Tips on Preparing for a Family Photo Shoot

Taking photo shoots of your loved ones is always a firm favorite with many photographers. Not only do you get a memento for your album but it’s also a bonding experience in itself.

Unfortunately these family photo sessions don’t always go as planned even when you’re well prepared, something might come up in the last minute that can ruin your day.

The good news is that a well laid out plan with the necessary preparation can set you up with a fun-filled portrait session for everyone involved.

Deliver on expectations

Be it your own family and friends or a client who’s paying you for the photo shoot, a very important thing to keep in mind is understanding their expectations so that you can deliver on what they want.

So don’t just go ahead and start shooting. Be aware of their needs. What type of pictures are they looking for? This way you are all on the same page and the entire process will go smoother.

Go through some ideas and examples with your subjects before starting and set a game plan in motion.

Whether it’s head shots or poses, controlled environment or natural and also whether you prefer inside or outside. These are all elements that need to be agreed upon in advance so that everyone is happy with the end result.

These type of portrait photography sessions are mostly about capturing the moment. Photographers are capturing the intimacies and bond between a family, a mother and her children or a group of close friends.

This is why it’s best if the subjects feel free to interact between each other as these tend to produce the best photos. Ones that tell a story.

The key is to let the subjects be as comfortable as possible. Let kids be kids, let them laugh and just go with it.

family portrait of little girl

Research the Location

If you going to have the photoshoot indoors, then this step is not much of an issue, however if you’re planning an outdoor session than it’s extremely important that you know the place before going for the actual shoot.

Not all areas are ideal for photo shoots, no matter how nice they may be to the naked eye.

So, the best approach is to physically go to the said location beforehand and have a look around to get a feel of the place and find the perfect spot for the shoot.

Make sure you go there at the same time of day that you will be scheduling the actual photo session so that you get the same conditions, especially for lighting. Check out where the light is coming from, which background pieces can you use for your shots and which areas are shaded. Take into consideration whether it’s a busy place with lots of people walking about as this can make your job impossible. If so consider other locations or a different time of the day, when the place is quieter.

Take a few test photos while you’re scouting the location. This will help you notice features and issues which you might not catch with your naked eye.
Also, make sure to have a back-up location in place, just in case something goes wrong on the day. Who knows maybe the place will be closed for maintenance, or the weather’s bad for that particular place.

I recently had a photoshoot scheduled in an outdoor area and upon arriving I found that the place was being used for a wedding venue on the day. Good thing I had an alternative location in mind.

Go Prepared

You need to take a few items with you for precautionary reason. Such as reflectors, lenses, flashes and even extra clothes and props.

When taking photo sessions outdoors, many things are out of your control and being prepared will help mitigate some of these risks.

A simple prop, like a blanket can be useful in many ways. Like, giving your subjects something to sit on, or to wrap themselves in if it turns out colder than expected. Sometimes you can use it to cover the ground if it’s in a sorry state. It also adds some colour to your pictures.

Toys and gifts are extremely useful to distract the little ones or just to calm them down.

Create a Prep Cheat Sheet.

I like to have a prep cheat sheet which I hand out to my subjects a few days in advance of a photo shoot.

This gives them some guidelines of what they need to take into consideration to prepare for their shoot. Having quite a few shoots under my belt I looked back at these photos and identify those ‘should have’ instances and prepared a list of general tips to hand out in preparation of photo shoots.

Here’s my list. You can easily add more to make it your own.

 Hair – If you’re up for a hair-cut, do this at least 2 weeks before your shoot. For men, a fresh cut a couple of days before is fine.

 Facial Hair – A fresh shave is recommended. For those men who easily break out in a rash every time they shave then make sure you shave a good 6 to 8 hours before. Alternatively you can always listen to the experts and make sure you shave correctly to avoid razor burn. The process might be slower but, in this case, at least, it’s worth the extra time. Also, make sure to trim your sideburns and any beard you’ve got going on and keep an eye out for those stray hairs that pop out of place.

 Hair accessories –Have bobby pins, hair clips, gels, bands and any other useful hair accessories, especially if you’re going to be out-doors.

 Glasses – Keep it natural. If you’re always wearing glasses, then you should wear them even in your shoot. If the glare on the glasses detracts from your eyes in the photos, then you can remove the lenses from the frames just for the shoot. (this is an old Hollywood trick after all!).

 Red eyes – Get a good night’s sleep and don’t go out partying and getting drunk the day before your photo-shoot.

 Lips – Make sure you have lip-gloss with you for the shoot. There’s a good chance you will be licking your lips throughout the session (especially if you are ). You will therefore need to touch up with fresh lip gloss or lipstick.

 Make-up – Go light on the make-up. A subtle application can really accent your facial features. Make sure it matches your skin tone. You don’t want your face to stand out for all the wrong reasons.

 Nails – Freshly applied nail polish will make quite a difference in your photo shoot but pick a neutral colour so you don’t distract or clash with your outfits.

 Undergarments – Bring a set of bras and strap-adjusting accessories that goes well with all the outfits you might be wearing in the shoot.

 Clothes – Make sure to iron your clothes the night before and don’t fold them before the shoot. If they crease easily take them with you on location (in a hanger) and put them on just before the shoot starts.

 Shoes – This goes especially for men. Clean up your shoes before the shoot.


So, as you can see there are plenty of things you need to consider before setting out for a family photo shoot and being well prepared can take away much of the headache during the actual session and also at the editing stage.