Family photos are freaking STRESSFUL, am I right?!? What do we wear? Where do we go for it? Will my kids behave? Will my spouse behave? OMG WILL I BEHAVE IF THEY DON’T BEHAVE?
I’m gonna try to answer allllll those questions here, as well as address some other common questions when it comes to getting photos done.
When we were growing up, family photos meant getting super dressed up in itchy, uncomfortable clothes. Usually, your Easter Sunday or Christmas outfit. (Anyone else’s dresses have that stiff crinoline underlay that scratched your legs?) You’d all pile in the car (a station wagon or minivan, of course) and drive to Sears while your mom threatened you with your life if you didn’t smile and behave.
That’s not what family sessions are anymore. At least not for me.
Family sessions are about showing who you are as a family. Goofy smiles, silly faces, missing teeth, and all. Lots of hugs and kisses and kids being kids. It’s about documenting this particular season in your life.
As moms, we’re often NOT in any of the photos, usually because we’re the ones taking the photos. We document the world around us, but not ourselves as mothers, with our children.
Kids aren’t perfect. Families aren’t perfect. WE aren’t perfect. And I have no desire to project perfection onto the world. I don’t want kids to remember the experience of getting photos done as being awful. I want them to remember how much fun we had and to know how much they’re loved.
This is completely up to you. There’s no rule for it. So really, you need to think about what you want your kids to have when they’re grown up. Do you wish you had more family photos from when you were growing up? (Granted, it’s a different era of photography now, but honestly, I really do wish I had photos of my family interacting together. We have none of those with all of us. We have a few Olan Mills portraits, but that’s it.)
My recommendation would be yearly or every two years. Kids grow and change so fast. Even if you’ve never had family photos done before and your youngest is 8, there’s no better time than now to take a few family photos.
Whatever the hell you want! Just make sure it’s season appropriate and comfy. If it’s cold, wear warm clothes and coats. If it’s hot, DON’T wear sweaters and coats. Kids (and sometimes adults) can’t hide discomfort. If they’re uncomfortable, it doesn’t matter how many M&Ms or ice creams are promised, they will still look uncomfortable.
If you don’t FEEL comfortable in what you’re wearing, you won’t LOOK comfortable. You don’t want to wear anything that you have to constantly adjust or something with straps that fall down. Make sure everyone can move like usual in your outfits. We’ll be playing games and moving around, not standing like statues.
You don’t have to spend money on new clothing. Enlist the help of a stylish friend and shop from your own closet. You don’t have to coordinate like an IG influencer family. Honestly, you don’t even have to match. It’s completely okay to not match and instead let your personal styles shine.
Let your kids wear their favorite outfits. Let them wear light up shoes and shirts with their favorite characters on it. If they want to wear their Halloween costume, that’s fine! Bring it along and we’ll take a few photos with it. Family photos aren’t about pretending to be something you’re not. It’s about documenting who you are.
If you do want to look more polished for your family photos, I offer wardrobe assistance to all of my clients. And I send every client my What to Wear Guide and Family Session Guide when they book.
Yeah. So do I. But I never in a million years want to project my body insecurities onto my daughter. So I never never never say anything negative about myself in front of her, even though she’s just a toddler. And when she gets older and asks me what I think of a photo, I’ll tell her I love it because it’s us together.
And FYI, I have never once have looked at a photo of my mother and thought she looked fat or her hair was a mess or thought about her makeup. (I mean, I might giggle a bit at 80s hair, but come on… it was the 80s. The hair was laughable.) And our kids won’t pay any attention to those things about us either.
What I’m saying is, we need to get over ourselves. It’s okay to be in photos with your family. None of us are supermodels. And our kids aren’t expecting us to be.
Sometimes, we have a tendency to expect perfection when perfection is really this non-existent thing. As I said before, none of us are perfect. We’re real-life, messy people. But you know what? Our real-life messiness is magnificent. And it’s worthy of being documented.
We can’t force our kids to eat, or sleep, or poop when we want them to (you know, like BEFORE we left the house, instead of RIGHT AFTER). And we can’t force them to sit still or smile naturally on command. So we just have to let go, and accept that this is what our lives are like now.
It’s tickle fights, blowing bubbles, singing songs, and making up silly dances. It’s eating Cheerios out of a cup with a flap on it that weirdly resembles a uterus. It’s spending Saturday evenings in the backyard, listening to music, blowing bubbles and wiping away tears when the bubbles inevitably spill, breaking up fights, and sticky hands and faces from popsicles. AND IT IS 10000% OKAY FOR YOUR FAMILY PHOTOS TO REFLECT THAT, AND EVEN INCLUDE SOME (OR ALL) OF THOSE THINGS.
Be present in the moment. Forget about worrying what everyone looks like. Whether your clothes are perfect and hair is perfect. Focus on your family. Your kids. Watch them chase bubbles. Sing with them. Dance with them. Play little games with them.
Choosing a location can be a bit overwhelming sometimes. I work with each of my families to help narrow down a location that’s a great fit for their family, as well as their desired look for their photos.
Where your session is just depends on what type of background you’d like. Do you like tall grasses and trees? Fields with lots of sky? Or maybe something more manicured and park-like? Or would you like a more architectural look with arches and columns and marble? Maybe you’re into an urban look, or something with more texture.
There’s always the option to do an in-home session! Kids are most comfortable and happy at home. You don’t have to take anything anywhere or deal with car rides. This is a great way to include pets in the session, and also document more of your real life.
I also have a beautiful, natural light studio available for family sessions. The best part about my studio is that it’s climate controlled! So no sweltering humidity, biting cold, or gusty wind.
My recommendation is to skip the urban areas if your kids are really little (like toddler age). The sounds of traffic might be a bit startling for them. We also won’t be able to play games or let them run around if traffic is an issue. Unless you want all of your photos on a playground, you’ll also want to skip parks where the playground is very visible and noticeable from the parking lot / where we are shooting.
If you or your spouse or your kids have a lot of allergies, or have bad reactions to bug bites (like big red welts), you’ll want to skip spots with tall grasses and fields. Ticks and mosquitos tend to run rampant in those areas, so unless you can also handle that aspect of nature, you might want pick someplace a bit more manicured or architectural.
Once you decide what TYPE of background you’d like, talk to me! I have tons of location suggestions that will have great light during the time of your family photos.
Before the session, be honest with your family, and let them know we are going to take photos together. It’s best NOT to threaten your kids before the session with punishments if they don’t behave. Kids will automatically dislike and distrust me. And they still won’t behave.
Tell them that we are going to play games, and they’re going to get to be silly, and at the end of the session, if they listened well to the photographer, you’ll get ice cream / go to the playground / or whatever your favorite family reward is.
Pack a few non-messy snacks like fruit snacks or granola bars in case anyone gets a little cranky during photos.
Make sure little ones haven’t skipped their nap (and if you need a nap, then you have my permission to take one!)
If it’s a warm day, make sure to have plenty of water with you, as well as a sweat rag to wipe those faces. For cold days, bring hand warmers to put in your pockets and some toe warmers for your shoes. (It will make a big difference for you, I promise!)
If it’s a cold day, make sure to bring stylish hats, scarves, gloves, and coats! Don’t wear warm weather clothes when it’s freezing, and don’t wear winter clothes when it’s warm.
If the weather is too much one way or the other, or it’s raining, we can either reschedule, or we can move the session indoors to my studio.
During your session, you can expect to relax and have fun while I coach you and your family through fun poses and activities that will make your photos look and feel natural. Don’t worry about your kids’ behavior! And for the love of everything, please please please DO NOT TELL YOUR KIDS TO SMILE. They definitely won’t if you tell them to.
We all know kids will always behave better for strangers than their own parents. You just have to be fully present in the moment. Kids feed off of their parents’ moods, so try really hard not to stress. Just let go, enjoy being with your family, and forget about everything else because it doesn’t matter. You won’t have to tell anyone to smile if they’re actually having fun.
I try really hard to make sure my clients’ photos don’t live and die on a hard drive or phone, or in a quickly forgotten social media post.
Photos are meant to be printed and viewed. They’re not meant to stay invisible in a cloud somewhere.
Print your photos. Get a canvas. Get a couple of canvases and give them to grandparents as gifts. Make an album. Gift each of your children a print box with their favorite photos.
When I was little, my mother kept all of our photos (mostly snapshots) in a basket that was in the cabinet part of an end table. On rainy days, we’d pull the photos out and look through them. My mom would tell us the story of what was going on in the photos, who everyone was, etc. I’m doing the same thing for my daughter, and I encourage you to do the same thing, too. Print those family photos. Print the photos sitting on the camera roll in your phone. Put them in a box. Enjoy. And repeat every so often.
You don’t have to do anything super organized or fancy. You don’t have to scrapbook or anything like that. Don’t overthink it ◡̈
If you’d like to book a family session, send me a message! Use the contact form or send a quick email to firstname.lastname@example.org
St. Louis, Missouri | Joshua Tree, California | Destination Wedding + Elopement Photographer
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