8 Top Tips to Make The Most Of Your Family Portrait Shoot

Help! I’ve booked a photo shoot! What now?

Having family portraits done can be really exciting. It can also be really daunting! You’re capturing memories of yourself or your family, and of course you want the images to be perfect. That expectation can lead to all kinds of stress before shoot day, but it doesn’t have to be so!

I started shooting family portraits in a studio in 2006, which means I’ve worked with many families over the years. They’ve all had questions about the shoot, so don’t feel that you’re alone! If you’re still unsure about having family portraits taken, have a read through my

8 Top Tips to Make The Most Of Your Family Portrait Shoot below and take the fear out of your photo session.

1. Allow your kids to be kids

I’m starting with this one, as it’s one of the things I know parents worry about the most. What happens if my normally placid child is a little monster on shoot day? Fear not, I have seen it all! The tantrums, the tears, arguments, sulking – please don’t feel embarrassed at all. The more you start to stress, the more your children will pick up on the tension. My biggest recommendation is: don’t force them to “behave for the camera”.

Playtime can mean some great opportunities for family photographs.

If we’re outdoors and they want to run around and explore, let them. The way I shoot means I am always on the lookout for moments that are going to capture them in their element. Remember that kids have their own personalities, and their own quirkiness. Let me capture that too! If they can spend a few minutes doing their own thing, they are more likely to sit for a few more posed shots later.

Wider "action shots" work together with close-up posed shots.

2. Take into consideration eating habits and nap times

I prefer to shoot outdoor sessions early in the mornings or late in the evenings, as this gives the best light for portraits. Sometimes this might interfere with nap time or feeding time. And everyone will agree that tired, hungry children (and adults!) are not going to enjoy a photo session. We can discuss ahead of time your ideal schedule, leave it to me to worry about the lighting.

Bring along some water for the shoot, and maybe even a snack or two. I usually don’t encourage food treats to "bribe" kids during the session – especially foods that can stain teeth. However sometimes needs must and it’s also helpful to have a few wet-wipes on hand to wipe noses and faces during the shoot.

Having a well-rested, well-fed family certainly helps on shoot day.

3. Allow plenty of time to get ready

I can’t stress enough allowing yourself time to get ready, and time to get to the shoot! One set of traffic lights out of order can leave you stuck in a jam with a limited session time remaining. And once again, if you’re rushing and stressing, you’re not going to have fun at the session and nor is your family.

4. Don’t make too much of a fuss, and get the whole family involved

Don’t treat the shoot as something negative, but rather put a positive spin on it. Instead of adopting the “you must be on your best behavior for photos tomorrow” approach, try something along the lines of “tomorrow we’re going to the park to play and there is going to be a photographer there who is going to take some pictures of us”.

A studio environment doesn't mean you have to treat the session as stuffy and formal. Telling the kids about the shoot beforehand helps them to feel involved. Let them help you choose an outfit, let them bring along a favourite toy (more on those below) so that they also have a say.

Proof that studio portraits don't need to be too formal and "pose-y"

I also feel quite strongly about having both Moms and Dads in the photos. I have next to no photos of myself and my sister with both my Mom and Dad! We've never had a formal family portrait taken, and in all our holiday snaps it’s my Dad behind the camera. You don’t have to display the images, but it may important to your children one day that you have them.

5. To co-ordinate or not to co-ordinate

Ah, what to wear. One of the biggest stresses on photo day! Number one rule – wear what you feel comfortable in. If you are not a dress person, don’t go out and buy a new dress right before the shoot! If you are wearing something that feels good on you then you aren’t going to be focusing on your outfit. You’ll be far more relaxed.

Layers are also great as you can dress for the weather, and take off or put on layers as need be. Adults can hide it if they feel too cold or too warm, but feeling uncomfortable will always show on the little ones’ faces!

Angie's family co-ordinated with different blues.

You can also be co-ordinated, without being too matchy-matchy. Try wearing similar colour tones as opposed to a colour uniform. Try wearing either cool colours (blues and greens) or warm colours (reds and oranges) or colours in a similar range (for example all of you in pastel coloured shirts).

Solid colours work best – big, bold patterns can be distracting and make one person stand out from the rest of the shoot. BUT, this is just a suggestion. It all comes back to being comfortable. For example, in Ime's family shoot below, their traditional outfits go together perfectly, even with the different patterns and colours.

Don't be scared to bring along traditional or religious outfits if

wearing them is meaningful to you.

6. Don’t worry about posing

Over the years, I’ve developed a shooting style that allows me to capture you at your most natural and best. I don’t expect you or your family to spend hours before the session practicing poses in the mirror. I’ll help you with poses that are not only comfortable, but natural and flattering too.

Don’t feel that everyone must be looking at the camera all the time! If you interact with each other the images are far more genuine than if everyone was looking at me saying “cheese”.

A special mom-and-daughter moment - and no-one is looking at the camera.

7. Bring along some familiar items and props

If there is a favourite toy your children have, or a prop that is meaningful to you, bring those along too. Having a familiar item around also helps kids to feel more relaxed. Often the children will be so excited to show off their toy that it’s the perfect time for me to capture the excitement in their faces. Just make sure the toy is something you don’t mind having in a few photos!

Props can add to your shoot.

I usually shoot without the props first, and then introduce them as the “reward” rather than a snack or sweet.

8. Relax and have fun

If you’ve never had family portraits taken before, I can understand how terrifying it is for me to be standing there in front of you with a great big camera in your face. I know that it would be near on impossible for you to really forget I’m there, but I want to capture you being YOU.

I’m definitely not the type of photographer who is going to stand in one place and bark orders at you! Don’t be afraid of me moving closer or further away with my camera, or crawling on the floor or climbing a tree to get a good angle. If I act silly or get down to their level, it often helps children to relax and feel less intimidated.

Don't be scared to be silly!

I encourage you to play around, put your kids on your shoulders, tip them upside down, give each other tickles and cuddles and kisses. Talk to your kids, whisper sweet nothings in your partner’s ear.

Those are the real family moments you will treasure for years to come!

Do you have tips you’d like to share on how you prepared for a family portraits shoot? Questions you'd like to ask me about my photography? I’d love to hear from you! Comment on the Leigh Benson Photography Facebook page, and you could be featured in an upcoming post!​

Ready to book your own session? Go right ahead and click here.

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