Make Your Next Family Photo Shoot Something to Enjoy, Not Just Survive

January 3, 2019

If the phrase, “Let’s take a photo!” strikes fear into your heart, then here are some methods that just might make family photos actually fun. 

Looking through my wedding photos for the first time was thrilling until I made it to the group shots. Maybe a third-party observer wouldn’t notice, but I sure did: my two-year-old niece glaring at the camera, my husband grimacing a smile as he gazed into the sun, and my brothers-in-law frowning (not in a cool, James Bond sort of way, but like they were thinking, “It is the year 1893, and I must not smile or else everything will be ruined.”)

“I mean, you were happy to be marrying me, right?” I said half-jokingly to my husband, tilting my laptop so he could see a particularly painful smile he was pulling in one photo.

“Of course I was!” he said. “But it was a thousand degrees and the sun was in my eyes. You know I don’t like having my picture taken.”

I did know, but I had secretly been hoping that our wedding day would be so happy, it would overwhelm any dislike of posing for photos.

Our photographer did an amazing job, so this one’s really on me. I definitely could have planned better to make sure nieces, nephews, grandparents, and everyone in between were comfortable. That would have made it easier for the photographer to capture us and the emotions we felt about the day, rather than the emotions we felt about having our picture taken.

Especially with the holidays upon us, having a camera-shy (or camera-loathing) family can put a true strain on relationships. To overcome this, family photographers tell us to embrace the trend of lifestyle photography, don’t practice, focus on your family, and manage your expectations. By doing these four things, you’ll make the photo shoot a pleasant experience and end up with photos that capture everything you love about your family.

Embrace the trend of lifestyle or documentary photography

Posing may be the hardest thing about family photos. It can be uncomfortable and even stressful, especially with big groups.

Wedding photographer Pete Henderson says that “the key to getting really great photographs is to not worry about posing at all.” And this goes double for family photos, especially when children are involved. As opposed to traditional, posed photography, lifestyle or documentary photography may take a little more advanced planning as far as finding a location and perhaps gathering toys or furniture, but the results are worth it.

“The best photographs are the ones that document real moments,” Henderson adds. “The more time that you spend posing, the less time there is for real moments to happen.”

If your family isn’t a fan of photo shoots, embrace the trend of lifestyle photography, don’t practice, focus on your family, and manage your expectations.

Don’t practice

If you prefer traditional, looking-into-the-camera portraits, this advice is for you: don’t practice.

“That’s right. Do not practice how you will act in front of the camera,” says family photographer Christine Yodsukar. “I don’t want you worrying about your smile, or your posing, or how your laugh looks. If you practice, then you’re robbing your children of having genuine archives of their parents and their family life.”

Another way to phrase this advice is practice relaxing. If you find your stress levels rising, you may end up looking tense, and that tension may affect the way your family feels, too. Before the photo shoot, find something easy that relieves your stress: a deep breath, thinking of a favorite joke, or surreptitiously tickling someone.

Make the photo shoot about your family

Although the focus of a family photo shoot is, you know, the photos, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can make the photo shoot about being together and let the photos be an incidental part of the day, rather than the stress-inducing focus.

“Try not to focus on the camera, and instead focus on the reason you’re here in the first place, your family!” says Yodsukar. “Look at them, interact with them, and enjoy this experience.”

Bring snacks, plan around nap times, and maybe even bring a surprise for your partner or children or both!

Manage your expectations

What are your expectations? Think about your children’s behavior, the way you want the session to go, and the shots you’d like to end up with. Communicate these expectations with your photographer and family, and realize that it’s okay if things don’t turn out exactly how you imagined.

“Understand that not every picture needs to have everyone looking at the camera and smiling at the same time,” says Krista Campbell, a natural light portrait photographer. “If you are engaged as a family and loving on each other, your eyes will be on your family members and your smile will be natural.”

We all want our family photos to be beautiful, but not at the expense of a happy time together as a family. If your family isn’t a fan of photo shoots, embrace the trend of lifestyle photography, don’t practice, focus on your family, and manage your expectations. Doing these four things will make the photo shoot a day to remember for all the right reasons. And your photos will turn out better than you imagined!

Isabella Markert is a freelance writer, editor, and language educator. When she’s not writing or editing, Isabella likes to play games with her husband and family, follow watercolor tutorials from Pinterest, and eat the snobbiest chocolate she can find.

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