment because you’ve waited so long for this.

There will be moments where she isn’t listening and is busy running in the direction and he doesn’t want to hold her hand. He will decide he’s cross with daddy about something and now he’s not coming in the family photo. I have seen it all before and it doesn’t phase me. No kid stays cross for an hour, they will always engage & be expressive.

And it’s these in between, beautiful moments that you didn’t even see, that you will love the most.

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