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Family Photo Session: How to Prepare

Written By:

Maryam Salassi

Aug 24, 2020

Does a family photography session sound a wee bit intimidating? It’s understandable to feel that way, especially if you’ve never done one before—but family photo sessions can be crazy fun and really easy if parents just follow a few simple guidelines to make sure they’re prepared!

A trendy couple sits on the couch in front of a collage wall with their baby, son and dog for a family photo session

Not only can the experience itself be a blast, but family photos are the perfect way to capture memories with the people who matter to you the most. Families grow and change so quickly, and being able to look back and remember the different phases, and all the craziness and amazingness of parenthood, is something you won’t regret.

Be prepared for your family photography session with these easy tips, and you’re good to go! 

Family Photography Session: Which session should you choose?

Most family photographers offer two different types of sessions: full sessions and mini sessions.

As you’ve probably guessed, full sessions are longer and more involved (but that’s not a bad thing!). This means there’s typically more time for outfit and location changes, activities, and getting comfortable in front of the camera. Full sessions are definitely more of an experience, and it’s a great option for most families, especially if you want your family photos to be more intimate, candid and personal. Full sessions also have much more flexibility in terms of scheduling.

A father and mother play with their toddler in bed during a family photography session with Bay Area family photographer Hi + Hello Photography

A husband and wife play with their young son in his bedroom during for intimate family photos with San Francisco family photographer Hi + Hello Photography

Mini sessions will still get you a handful of lovely family photos, but with less options and flexibility during the shoot. They’re great for families who just want to focus on lifestyle portraits, or for families who want to update their Christmas card or a couple frames in the house.

Booking a short family photography session may be a tempting option if your kiddos are a bit fussy or have shorter attention spans, but honestly I think all kids benefit from a longer family session. As a Bay Area family photographer, my full-length sessions are more lifestyle oriented, which allows youngsters to just be themselves and focus on activities they enjoy rather than performing for the camera. Plus, capturing those imperfect yet authentic moments is what it’s all about!

Family Photography Session: Indoors vs Outdoors or Both

Something else to consider for your family photography session is whether or not you’d like your photos taken indoors or outdoors. 

Indoor family photo shoots are all about documenting the daily moments you want to remember forever. What do you want to remember about this age? How your kiddo refuses to wear pants indoors and eats cheerios one by one? How you all snuggle up in bed together every Sunday morning? The simple, routine things deserve a place in photos as much as beautiful, happy portraits. 

A mother folds laundry while her children play on the bed during a lifestyle family photography session in San Francisco

A father holds his baby while his wife puts on a diaper during a lifestyle family photography session at home

Outdoor sessions are more about adventure. Does your family love jumping on the trampoline in the backyard and running through the sprinklers? Do you have a favorite hiking spot to explore together? An ice cream shop you hit up as a family for a treat? Have you always wanted to have a picnic in Golden Gate Park, or run into the ocean together? Outdoor family photo shoots are perfect for kids who love trying new things.

A father helps his son with his shirt buttons at the beach after jumping in the water for family photos in the Bay Area

A family walks hand-in-hand along the beautiful waterfront for family photos in the Bay Area with Hi + Hello Photography

You may also choose to do both! I typically prefer to start indoors, in a place where kids feel comfortable. They love showing off their rooms and favorite toys or books, having breakfast or a snack together (kids eating always makes great photos!), and then heading out to a favorite neighborhood spot. This also gives a variety of background and feelings to the images. A lot of my families choose this hybrid option, choosing to start at home or in the backyard, then going on an adventure together.

Family Photo Sessions: Arrange a few fun activities

Arranging a few fun family activities can help to create much more enriched, authentic images. Kids are less distracted by the camera when they’re fully engaged in the moment. Playing with bubbles at the park, making breakfast together, going for nature walks—whatever feels most natural for your family! 

A young girl with glasses plays with toy lipstick and smiles at the camera for Bay Area family photographer Hi + Hello Photography

A family plays on the couch together for lifestyle family photos at home

For older kids, give them a few choices (that the photographer is cool with) and let them decide which one they think would be the most fun. Allowing kids to be part of the planning process gets them excited about the shoot, and it’ll show in your photos! I would just avoid video games as an activity (I speak from the mother of a 10-year-old who is obsessed with her Nintendo Switch).

During my initial phone call with clients, we dive into what families love doing together and the session is built on what feels true to each family. No two sessions are alike, and talking things through can help narrow down choices. 

Family Photo Sessions: What to wear

One of the most important, and fun parts of the process is choosing your family photo outfits!

I recommend dressing in a way that shows your family’s personality and looks cohesive but not too matchy. It may feel instinctive to go with outfits that are more plain to avoid clashing, but I love when families have fun with it and mix in different patterns, colors and accessories. Families that book a session with me have access to an online styling service, and are always welcome to text me if they want a second opinion on their styling choices.

A smiling couple sits in bed with their young children and three dogs for lifestyle family photographs in San Francisco

A father and mother hold their adorable song together while posing for a family photography session with Hi + Hello Photography in the Bay Area

I know this may seem easier said than done, but you got this! Check out some of my other blogs for more tips on how to dress for family photos: mixing patterns, wearing bold colors, and wearing accessories.

Family Photo Sessions: Time of day for the session

The time of day you choose to book your family photography session matters!

As part of the initial consult, we discuss things like naptime and when your kids are happiest during the day. As an experienced Oakland family photographer, I’m flexible with all types of lighting situations and can make almost any time of the day work. The priority is always going to be the best time of the day for your kiddos—we want them to be happy and engaged! That being said, I love morning sessions because it’s usually when everyone is in a great mood and it’s a fun way to start the day.

A man in a red sweater and woman in a white cardigan hold their cute child during an outdoor fall family photography session

a young girl with dark hair and a brown coat smiles at the camera while hugging her mom while having outdoor family photos taken

A beautiful mother wearing red lipstick holds her son while he smiles at the camera during an at-home family photography session in San Francisco

If you’re interested in booking a family photography session with a San Francisco or Bay Area family photographer, let’s chat!

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