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Stress-Free Family Photos - 12 Tips and Tricks for Nailing Family Pictures Every Time

Updated: Nov 5, 2023

Family pictures can be one of the most stressful times of the year for families. It's not any different for this momma over here. When I tell my family, we have pictures (which is often), I am usually met with an insane amount of groaning and eye rolling from my littlest speaking baby (Wisdom) to my biggest (Ike), but momma's know how important keeping a record of your family is and so I press through despite the lack of support I receive from my clan.

As a professional photographer who takes family pictures all year long, but especially during this time of year, one of the biggest deterrent for families making annual pictures a priority is planning outfits. It is hard dressing families and can easily become an overwhelming and expensive task that has us quitting before we start, but it doesn't have to be. Below are a few of my quick notes about dressing a family (from a photography shooting perspective AND as a mother) that I hope will help make your next family pictures session a WHOLE lot easier.

1. Have a Plan: when preparing for family pictures, it's important to have a plan. Are you going to purchase all new outfits? Are you going to use what is in your closet? Can you thrift? Can you borrow? The pictures alone are an investment, so thinking through how you will piece together outfits and coming up with a strategy is always a great place to start. My goal is always to style our entire family out of our closet, but in a new way and if I can't style from head to toe, doing as much as I can from their closet and just adding pieces along the way.

2. Next, I would highly encourage you to pick a color palette. Similar to painting a house, or planning a party or wedding, pick 3-4 colors and begin to plan your outfits. You can find palette inspiration from the following things:

  • considering the season you are shooting in (and what is happening in nature)

  • matching your home (what is the color scheme of your home, what outfits or colors would easily fit)

  • look at past pictures (what have you worn to past family pictures- what did you like or wish you had done differently?)

  • be on brand (are you a business owner? how can you use these pictures for other things? dress with that in mind).

3. Do Not Match, But Blend. Resist the urge to match your family members in the same outfits but consider how you can blend together like a beautiful quilt, where every patch has it's own story, but it all works together. It is much easier to blend and bring elements together, then to match every family member and it's really fun to see how a family members personal style comes to the forefront when they are able to work in a palette to bring their outfit to life vs. being matched. This is where dressing in layers and adding accessories can also be helpful. You can add, with an accessory or a add on layer, whatever it is you need to tie the outfit together. In the image above, you can see that reflected in my lipstick color and Wisdom's red bow.

As a photographer, I ask you to reconsider wearing denim jeans and white t-shirts. Please, do not do that. :)

4. Think In Neutrals. I haven't always adopted the idea of neutrals until recently, but the truth of the matter is that neutrals are that for a reason and are generally always on trend throughout the generations. I recognize though that neutral colors aren't always every one's spin, so consider maybe "basing" your outfit largely around neutral clothing items and building your accessories or layers around pops of color. This will also make finding pieces in your closet far easier. Most everyone owns a black shirt, a white shirt, dark and light denim, and so on. Another point to add. When neutrals are largely the base of your outfits, you can start to play a bit, be more adventurous and add and mix some patterns that aren't distracting but a bit more playful to your outfits, as seen below.

5. Try On Outfits Ahead of Time. Consider doing a test run and making every member of your family try on their outfit prior to getting dressed on the big day. It's so important to have lead time to see how outfits change and look together. Having a "dress rehearsal," gives you time to see that those pants you thought fit are actually shorter then you thought or the dress that you loved doesn't actually hang the way you hoped, and it gives you time to adjust and order something new or shop locally to find that perfect piece that is missing.

6. Consider Dressing The Hardest Person First. In my family, the hardest person to dress will almost always be me. As a mom, my body is always changing and fluctuating. Because I have smaller children, I can usually put them in anything and they are going to look cute - so it is important for me to find my outfit first and my priority is always comfort first and style second and when I can marry the two, we are winning. Who is your difficult to dress person? Start there.

7. Dress Small Children On Location. Have you ever gotten your child/ren dressed only to find that less then 5 minutes later they are dirty? Mom hack: dress your children as you arrive to the session. Plan to show up 15-30 minutes before your session so that you can give the last few snacks, nurse, and dress your child on location. This eliminates spills, falling down or any other wild things happening to your child's clothing.

8. Have Treats/ Rewards Ready. Have a plan for how you are going to black mail your children through their session. Rewards on site (fruit snacks or small candy) or a fun date or tradition after pictures is always a fun idea. Many of my families make it a tradition to do brunch or have ice cream after pictures and I think creating a ritual around family pictures is a lovely idea.

9. Trust Your Photographer. Trust the professional that you hired to do their job. Trust their advice. Trust their ability to direct and give instruction. Trust their experience.

10. Schedule To Have Pictures Done Annually or Bi-Annually. Ike and I shoot families, but we also photograph weddings and engagements among other things. Every year, we photograph 30-50 seniors and when they arrive to our house for family pictures, one of the things they often comment on is how beautiful our family pictures are, and then often the next words out of their 17 year old mouth is about how their family hasn't had pictures taken since they were 5 or 10. They also often talk about how they have pictures with their siblings or their dad, but mom isn't in any of them. Mamas- this message is for you: SHOW UP IN PICTURES. Make them a priority. Family pictures aren't for you. They are for the people who love and adore you and its about their memories and having those consistent memories over a lifetime. Try to make it a priority to schedule these pictures often and this leads to my next point....

11. Print Your Pictures. Research shows that children who see pictures of themselves up in their homes are generally more confident, but also, this is the digital age where everything is kept on our phones. Remember what it felt like to develop film and to hold an image in your hands, to rub your fingers along a photo album or to send pictures in the mail? Give your children, your family members, yourself the joy of taking your pictures from cell phone to real life. Allow your memories and your beautiful family to shine!

12. Don't Stress About __________.

  • the location because YOU'RE the star of the show and the background isn't what's being photographed and it's about you and your family.

  • the posing: trust your photographer to do their job and if you are feeling insecure about anything reach out ahead of time and make your photographer aware so they can make suggestions or consider that before your session

  • wearing patterns or graphic tees (unless you love the message and you can make it make sense with your outfits). The general unspoken photography rules are not to wear anything that may date you unless its for a styled shoot. A quick tip when utilizing patterns into your look is to pick one person to wear the pattern and to coordinate other looks off of it.

  • stay away from large amounts of black and white, and denim jeans and white tees on top UNLESS you have approval from your photographer to head in that direction (rules we often break LOL)

  • about the picture process because at the end of the day, it's just pictures and that's the priority and could you really ever be upset about a picture of your beautiful family, even if they aren't perfectly posed our outfits perfectly chic? Don't let anything keep you from taking the time to highlight where your family is at this time in their lives and don't let this stuff keep you from celebrating them, as they are, right now.

Family pictures can be incredibly stressful, but they don't have to be. It can be a fun low maintenance time for you and your family to connect and reflect on how you have grown and how much you love each other and as a photographer and a mom that's a narrative I can get behind. I hope these few tips and tricks will help you as you embark on your next family session or EVEN encourage you to make that call to your photographer and get on the books before the holiday season. If you live locally, we are still accepting a limited amount of session. You can find out more here.

Now get out there and make some memories and if you found any of these tips helpful, let me know in the comments.

with strength, wisdom and courage,


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