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What Your Photographer REALLY Wishes You Knew Before Taking Family Pictures

Because pics of young grandparents with all their little grandkids are my FAVORITE, because #hilarious.

Historically, fall has always been (by far) the busiest season for family photographers, at least around here. With the trees bursting into fall colors and the temperatures down to a more comfortable range, autumn has always been the darling of the family photography world. This year marks my fourth year in the world of doing photography for clients, and during that time, there are quite a few things I’ve picked up that I wish I could tell ALL of my clients before we work together (and maybe I’ll start by creating a PDF document out of this and requiring that they read it!).

What Your Photographer Wishes You Knew About Taking Family Pictures (The Un-Edited Truth!)

BEFORE the Shoot

  • You don’t have to totally stress out about what you’re wearing, but it DOES pay to be thoughtful about the clothing choices you make for your shoot.

    • First rule of thumb: since you (generally) want the focus of the picture to be on the FACES of the people (and NOT the clothing), it’s usually better to try and stick to a more neutral palette when possible (think white, cream, navy, black, grey) or tones that you could easily find in the surrounding nature (subtle greens, dark reds, browns). What you want to try to avoid is having super bright colors in the clothing (ESPECIALLY if it’s just one person in the family in a super bright color, like a fluorescent pink or orange or something like that). Basically, your eye will always be drawn first to any bright colors in the picture, so if someone is in a bright yellow shirt, that’s going to be the first thing a viewer will notice.
    • If you want to try to coordinate, save yourself some stress by just sticking to two neutral colors and not worrying too much about the varying shades within that (unless it’s a super bright or fluorescent version of the color). My go-to color combo is blue and white, or black and blue (denim), but I’ve seen all sorts of color combos work well.
    • It probably goes without saying, but you do NOT need to buy new clothing for family pictures! Often, if you’ve stuck to the neutral colors and the general color palette of just two colors, you’ll find you already have clothes on hand that work nicely.
    • DO be mindful about where your shoot is taking place when it comes to clothing choices. If you’re outside and it’s a little chilly, make sure you work possible outerwear into the shoot so people aren’t freezing and super uncomfortable. If you’re outside and might be needing to walk around a bit (especially if you’re in a canyon or something), bring a good pair of shoes you can be really comfortable hiking or walking around in, then just carry the shoes you want to change into for the pictures.
They nailed the neutral/two-color palette! As a result, your focus goes first to their faces, not to any one piece of clothing.
  • Be mindful about your time management in the hours immediately prior to the shoot.

    • Honestly, the #1 mistake I see many families make? They spend so much time just trying to get everyone to look their best and stay clean before the shoot that they neglect basic things like making sure everyone is well fed, that nap times for small children are adhered to (when possible), and making sure everyone has ample time to go potty before the shoot. (Though, as a mom myself, I TOTALLY GET IT!)
    • There are a LOT of things a photographer can fix in post-processing or with certain angles/timing, but one thing they cannot fix? If everyone is super-duper grumpy and stressed out for the entire photo session. Quite frankly, the BEST THING you can do is a parent is to carve out an hour more than you think you’ll need to get everything done and just try to stay calm, no matter what. If you are stressed, your kids will pick up on it, and it will be quite a bit more challenging to get a good shot of everyone.
One great stress-saving option is to have the photo shoot be right at your own home! (Bonus: your pictures will usually be more naturally happy and relaxed, too!)
  • Research out your options for different photographers BEFORE booking one.

    • In the photography world, there are a TON of different styles, both with posing choices (like traditional everyone-looks-at-the-camera vs. candid, with many shades of grey in between those two) and with post-processing styles (such as light and airy and minimally edited or high contrast, moody, and more heavily edited). Ideally, you want to pick a photographer whose style resonates with what you most naturally gravitate toward anyway. For me personally? I like the slightly edgier stuff. I personally love post-processing options, so I tend to spend a lot of time editing, and my photos tend to have a distinct style as a result. Is my way the only way, or even the best way? Absolutely not! It’s just my personal preference, and as a client, you have personal preferences, too, which is just how it should be! So research out your options! You might be surprised that even within a budget-friendly lower price point, you still have lots of good choices to go with. I bet if you asked nearly any photographer, they would always say that they would much rather have fewer clients who truly loved their work and style than more clients who half the time don’t like the style and are therefore unhappy with their pictures.
With this mini shoot, I knew that due to the nature of what the photo session was for, the timing of the turnaround was important! (Which I knew about well beforehand!)
  • Communicate any expectations you have to your photographer before your shoot.

    • I’ve had several clients send me Pinterest boards with shots they like, which is SO HELPFUL! It helps me to know what kinds of poses they’re drawn to, what kinds of styles they like, and whether a client tends to favor certain things (like golden lighting or close-up shots or dramatic landscapes as a backdrop). It’s especially helpful if you’re familiar with that particular photographer’s work and can point to a specific session or photo and say what you like about it and why.
    • I also have had a few clients who came prepared with lists of certain poses they wanted, which ensures that we have the best chance of getting all the shots they want. If you want a picture of your one-year-old laughing or a picture of just mom and her girls or a shot of you all holding hands, speak up! Your photographer can’t read your mind, so if you want something particular, just state it (preferably before the shoot, if possible).
    • Also, it’s extremely important to let your photographer know up front if you have a specific deadline you would need your pictures by (and be prepared to realize that it might not be possible to happen in your timeline with every photographer, which would mean you would need to search around for someone different or be willing to pay extra).


  • No matter what happens, try and relax and just be present.

    • I’m not the kind of photographer who is going to lie to you and say that family photo shoots are supposed to be these magical unicorn moments where everyone is super happy and just thrilled to be there and extremely cooperative. In my experience? That’s happened…very few times (with family shoots, anyway). However, I CAN say that the photo shoots that are typically the best are the ones where the parents manage to stay calm and relaxed throughout (regardless of what the kids are doing). Usually, children feed off of the emotions of their parents, so if the parents are super tense or obviously stressed out, the kids usually will be, too, and they will act out that stress during the photo shoot. Often, an experienced family photographer will be able to coax your child into making at least a pleasant face, so let them stress out about it, not you!
This is literally one of my favorite family pics I’ve ever taken, not because of it being the typical perfect family photo, but precisely because it isn’t! My cousin and her husband had such a laidback attitude and just kept smiling, and I’m hoping that this gem of what life with 2 under 2 really looks like will be one they treasure forever.
  • If you know you have a child (or children) who will be reluctant participants, consider using a bribe.

    • Now, I’m not one that’s actually big on bribes normally, but for photo shoots? They can be really effective. If you know of a special treat that will help your child cooperate, give it to the photographer beforehand, and let him/her use it to periodically reward your child(ren) for cooperating. This is absolutely the reason why the family photo session we did last year went so well–the photographer we went with used bribes masterfully, and we got TONS of good shots as a result!
  • If you want a typical everyone-stand-and-smile-at-the-camera shot, have the adults and older children just keep smiling NO MATTER WHAT, and let the photographer handle smaller/less cooperative children.

    • I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been trying to get a kid to look at me and smile (while their parents try to do the same thing), only to have the kid give the BEST smile…while their parent is looking elsewhere. Hopefully, your photographer is with it enough to catch who’s not looking and direct them to the camera, so whatever you do, DON’T LOOK AWAY! (ha ha…but really…)
This shot brought to you by me saying, “Adults–look at me and smile no matter what!” multiple times, ha ha! (Luckily they all listened!)
  • If possible, consider blocking out a chunk of time (like the last 20 minutes of the shoot) for the photographer to capture true candid shots of your family.

    • Often, my very favorite pictures I get are ones that are not posed in any way–they’re the ones where I just follow the family around and click away. By this point, because the “posed family picture” part is over, EVERYONE is more relaxed, which usually means you’ll probably get some of your favorites in this last bunch!
True candids can be pure magic–totally worth blocking out time for, if you can help it!



  • Be patient with getting your pictures back.

    • Hopefully, your photographer will give you a general timeline of when to expect your pictures back (for instance, I usually shoot out a few preview pics on social media within 48 hours and then have the whole session ready in about 3 weeks), which should take a lot of the anxiety out of waiting. However, if he/she takes a little longer than expected, try not to get too upset–many photographers have lots of other things to juggle (like taking care of their families or sometimes other jobs), so try to be patient if they take a little longer than you’d like to get your pictures back–editing often takes a LOT of work! (Of course, if they’re a week or more beyond what they said, then you’re totally fine to contact them and ask when you can expect the pictures!)
Super glad this family is being beyond patient with me as I’m a bit behind on my 3-week window with them!
  • If you get the pictures back and something is not to your liking, be tactful in how you approach it.

    • Photography, as a creative pursuit, is something very personal, so if you’re not careful in how you approach your photographer, you could really hurt some feelings (ask me how I know). Some questions to ask yourself:
      • Is the problem with how I (or one of my kids) looks?
        • If it’s a question of a simple head swap, that is something you definitely could request without risking offense (especially if you can see another picture in the same pose where a head swap could actually be taken from), but if you’re upset because your body positioning/facial expression/etc. is not to your liking, there probably isn’t much your photographer can do, so just keep it to yourself.
      • Would the fix be simple and quick?
        • If you noticed a stain on someone’s white shirt or a random bit of trash in the picture, those are quick fixes that you could ask the photographer to remove on one or two pictures for sure. (I did that myself with my own bridals, when I noticed there was a random pop can right next to me on the steps I was on in a couple of the pics.)
        • If some of the pictures are a little too dark or bright, that’s usually another easy fix–exposure is often one quick slide up or down, and you’re done.
      • Is there a problem with the quality of the image?
        • I once had a client who told me she was having trouble printing her images at certain sizes, which should not have been a problem at all. Sure enough, when I checked, I discovered that the problem was that I hadn’t exported them at full resolution! This is DEFINITELY one you should bring up with your photographer, no hesitation.
      • Do I want a particular shot made available in black and white or an alternative style?
        • As long as you don’t do this with too many of your photos, I would think most photographers would be okay changing a few into black and white for you and not be offended at all. In fact, I love it when people ask me this! It usually means they really like the picture to want it in different forms.
      • Is my problem with the editing style itself?
        • If you don’t like how your photo shoot was edited, know that you can bring it up–but that you could very likely hurt feelings. Hopefully, if you researched out your photographer well in advance, you will know that you like their style to begin with, so you can avoid this problem. From a photographer’s standpoint, I edit every image to the best of my ability, so if the problem is with my own artistic vision for something…yeah, it can be super hard to deal with if a client hates how I’ve edited it. (Just to reiterate, though: it is OKAY to like a different style than what someone offers! But it will be much better for everyone in the long run if that is resolved BEFORE a photographer is ever booked, not after.) If it is something you really feel you need to bring up, try to include some positives about the pictures too to try and soften the blow.
    • A good general rule of thumb: It is okay to ask the photographer to re-edit SOME of the images for specific things, such as exposure, cropping, or maybe trying out a different style or two. I would say don’t ask for changes to any more than 10% of the images, and make sure you give a specific list of images with what you’d like to be changed. If you happen to hate the whole session, ask for simple changes on a small number, then count it as a lesson hard-learned that you should research your options out better next time in order to find someone whose style matches your preferences a bit better.
      • Important Note: Even if you hate how the pictures look, it is NOT okay to edit the picture yourself (unless you get specific permission from the photographer). Almost every professional photographer has a policy against their images being changed by clients (because then the images no longer fully represent their work, though they might then be distributed with that photographer’s name). It is also against most photographers’ policies to share the original images with you, so if that’s something you’re looking for, you’re probably going to have to look around quite a bit to find someone willing to do that (the reason being because unedited pictures are rarely how a photographer wants his/her work to be shared and displayed). If you’re wanting to edit the pictures yourself, your best bet is to find a friend willing to take some family pics for you on your camera. (This is exactly what I’ve done a couple times now–like in this maternity shoot–with one of our good friends, who happens to also be a photographer–I just make sure people know that he took the photo but that the editing style is mine.)
Example of a photo shoot taken by my friend (@elevatephotographyut) and edited by me (with his permission).
  • If you love your images, let your photographer know!

    • Even a simple like or share on social media is enough to let your photographer know that you like your pictures! (Friendly reminder: if you DO share on social media, make sure you give the photographer credit!) Seriously, it gives me a boost of happiness EVERY time I see that someone has shared or liked my pictures.
    • A great way to show that you love a photographer’s work is by leaving a positive review on his/her website or social media business account. This is one of my favorite ways that a client can let me know that they love my work!
One of my best friends and her adorable family, who has brought me half my business and always lets me know when she loves my work! Thanks for stroking my ego, friend! 🙂

Although family photo shoots aren’t always stress-free (like I said above), they are still such an honor to be a part of. There’s just something really special to me about forever freezing what a family looked like in that moment of time, and I love being able to share that with people. I wish you all the best in your future photo shoots, and may the golden light and good weather odds be ever in your favor!

Did I cover it all? Anything you want covered in more detail? Go ahead and let me know! I’d love to help!

P.S. I finally started an Instagram for my photography business! That can be found @torrielynnphotography. If you’d like to check out my photography website, you can click here. For my Facebook photography page, you can click here.

The un-edited truth from a family photographer of things EVERY family should know before a photo shoot!

You also might be interested in:

How to Take Portraits of Your Kids at Home

5 Tips for Improving Your Photography

What I’ve Learned From Taking a Picture of My Daughter Every Day

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