Family gatherings are a perfect opportunity for a photoshoot, whether it’s a birthday party or a festive gathering. However, getting a great family photo requires a little more than just smiling at the camera. Over the past 14 years of photographing families, I’ve discovered that you’ll get a much better outcome if you plan your session ahead of time.
Here are some tips to help you have a successful family portrait session:
Before the Session
1. Pick a suitable location
Your home is the most logical choice; however, depending on the number of people that you want to include in the session, the home can sometimes look a little cluttered. Whether you have a beautiful showcase home or one that is filled to the brim with decorations and artwork of kids on the wall (complete with doodles), we at Stories Lifestyle love photographing families in their homes. Home is where memories are made, and seeing photos in a familiar place not only keeps the memories alive, but also makes a beautiful visual heirloom that parents can give to their kids in the future.
Alternatively, some families prefer a nice outdoor location, like a park. Children look most natural when they’re having fun, so letting them run around in the sun, chase bubbles, or fly a kite are all great ways to get beautiful candid shots.
If your family prefers to stay indoors, a photography studio can be a good choice. Our studio space feels like home, with large windows that allow for natural lighting. You can certainly fit larger groups in our studio. You could also have a staycation in a hotel room or at an Airbnb and then have your family portraits taken there. Think about how many people will be at the session, if accessibility is important (for example, some family members might be in a wheelchair), and what the location means to you before you choose it.
2. Consider the time of day for the shoot
If you observe the spaces in your home, you will notice that the same area will feel different at different times. We have been to the same location in the morning and evening, and produced completely different images. The direction of the sun illuminates a location differently throughout the day. The best time to do outdoor portraits would be between 7am–9am and 5pm–7pm (based on Malaysian sunrise and sunset times). At that golden hour, the light will look the best on you.
Naturally, you’d also need to consider if everyone can wake up on time for the session! It’s not easy to cater to everyone’s timing (and also schedule the session in between your baby’s nap time), but a little effort in this area would yield the best results.
3. Styling your outfits
“What should my family wear?” is generally the first question most families have when arranging a family photoshoot. While some families opt for an all-white theme, most have veered away from that and opted for outfits and colours that complement each other. Think of cohesiveness rather than being “matchy-matchy.”
Begin by choosing a colour palette of two to three coordinating colours and selecting your clothes that will fit into this scheme. However, you first need to agree on a style. Are you doing a formal or casual photo session? Usually, your background also matters when thinking about this. For example, a hotel lobby would look more formal as a photoshoot location compared to a garden. Once you know what kind of photoshoot you’re going for, choose a style for your outfits which suits your location and communicate that to the whole family so that no one is left out. For more tips on how to style your family, click here.
4. Manage everyone’s expectations
Do let your family know how long the shoot will last and what you plan to do. Many older people dislike having to take pictures for long periods of time, so a 1–2 hour session is usually enough. Tell the kids what you’re going to do ahead of time and emphasise that it’ll be fun. Encourage them to contribute their ideas; perhaps they will come up with a fun activity that would be fun to do together.
5. Pamper yourself
Before the photo session, ensure you book a makeup artist so that you look your best on that day! This will guarantee that you will feel and look good during your photography session. Get a manicure, put on that face mask, and head to bed early that night! A late night will guarantee puffy eyes in the morning, so you want to look your best the next day.
On the Day of the Shoot
1. Be prepared with things to bring
Ensure you pack some snacks for the little kids, their favourite toy, a spare change of clothes or shoes, and your makeup kit for touch-ups. A hungry, sleep-deprived child will not look happy during a photography session, so you want to ensure that their physiological needs are met. If you plan to head to the park, do ensure you pack in a mosquito repellent!
2. Don’t sweat the small stuff
If you’ve accidentally left an item at home, it’s ok. Maybe your child vomited on his nice outfit. This is where you should whip out the spare clothes. Be flexible, because things might not go the way you expect. The weather may turn sour and “ruin” your outdoor plans. Your in-laws might have taken the wrong turn, resulting in their arriving 30 minutes late at your location. You have a choice to react to all of these circumstances or respond to it. If you allow these circumstances to make you upset, you’ll end up with a miserable session. So make it a point that no matter what happens, you’ll make the best of it and attempt to enjoy it anyway (dancing in the rain, perhaps?).
“But what if my child throws a tantrum during the shoot?” Don’t get flustered; just go with the flow. Come with the mindset to have fun and play with your kids. The important thing for you as a parent is to not be flustered if your child is out of control or refuses to follow your instructions. They can sense your mood, and that will not help the situation. The best thing you can do is go with the flow, play games, and have fun with your kids. It’ll be less stressful for you and for the children.
3. Trust your photographer
At the end of the day, trust that your photographer will do his or her best to give you beautiful images that stand the test of time. Avoid overthinking every pose, whether your post-partum belly is showing in the shots. Be present during the session, have fun, and relax. The images won’t lie, and your facial expression will reflect what you truly feel at that moment.
We hope you like our tips! Drop us a message on our Instagram or visit our website– we would love to get to know you better.
By Grace Tan
Grace Tan is the founder and senior photographer at Stories Lifestyle. She is passionate about capturing memories for others through her lens, especially after her dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2006. Other than running after her own children and other people’s children, she is also passionate about building strong marriages and advocating purposeful parenting through her work as an ICF (International Coaching Federation) certified life coach.
All images by Stories Lifestyle.