Family photo sessions can be a lot of fun but for many they are a stressful event that take a lot of time and effort to plan and execute. Finding the right photographer, location, clothing and keeping everyone happy while trying to stay on budget is a lot to take on and sometimes the end result isn’t what you hoped for. So I’ve compiled a handy guide to help take some of the stress out of what should be a fun day with your family resulting in some fabulous images you’ll cherish forever.
Choosing a photographer is your first and most important step. Everything else can be perfect but if you don’t have the right person behind the lens the shoot may not go as you hoped. Trust is a major part of the client-photographer relationship. If you don’t trust your photographer you won’t be able to relax during the shoot and your photos won’t look or feel natural. The first step to finding the best photographer for you is to ask your friends and family. A referral provides much more information than just googling, you can find out how the photographer worked on the shoot, their personality and see the end result images.
If you don’t have anyone to give you a recommendation then you can take to Google. Check out a bunch of different websites, not just the top spots in the google search. Many cities also have blogs or online guides that can help you narrow down your search.
Style is the most important aspect of a photographer you want to be looking for when visiting websites. Style can be any number of things, the angles the images are taken from, how bright or dark they appear, how vibrant the colours are and how posed or natural the people in the photos look. If you look a someone’s portfolio and the style of the images isn’t to your taste don’t book with them. A photographer isn’t going to change their style to suit the needs of one client. You should choose someone who’s images resonate with you from the start. If you want bright, vibrant images with lots of natural looking shots of your family don’t choose the photographer whose images are all black and white shots of families looking very formal.
Once you’ve narrowed your choices contact the photographer you’re most interested in to have a chat. All photographers should be willing to do a consultation if you’d like it. You can meet over coffee or on the phone and discuss what you’re hoping for in your shoot and discuss how they like to run their shoots. This will give you a good sense of their personality. It’s important that you and your family feel comfortable with your photographer so if you don’t feel that way after your consultation consider moving on to your next choice.
Where should you have your photos taken? Back in the early days of photography, a studio was often your only choice. But with today’s technology, the options are pretty well unlimited. Some photographers still shoot in studios while others offer on-location shoots. Both options have their pros and cons.
Studio shoots can be great for a few reasons. They’re private, only your family and the photographer and perhaps an assistant will be present. If you’re at all self-conscious about your photo being taken a studio shoot will ensure a more comfortable experience with no onlookers. The lighting is also completely controllable, the photographer won’t have to work around lighting present in the location because everything is set up by them. This means every shot will come out looking great because there’s no adjusting for changing lighting conditions.
However, studio shoots do have their limitations. Although, full disclosure, I myself am an exclusively on-location, natural light portrait photographer so I may have my biases on this topic. I find studio shoots produce less natural photos. Many studios are set up in a very blank canvas kind of way with simple white, black or neutral backdrops and plain furniture making the studio environment feel a little sterile. Of course there are plenty of photographers who have comfier, warmer feeling studios but even so in my experience with shooting in a studio the lighting and unfamiliar environment tend to make subject feel a little more formal. If that’s the feeling you’d like in your photos then that’s great, you’ll definitely want to look for a studio photographer
On-location shoots are for the more adventurous who aren’t afraid of the day maybe not going exactly as planned. I like the unknown of an on-location shoot as it sometimes provides happy accidents that can make for great candid photos. Often I’ll ask clients to suggest some of their favourite places they like to go as a family. Perhaps a local park, hiking trail or historical interest site. It makes the client comfortable to be in a familiar environment and gives the kids a chance to run around and be themselves. I like to capture the family interacting with each other as much as those smiling into the camera posed shots and on-location shoots allow for this kind of interaction to happen more often. However, on-location shoots do have their cons. Unless you can find a well lit indoor location they are often weather dependent. If you have a busy schedule without a lot of flexibility an outdoor shoot may not be the best fit for you in case you have to reschedule due to weather. As mentioned above, if you’re not the most comfortable in front of the camera a more private shoot may be a better choice. If you’re shooting on-location there are bound to be other people around.
The third sort of in-between option is to have the shoot in your own home. If you have a well lit home and a fair amount of space this may be a great option for those who want to comfort of the familiar and private but a more natural look to your images.
What to Wear
Now we’re getting down to the details! You’ve found your photographer, you’ve found a location and you’ve booked your date! How do you get everyone looking great?
The biggest advice I can give here is to be comfortable. Contrary to popular belief now is not the time to wear a brand new item of clothing. If you feel uncomfortable you will look uncomfortable. If you really want to wear something new I suggest wearing it for at least a day in the lead up to your shoot to find out if it’s going to work. Same rule goes for the kids. Many shoots, especially on-location ones, can take over an hour so you want to make sure everyone is happy with their outfits. And if you’re going to be outside make sure to dress appropriately for both the temperature and the potential for getting a little messy, especially with kids. Parks and trails may be a bit muddy even if it’s not raining at the time. Jeans, sweaters and boots can look just as good on camera as a suit if they’re clean and wrinkle-free and are more realistic for an outdoor park shoot.
Another thing to think about is colour. I personally love to see families in vibrant colours but if you prefer neutrals that’s totally up to you. As a general rule, I do suggest staying away from large blocks of white or black, especially if you’re shooting in the studio. Those shades can be hard to balance with other colours and can make editing difficult for the photographer later. In a studio the most commonly used backgrounds are white and black meaning you could blend into the background of the shot. That’s not the say avoid white and black completely. A white shirt worn with a coloured sweater or blazer should be just fine. Breaking up the area with some colour will help balance everything out. In addition to colors you’ll also want to consider patterns. Small intricate patterns are best avoided, they can draw the eye too much and also cause a strobing effect where they look more pronounced. Larger patterns, such as a wide plaid or stripe, should be fine.
Your photographer may even have some suggestions for what to wear on your shoot. When in doubt feel free to ask for tips!
Keeping Everyone Happy
You’ve worked out all the details and planning and now the day has arrived! But how can you ensure you get that perfect, smiling into camera photo to send along to grandma? Some kids, especially the younger ones, are not prone to sitting still for a photograph. I touched on some strategies for photographing kids in a previous blog here: (link). Letting kids be kids is my best advice. Don’t try too hard to rein them in or else you may risk a tantrum. A photographer familiar with working with families with young children should also have some great strategies to help get the best shots. I find outdoor on-location shoots work well for kids because there are always new and exciting things to explore, lowering the risk of getting bored and cranky.
Family Photos on a Budget
So you’ve read through this whole post but now you’re thinking this will not fit into my budget. I understand that, photographers are not inexpensive. Many popular photographers in urban areas can charge up to $800+ for a family session. But there are other options!
Try booking in the off season. Some photographers have deals during times when they’re less busy. Often for family photos that is after the holidays and before the nicer weather hits in the spring.
Try a student or recent graduate photographer. Many new photographers have lower rates as they build up their business and gather more experience in the field. Check in with your local college or university for students who are offering their services. You’ll get a more budget friendly rate and the chance to give a new artist a leg up in the business.
However, avoid asking for lower rates or free work. Photographers spend a lot of time working to give their clients the best images, it’s not just clicking a button, and deserve to be compensated fairly.
If hiring someone is really not within your budget at the time consider planning a do-it-yourself shoot. Many people have consumer level cameras that produce excellent quality photos and even a high end phone camera can give you enough quality to print your images. You’ll want to make sure you have a tripod that fits your camera or phone. If you can, invest in a remote control for your camera or phone so you’re not having to run into the shot to beat the timer every time. Set up your shots so there’s not too much in the background and have a friend or other adult family member stand for you to make sure the people will be in focus. You won’t have the benefit of getting some great candids but you can definitely take some really nice posed shots of your family and give grandma a new photo for her mantle!
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Emily Jewer is a Halifax based photographer. Her company MJ Photographics specializes in portraiture, occasionally working with families and couples, but mainly focussing on headshots for performers of all kinds including many kid and teen actors in the region. Emily is also a theatre artist, working as an actor, stage manager and director on many Halifax productions. She works with kids at Neptune Theatre School and as a child supervisor for kids onstage in professional theatre productions.
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