• ACatchOfLight

Expectation vs Reality - The art of mastering the family photo-shoot



I get asked two main questions when families want a family photo shoot.


Number one: "What should I expect" ... the answer the unexpected.


And two: "How can I get my photos to look like this" (client always send an instagram or Pinterest photo)... the answer trust me, it's so much better if we don't try to recreate that exactly.


If you've ever wanted to master taking family photos, or you want to be prepared for your own images, I hope this little adventure into the art of working with kids and multiple people will help you in this quest. Alright, let's answer some of my most asked questions about family photo sessions.



First let's start with the topic of instagram and Pinterest. I believe the job of a photographer became simultaneously harder and easier when these two platforms were invented, and subsequently exploded in popularity. I personally have mixed feelings. On one hand it's always great to see images that clients like on the internet so you can think about the focus of your shoot when you get there. On the other hand - I've said it before and I'm going to say it again - photography is art, plain and simple. Unless you hire the photographer that took the picture you are looking at, you are really doing the photographer you did hire a disservice by taking away some of their creative freedom in the process. No two photographers are alike, and while we can see what the image is trying to convey, when people get too attached to having an image exactly like the one they've found they tie their photographer's hands behind their back.


The first thing all people looking for a photographer should do is find a photographer with work you like. Plain and simple. Scroll through their galleries and blogs. Look at the way they use color, light, pose- or don't pose very much, take the time to find someone consistent with an artistic style that matches your own.


I promise you if you do this you won't be disappointed by your images. And for photographers out there my biggest advice is spend time honing your voice so you know when clients come to you, you will deliver images they are in love with because you are consistent.


So now that we've got the fact that another photographer won't create the image exactly out of the way, let's talk about you and the reality of your family.


No two families are alike either, just like photographers and snowflakes. Some people forget the camera is there the instant it's turned on, others need more time to work up to it. Some kids love posing, others are shy, cranky, or just not having it.


When I work with families the first thing I tell the parents is that my style is to let the kids be the kids. While I will try to coax a smile out of them, I also want them to play, have fun, and enjoy the experience. In my opinion letting a kid be a kid gets the most authentic image out of them.


So when it comes to the question - Can you make my photo look like this instagram or Pinterest photo?


Sure, we can get close, and thank you for doing your research before your shoot, however, the images you will most likely adore are the ones your family creates naturally.



Next question I get a lot: What should we wear?


It really truly depends on your family. Again, as a story telling photographer I like to capture people as they are, not as they are pretending to be, so I tell people to wear the thing that makes them the most comfortable. However, I do understand that people don't spend the money on photoshoots very often, and dressing up for the special occasion can make it not only fun, but can make the images feel even more special.


Remember too that a lot of your photos will be in black and white where color won't matter as much.


I always tell people to take two things into consideration:


1. Where are we shooting? If we are taking photos with a green background and you wear all green you might blend in too much. Taking a look at a color wheel you can quickly find complementing colors. Purple goes well with green, yellow with blue, etc.


2. If you want the outfits to be special try to think about how they all work together. Sometimes I suggest that each outfit have at least part of the same color (so everyone has a bit of blue or red). Or again think about complementing colors. If a girl is wearing pink the guys in the family might not want to do the same, but what goes good with pink.


Again, photoshoots are about you, about having fun and being comfortable, and representing the best of you. I personally love when people opt to wear their favorite things, even if they don't match or make sense. After all, these photos should only be for you.



In Colorado, like most states I also hear this a lot: What kind of weather do we want for our shoot?


Have you ever headed to your photo shoot watching the sky grow darker and darker and you start to worry your shoot will be ruined? I think the biggest misconception for people that don't take pictures a lot is that clouds are bad and sun is good. Yes, you can do fun things with sun, but almost every photographer will tell you that clouds are what we are all looking for to make your lighting perfect.


Not only does bright sun make families squint a lot, or sweat, clouds help even out harsh shadows for those of us behind the lens.


If you know your family is good with a little rain, I even recommend mild storms for photo shoots as they can often produce the most amazing results. Though you should never go out in a lightning storm, don't dread the sun disappearing on your day.



As someone who personally looks for a bargain 99.9% of the time (there are a few things, like art that is worth paying full price for.... especially since we don't see all the hard work that goes into it) I know how hard it is for people to want to spend top dollar on photos. Photos are one of those things that end up mattering so much, I still go through photo albums every holiday at my parent's house, but are also not a necessity so they can be hard to justify.


When you throw in the fact that young kids are unpredictable and you might spend a lot of money for pictures of your kid crying it can be hard to know the answer to the following question...


Which package should I choose? The cheaper 30 minute photo session, or the more expensive 60 minute experience?


I use the word experience purposely there. My goal with photography is to make things fun. I want people to feel relaxed, to naturally laugh, to have a good time. While I take shooting very seriously and don't waste precious minutes, there is nothing more uncomfortable than posing in front of a camera and not getting to talk and be yourself during your shoot. I like to chat with people, I like to let kids play, I like to let families change outfits, or take a minute away from the lens if needed.


So here's my basic rule of thumb.


If your kid is under the age of two a 30 minute session is probably your best bet. Kids on the very young side tend to get frustrated easier if they are posted, moved about, or are not in the mood. That being said I've done some amazing 60 minute sessions with one year olds that were just a delight and so the choice is yours.


When it comes to why an hour is better than a mini session it is all about the ability to warm up and take breaks. Let's be honest, unless we all spend our days taking selfies (that's not a judgement) none of us typically have a lens put in our face and we become instantly comfortable. There are a gifted few who don't need a few practice shots, but most of us spend the first 10 minutes of a photo session just getting into the grove. Add kids into the mix and it can take a bit longer.


When I meet up with a family my first goal is to befriend the kids I'm working with and see a bit of their personality. I want to capture them just as they are. Some kids warm up instantly, other kids need to be moved around a bunch, or have activities thrown into the shoot to make them feel more comfortable.


When you pick a longer package you don't spend half your time warming up which means more meaningful images for you in the end. It also means that halfway through your kiddo can take a break and run around while you get some portraits or couples photos done and then you can have everyone return to the session for the last half in refreshed moods.


The choice is always up to you, but having more time with kids can often mean you don't force them to do a lot in a quick timeframe, you give them the freedom to take the shoot at their own pace.


What about location? Where should I go for my shoot?


The last big question I get is about location. While I have a ton of locations I can suggest families often know a place they want to go as well. Here's a general rule if you have no idea and you want to pick from the ideas offered to you.


  1. What are your kids able to handle? If they like playing in a field, if they like hiking a trail, if they do well in nature, then a mountain setting is probably right for you. If they aren't good with dirt, if they get fussy and you need to get them home quickly, if all the photos you have of them are in the mountains and you want something else, think about a park close to your home or an urban setting.

  2. What kind of background do you want? Parks and urban settings often don't offer wide views. If you want sweeping landscapes think about locations that would allow the photographer to take those kinds of photos.

  3. How many people like the location you are thinking of? As a photographer our job is to give you images without other people in them. However, some locations are better for this than others. A busy beautiful national park might be better shot on a week night when there are less crowds and you can spread out. This especially rings true if you are embarrassed to pose with people watching. If you like a graffiti wall outside a popular restaurant in the city you might not want to pick that location if you are worried about people looking on, because most likely they will be.

  4. Lastly, what are your images for? If they are just for you almost anything would work. If they are for holiday cards or family members keep those things in mind before you head out.

Mostly the location is a place you will feel comfortable and will give you what you are looking for. All photographers have a list of locations they can provide so the option to tell your photographer for what you are looking for and ask them to pick a location is always available.


I hope some of these tips helped you either photography families or prepare for your upcoming shoot. Remember the most important thing is to have fun.







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Denver, Colorado Photographer

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