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.
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!
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.
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.”
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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!
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!”