A family photo can be a great experience for everyone that results in memories and prints that will become family heirlooms OR it can end in tears, yelling, mediocre photos, and utter disappointment. Choosing a good photographer is a step in the right direction towards achieving the former, but here are some additional things you can do to make sure everything turns out the way you want.
1. Talk To Your Photographer
This is by far the most important advice I can give to help you prepare for a family photo shoot. If you have any expectations for how you want the shoot to go or how you want the photos to look, then let your photographer know your expectations! A good photographer will take the time to talk to you about what you want to get out of the portrait session and also what you can expect from them during the shoot. These rest of the tips in this article won't mean anything if you aren't on the same page as your photographer.
I talk to my clients at least a week before the shoot because I want to know more about them and what they are looking for from their family photo session. Is your family looking for more serious, formally posed, portrait? Maybe you want one posed portrait but then want a more laid back and fun atmosphere to come through in the remaining photos. Are these photos for your Christmas card? Even if you are taking them in the middle of May, there are things that you and your photographer can do to make them more "holiday looking." Did you have a certain style or feel in mind for your family photo? Perhaps you want a more rural county feel? Your photographer may know the perfect location for that, but you would never know if you don't communicate that to them. Talk to your photographer ahead of time and you will get what you want, your photographer's job will be easier, everyone will have more fun, and the photos will be all the better because of it.
2. Know Your Goal
The first thing I ask any of my clients is, "what is your objective for this photo session?" This one kind of goes with tip number 1. Before you talk to your photographer, you have to know what you want. your goal can take many forms. It can be a goal for the content of the family photo. You can plan what print products you ultimately want on your walls. Your goal can even just be to have a fun and enjoyable experience with your family. Do you want to document your children at this age? Do you want to memorialize a milestone reached by one of your family members? Do you want a bunch of fun shots to share on Facebook? Do you want a large framed or canvas portrait for a specific wall that has been empty since you moved in? Your answer may be one or more of these or something completely different. There is no wrong answer, but it is important that you know that ahead of time and communicate that to your photographer.
I would recommend making a short list of any thoughts you have about the shoot, narrowing it down to the important ones, and then discussing them with photographer. This can help you organize your thoughts and make it easier to discuss them. It can also help you realize which goals are important and also whether any of the things you had in mind tend to conflict with each other. You can put as much or as little time into this part of the planning phase as you think you need, but having some type of goal or goals in mind will typically make the session more productive and result in your family photo being more representative of your family's style and personality.
Simple, classic style clothes help create family photos that will look good for many years to come
3. Dress For Success
One of the most common questions I always get is, "What should we wear?" Well, like a lot of other questions, the answer is, "it depends." You have to think about the weather, the location, the overall feel of the photos, and of course making sure they all go together.
First things first...dress for the weather. Unless you want to try and make a November day on the beach look like a summer vacation, make sure you are comfortable. Comfortable people tend to look better in photos. This goes doubly for children. Now while I try not to do outdoor shoots when it's freezing out, sometimes it can be a little colder than expected in the spring and fall and sometimes it can be downright brutally hot in the summer. So do a little planning ahead, know the weather, and start your wardrobe planning from there.
Next, where is it you'll be shooting and what kind of look will you be going for? Jeans and flannel on the beach look weird...as do bathing suits and tank tops in the woods. That is why I put location and "look" together...because they go together. The location and the clothes should also match the overall theme or feel you want for the photos. The last consideration is the color and styles of the clothes themselves. While of course this should reflect your personal style and your goals for the shoot, there are some basic guidelines that can be helpful. Solid colors always look better in a photo. I love a crazy Hawaiian shirt as much as the next guy, but when you hang your family portrait on the wall, do you want the center of attention to someone's shirt or your family members? I also suggest avoiding "trendy" styles in favor of a more classic look. No one wants to cringe every time they pass their family photo on the wall because of an outdated style. Finally, give some consideration to the location as far as colors as well. You want colors that stand out from the location. In other words, avoid green clothes in a park or beige clothes on the beach. You want the people to be the focus of the photo, not sink into the background.
4. Bring Some Props
I don't bring props to a family's photo shoot. Why? Because I would be doing a disservice to my clients if all their photos had the same standard props. I do, however, encourage my clients to bring their own props. But I don't want them to bring just anything. I want their photos to be meaningful to them. Everyone has seen the empty picture frame photo. If you like that, awesome, let's do it, but how would you feel if I kept an empty picture frame in my trunk and every single family I photographed used that same frame?
Find some things that have significance or meaning to you. Perhaps you are taking photos to commemorate the coming addition of a new family member! You could have one of your kids holding his own baby shoes and wearing a "future big brother" t-shirt or you could use a toy you already have ready for the new baby. Perhaps one of your children loves Captain America. Let him or her bring his star-spangled shield and pose like a superhero! That will keep them involved in the shoot and will, without a doubt, be their favorite photo! The possibilities are endless when it comes to your family's personality and certainly better than whatever I could fit in my trunk.
5. Relax and Have Fun
I know I said Number 1 was the most important, but when it comes time for the shoot to actually happen, this is the most important. Of course I want to get some of the more formal posed shots with everyone looking at the camera, but the best photos (especially when it comes to younger children) tend to come when they are allowed to play and have fun. It also tends to keep them more interested in the posed shots as well!