How to Prepare for Family Photos

How to prepare for family photos

In most facets of life, my husband and I are DIYers. If we can look it up online or save money by testing the waters ourselves, we’ll do it. Consequently, for years we thought we could be our own photographer. These images prove how wrong I was!

We never did engagement photos. We didn’t do a newborn session — and I regret it. A family “selfie” will never capture the emotion and love these images evoke. And really, who wants an extended arm in all of their photos? Wondering how to prepare for your family photos? I went straight to the source (our super talented photographer) for her expert session-prepping advice.

We first met Kelly of Kelly McPhail Photography in early September. The Lafayette, Indiana photographer specializes in photographing families, babies and children. Her work impressed us immediately and her personality even more so! We already feel like fast friends. That rapport is crucial when choosing a family photographer.

How to prepare for family photos

A true professional will be warm, welcoming and can instantly put you at ease — even if you hate getting your photo taken (like my husband). Kinda ironic that a man who delivers lectures to college classrooms filled with hundreds of  people, and who spent half a decade as a TV reporter, feels uncomfortable in front of the camera!

Now, let’s dive into McPhail’s advice for family photoshoot newbies.

She is a font of knowledge!

How to prepare for family photos

How to Prepare for Family Photos – The FAQs

What can I do to increase my odds of loving my photos? 

First, make sure you feel confident in what you are wearing (we’ll expand on that next). McPhail says it’s also important to consider that your memory is intrinsically linked to your photos. If you recall feeling stressed or rushed, you won’t be enthralled with your images. Therefore, make it your aim to have fun. Photos shouldn’t be a high pressure situation! Arriving early will help calm you down.

What should I wear? What looks good/bad on camera?

Kelly says the top question she fields from clients wondering how to prepare for family photos is wardrobe. Her top tip? Avoid being overly matchy. “Remember those photos from the 90s where everyone was wearing white polos and khackis on the beach?” McPhail explained. “Yeah, probably best to leave those in the 90s. Today it’s all about coordinating.”

How to prep for a family photo session

Instead, craft a palette. Choose a few colors you love, then plan the outfits around that color story. For instance, we utilized blue, yellow and white. Hudson looks so darn adorable in these shades!

A mix of prints and solids is ideal, but be cognizant of the scale of your prints. Anything too large or busy will detract from the overall image. Additionally, logos and graphics are a no-no. The focus should be on you and your family’s emotional connection, not the clothing.

Avoid being overly matchy

Craft a palette of 3-4 colors

Mix prints and solids (but avoid busy/large prints)

Start with mom’s outfit

Aim for timeless, not trendy

Whose outfit should I start with? 

McPhail recommends the ladies or mothers choose their outfit first. “Let’s be honest, we care the most about how we look in the photo,” she said. “We treasure family photos and tend to be the most critical of ourselves.”

Focus on timeless pieces. Do you want your photos to look dated 10 years from now? No way! Therefore, stay away from super trendy items. Only wear things you feel great in and that flatter you. Sometimes it helps to get an outside opinion. For some reason, it’s harder to objectively critique our outfits in a mirror, than in a photo. So, let a friend help you out!

One of the biggest mistakes people make is wearing something sleeveless. No matter how fit you are, this is a hard look to pull off! If it’s a hot day, try a dress with a cap sleeve or ruffle instead. It is much more forgiving.

I learned this lesson in TV news, and talk about on-camera appearance in greater detail here. 

Striped Sweater | Plaid Shirt | Fedora | Hudson’s Jeans | Yellow Dress (similar) | Hubby’s Sweater (similar)| Hudson’s Shoes 

Do you instinctively pull you arms close to your body while posing (you can see me doing it above)? This has a tendency to make arms look larger than they really are, particularly if you are wearing something sleeveless. If you’re self conscious about this area, try to create a bit of distance between your arm and your body.

How do I get my kids to behave? 

According to McPhail, it’s all about keeping the atmosphere fun and light. Don’t speak harshly or reprimand your children during the session. It won’t help. When parents yell at their kids or threaten, McPhail says it ruins the moment, the tears start flowing, and you’ll have to stop taking photos so everyone can regroup. Instead, be silly! Play games during your session, make faces, or give your little one a tickle. An experienced family photographer will help guide you through this process. McPhail had us giggling the entire time.

“It’s important to talk to your kids about the session ahead of time,” she said. “Hype it up as a really special event and explain how excited you are to give these photos to grandma or to hang on your wall.”

how to prepare for family photoshow to prepare for family photosHudson’s Striped Sweater | Plaid Shirt | Fedora | Hudson’s Jeans | Yellow Dress (similar) | Hubby’s Sweater (similar)| Hudson’s Shoes 

Incentives work too! Tell your child you will go for ice cream afterwards, or offer another activity they love as a reward. Bring treats, like fruit snacks. McPhail always has a bag in her pocket and it saved our session!

“Little ones aren’t incentivized by something in the future, but the promise of immediate reward (e.g. 1 fruit snack) might be all they need to sit in place for a little longer,” she said.

McPhail doesn’t recommend chocolate — due to the obvious mess-factor — or suckers. Children get upset when you have to put them aside, she says.

How do I choose a photographer/communicate my vision? 

As in most situations, communication and openness is key. Here are a few of the most important things to consider before selecting a photographer…

Do you have a preference on the location?

Is there a specific goal? (e.g. 3 large canvases on your living room wall)

What is that photographer’s style? (traditional, posed/looking a the camera, candid)

Price? Ask what is included in the session and what is extra, and be specific!

“It can be really disappointing if you were thinking about traditional poses and your photographer didn’t get any shots of your family all looking at the camera,” McPhail explained. “Upfront communication is key to set this expectation.”

You can get a good feel for a photographers work by browsing their online gallery or Instagram feed. Every artist colors with a different paintbrush! Photography is an art form. Each photographer will approach your goals differently. Take your time and find someone you click and connect with.

Do you have things you don’t like about yourself or special needs with your family? Tell your photographer! They are accustomed to catering to unique needs. For instance, if one of your children has sensory issues or autism, let them know. They can ensure the session is comfortable for everyone!

Pro tip: Most photographers have a presence on Instagram. Browse their gallery to get a sense of their vision. If you don’t love it, don’t book them! 

how to prepare for family photosHudson’s Striped Sweater | Plaid Shirt | Fedora | Hudson’s Jeans | Yellow Dress (similar) | Hubby’s Sweater (similar)| Hudson’s Shoes 

Do I need to come with ideas or should I let them (the artist) direct the session?

Have a great idea? Your thoughts are always welcome, especially before the session. No photographer can claim to accomodate everything, but… if you discuss your vision in advance there is a strong chance your photographer can make it happen!

“I was recently asked to incorporate tractors into a portrait session and made it happen,” McPhail said. “I can’t always make that happen, but if you talk with me in advance and it jives with my aesthetic, I’ll do my best!”

[Thanks to Kelly McPhail Photography for sponsoring this post]



  1. Michael | 24th Sep 19

    One of the hardest part is for the kids to behave. Hopefully these tips will help many. Haha! Nice pictures by the way.

  2. Sophia | 24th Sep 19

    Your photos turned out so good and these tips were so helpful. It can definitely be a stressful experience without good preparation.

  3. Sushmita | 24th Sep 19

    First, I love the pictures. They are so natural and beautiful. Second, of course, your tips are pretty helpful. I loved the fact how you emphasised that the pictures need to look timeless when it comes to choosing your outfits. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Maureen | 24th Sep 19

    Love the tips! Family portraits are always a struggle; it takes a talented photographer to pull off a stress-free shoot.

  5. Bella | 24th Sep 19

    These are such great tips, Family photos are always tricky!

  6. Stephanie Stebbins | 24th Sep 19

    This is great advice! I needed it badly!

  7. Paula Stewart | 24th Sep 19

    An outdoor photoshoot would be awesome for us. I love all the pictures! The ones with a pop of yellow flowers are my favorites.

  8. Steph S | 24th Sep 19

    Wow your pictures turned out so great! I love the outfits you all chose! They coordinate so perfectly:) and you’re all so photogenic!

  9. tweenselmom | 25th Sep 19

    Your son is so ready for this photo shoot! It was a perfect day indeed as you all looked beautiful.

  10. Erik the Hungry Traveller | 25th Sep 19

    I chuckled when i read the part of an extended arm in all photos because of it being selfies. Ylur family is gorgeous and the photos are amazing.

    Thanks for the tips although I am guilty with requiring my famBam matchy matchy outfits. I know better now.

    • laveremis | 27th Sep 19

      Ha ha, yes the majority of our family pics are selfies! And I thought we needed to match too… or at least before a bit of research. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

  11. Celebrate Woman Today | 25th Sep 19

    Beautiful family pictures to last forever. Incredible poise and joy and happiness in every photo.

  12. Jen | 25th Sep 19

    These tips are very helpful. It’s not easy to have a family picture taken very tricky. Your photos are great 🙂

  13. Kuntala Banerjee | 25th Sep 19

    Excellent tips. I love your flowing dress. The photos are very lively and bright. I really needed the idea of managing kids. It is so tough to manage my son while clicking photos.

  14. Ellie Plummer | 25th Sep 19

    Your photos are so beautiful, your son is so cute. I bet it is quite difficult to prepare for family photos, especially with young children.

  15. Maartje van Sandwijk | 25th Sep 19

    These are lovely photos! I think you definitely need to prepare kids .- and wait till their old enough to sit still for a few minutes at a time 🙂

  16. Sundeep | 25th Sep 19

    First of all I want to tell you that your kid is adorable. And yes I believe she is amazing photographer. She clicked some amazing pictures. And thanks for letting us know about preparing for family photos

  17. Jasmine M | 25th Sep 19

    These photos are absolutely gorgeous! I know for me whenever I have taken photos in the past.. when I go into the session positive and in a good mood, it helps the pictures to turn out better. Thanks for these tips!

  18. Rachel | 25th Sep 19

    With family pictures coming up, these tips are perfect. Thank you!

  19. Patricia M. | 26th Sep 19

    I love this post so much that I had to pin it for later. I usually by my little one outfit then it’s so hard to get everyone else’s outfit around it.

    • laveremis | 27th Sep 19

      Aww, thanks Patricia! My goal is to make this website useful and entertaining. I found that tip about starting with mom’s outfit first super helpful too!

  20. Arun Dahiya | 27th Sep 19

    Thank you so much for these tips. I really struggle with getting nice photos of mine. From now on never crossing hands over chest , yes, that makes them look big.

    • laveremis | 27th Sep 19

      So glad you found it helpful! We really are quite new to family portraiture, so it was great to be able to pick the brain of a professional.

  21. Agnes Vazhure | 2nd Oct 19

    Those photos are really professional shots! I love looking at beautiful family photos when the genuine smiles and perfect angles are properly captured, wow!

    • laveremis | 2nd Oct 19

      This is so wonderful to hear, thank you Agnes. We really lucked out having such a great experience in our first time working with a professional.

  22. Elizabeth O | 5th Oct 19

    Sometimes taking a family photo is a struggle especially with toddlers involve. It always goes down to timing. You look wonderful with this picture.

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