How to Prepare for Fabulous Family Pictures {family pictures}

Yesterday I shared with you some of the proofs from our family photo shoot, and today I’m going to share with you some tips on how to prepare for fabulous family photos! Like most things that require design—a beautiful room, a gorgeous blog, a pleasing graphic, a fantastic party—beautiful things take some planning. Here are some tips on how to prepare before your next family photo session.

Obviously one of the most important decisions you will make is deciding upon a photographer. Look for someone with an artistic eye who is willing to listen to your ideas and knows how to elaborate upon them. Our photographer Leigh is a college student with a new photography business, reasonable rates, and mad photog skills! You do not have to choose an uber expensive photographer in order to receive great photos. If you have young children, choosing someone who relates well to your kiddos and can get them relaxed and smiling is a MUST!

Leigh from LeighKM Photography

I had seen one of Leigh’s shoots done in a sunflower field and loved the idea; however, the sunflowers were a bit past their prime during our scheduled shoot. So I told Leigh that I wanted a place with white chippy wood and character and she suggested the Star Barn. It was EXACLY what I wanted! Rely on your photographer for location suggestions, ideas, and times to shoot. Outdoor lighting is best during the hours near sunrise and sunset.


Gone are the days of seeing a sea of white shirts and blue jeans. That ship has sailed, so don’t be tempted to put everyone in the same color tops and bottoms. With a little planning, you can have your family looking natural, not in uniforms, and still color coordinated.

To garner color inspiration, pick your color palette using some of the tools I mentioned in this post. If you’re going to be creating a gallery wall, consider the colors of your home. (That’s what I used to choose the colors of our outfits!)

Many photography websites have outfit suggestions using clothes primarily available from Old Navy, Gap, and Piperlime. You can find many of them pinned on Pinterest or by doing a google image search “what to wear photography“.

Before our shoot, I went on Pinterest and started searching family portraits and family photography. I also did a Google search of photography that had taken place at our intended location to see what angles/views looked best. I pinned all of these on Pinterest and shared the board with Leigh before our shoot. Here are a few examples of the inspiration and our interpretations.

The inspiration:

Our interpretation: Do you see our reading material choices? I had the boys pick out their favorite book, and so did I ;). I love how much this shot says about our personalities.

The inspiration:

Our interpretation: Every morning in our kitchen, Matt warms up for his workout by throwing Zephan up in the air. It’s a sweet tradition, so I love this pose!

The inspiration:

Our interpretation: It was Leigh’s suggestion to have the boys cover their eyes while we kiss and this is my all-time favorite picture of the shoot!

The inspiration:

Our interpretation: I loved the casual, relaxed, and loving feel to the inspiration photo and was thrilled that Leigh recreated our inspiration. This picture is very “us” and reflects our personalities and family connection beautifully.

The inspiration:

Our interpretation: For some reason I gave Leigh a little bit of a hard time over this concept, but I love this photo and know it will look fantastic in the mix of our gallery wall.

After you have your location, color palette, outfits, and poses picked out, it’s time to round up your props! Your photographer might have some props available for you to use, but I think it’s best to discuss beforehand what you will be bringing. Below is a list of some of props that we brought. Not all of them were used, but most were. I brought blankets and other props that went with our clothing and setting.

I even dismantled an old vintage mirror of mine to get an empty frame!

Bonus points if you can figure out what we’re trying to say here. This was my idea and it admittedly looked cuter in my mind than it looks in reality. The boys were getting tired at this point which brings me to my next tip….

Okay, I say “bribe” a bit tongue in cheek here, but it’s very important to keep things fun and motivating when working with little ones. Leigh took about 1000 photos during our hour and a half session. My boys are age 7 and 4 and smiling for a camera is not their idea of a good time. But from our photos you would never guess it!

To get them excited (and hopefully cooperative) for the shoot, I allowed the boys to be part of the process from beginning to end. I showed them the inspiration pictures on Pinterest, had them help me round up props, and allowed them to have some say in what they wore. (I didn’t really want a plaid brigade but they wanted to “look like Daddy”.)

Leigh was great at gauging the boys’ moods and had them do several “silly faces” for the camera. She made the picture-taking process feel like a game and used their interests to her advantage (i.e. doing Kung fu moves, tickling each other, telling each other secrets). Leigh also gave the boys breaks by taking some pictures of Matt and me while they played. I came prepared with snacks and drinks to have mid-way through the shoot, and we also promised them a trip out for ice cream if they were good. Matt would give the code-word “ice cream” as a reminder if either of them became too silly or uncooperative. It worked out great and the boys both had a blast during the session!

In the end, we ended up with pictures that beautifully capture this time in our lives and I couldn’t be happier with them!

I hope these tips help give you some guidance for planning your next family portrait session.

Share this:


  1. says

    Cool post, i agree with you about going on Pinterest and looking for ideas…and bribing the kids is very important, lol.
    Your photos came out amazing…. i will have to keep LeighKM Photography in mind.

  2. says

    Beth thank you so much for the tips. It seems like getting ready to take pictures is so stressful, but you’ve broken it down into something managable. Thank you! These photos are fantastic!

  3. says

    We are having professional family picts taken in the next couple of months for the first time in, oh, 10 YEARS! I know… TOTAL. MOM. FAIL! Especially sine my girls are now 18, 14, and almost 13!! Ironic thing is, I hadn’t even realized it! Oops!
    My point is this… THANK YOOOUUUU FOR THESE TIPS!! I’m a little out of practice. 😉

  4. says

    What a fantastic post!!! I am about to (keep your fingers crossed) start my own photography business. I love it so much and love to take pictures, but I have this ginormous fear of I don’t know what!!! I am getting there though!!!

  5. says

    Great photo tips! I need to check out this “what to wear” search. That is awesome! I had no idea.

    Your photographs are wonderful. The one of y’all laying down on the blanket brought a tear to my eye. Yes, strangers make me cry but I can’t help it. I could just feel the love!

  6. says

    Beth! Hi! I stumbled on your blog here the other day and have been loving it… and now all the sudden, omigosh, there is the Star Barn! I grew up right across the river in Enola! Ha! Yay South Central PA!

    Oh, and gorgeous pictures too : )

  7. says

    What gorgeous photos! We are overdue for family pictures, as it always ends up totally stressing me out! Making sure everyone is clean, in a good mood and looking nice is more work than one would think, right? Yours have turned out lovely!

  8. says

    I love the idea of this post! I’m a photographer and have been blessed enough to call it my profession for almost 3 years. Due to my background I was interested to see where you went with this. You made some really great points that I agree with such as no uniforms, working with your photographer to selection a location, and bring along props that you would like incorporate into your photos….ALL great pointers!!!!

    I will say though that it doesn’t have to be as hard as you made it out to be. The brunt of your work should be in selecting your photographer and wardrobe. If you choose an experienced photographer they will walk you through the whole experience verses the other way around. You’re paying your photographer for their artistic eye not just to snap a photo. If you select a photographer that fits your style you should be able to trust in them and where they will take the session. It is important for a client to let their photographer know the key shots they would like but then again an experienced photographer should ask their client this question in a pre session consolation. When you go into a shoot with exact poses and ideas it may way work out great but on the other hand it can also lead to disappointed and stress as the images you have in mind may not translate exactly the same way to your photographer. If your photographer is an artistic person (which most photographers are) giving them and exact pose or shot you want may caused them to feel boxed-in thus leading to a bit of stress during the shoot as they are trying to make sure they get the pose just so. It’s best to use photo ideas as guidelines and see where they take you. As you mentioned kids are not in love the idea of having their picture taken for an extended amount of time. If you’re having them sit here, put their hand there, turn this way… may end up with unhappy kiddos and unnatural looking photos. It’s best just to let them be themselves and allow your photographer to work their magic…..bribing during a photo shoot only buys you so much time. I have found that creative games lead by lead by the photographer work great for the little ones and keep them for whining for items they have been bribed with.

    All in all I think this was an awesome post idea and had some really great tips! Just wanted to chime in with a pointers from a photographer’s perspective. Hope that’s okay!

    Kendra aka “Domestic Princess in Training”

    • Beth @A to Z says

      Hi Kendra,
      You’re not the only photographer to chime in here, and honestly I deleted the other photog comments because they were very negative and this is a place of encouragement. So I very much appreciate your positive tone here. However, I want to make it clear that in no way did Leigh belabor over getting us the “exact shots” I wanted. If you’ll notice, our shots are variations of my inspiration and they all happened very naturally. There was no holding up a photo and trying to get our bodies exactly the same! Leigh did not tell the boys to place their hands here or there. On the contrary, she played with the boys and gave them funny things to think about and used their interests to her advantage (i.e. doing Kung Fu moves, tickling each other, telling each other secrets, etc). She had us just chat and relax together and guided us beautifully through the entire session.

      I am a creative control freak who takes pics for my blog everyday and wouldn’t feel comfortable completely leaving all the poses, props and ideas up to my photographer. I’ve done that several times before and received shots that my photographer loved, but that I wasn’t pleased with. Our pre-photography consult included the location, mood, feel, and poses that I was interested in and Pinterest was an excellent tool for Leigh and I to get a feel for what we hoped to create together. If a photographer didn’t want to here my creative input and ideas, and allow me to bring my own props, I wouldn’t work them. Period.

      These tips are NOT meant for photographers. They are meant for your average fam that do not have a thousand (or more) dollars to drop on uber expenisive photography. The point of this post is like all of my posts: To inspire your average girl to take charge and create beauty.


      • says

        Hey Beth!
        I totally understand if you decided to delete my comment. I really didn’t mean to come from a bad place.

        You’re right you did do your variation of the shots you liked and I think it’s good that they have symbolism in your life! I always welcome my client’s ideas and work with them on achieving an overall look. I’ve yet to have a client come to me with exact images they want to recreate but we always go over shot ideas, props all that good stuff! My client’s visions are more important than mine. It’s my job to direct the shoot in a way that will return them with well rounded creative images that they can be proud of. I was mainly saying that for others who may be reading. As you experienced the shot that you may have in mind may not come out exactly like you planned. I just wanted any who happened to read my comment to know that, that’s okay because what you end up capturing is behavior that’s normal for your family!

        I’m not a high end photographer in fact I just had a client tell me I need to raise my rates. As you did, it’s possible to find a reasonably priced photographer that is experienced, returns quality work that you can be proud of, and creates a fun session experience the whole family will enjoy.

        Again I think you bought some really great insight to preparing for a family session that I’m sure many will find beyond helpful. I guess I’m just reading it from a different perspective that as you mentioned was not intended for.

        • Beth @A to Z says

          Hi Kendra,
          I didn’t delete your comment because it wasn’t negative. You expressed your opinion positively and diplomatically which is always welcome. You were the 4th professional photog to weigh in and the 3 before you were deleted because of their rudeness. Leigh is just starting out so I feel fiercely protective of her. She can handle herself but I remember what it was like to be starting out in my field of choice and having criticism thrown my way that wasn’t constructive. Again, I really appreciate the positive way you went out about expressing your thoughts.

          Thank you!

    • Richelle says


      I was thinking the exact same thing. You worded it so nicely. I am also a photographer and have had my own business for 4 1/2 years.

      Another small thing I wanted to add is that in most cases you get what you pay for. A newer photographer will charge less and someone with a little more experience is going to charge more. Also, if it is a full time job, the prices have to be higher than someone just doing it on the side (bills need to be paid!). Someone with more experience will know how to use the light better and come up with some fun shots that are pin worthy. :) They also have had more experience with all kinds of kiddos/ families and they will know what works best for your family. Other things that are important are that they have a business license (actually pay taxes) and are insured. The most important thing though, is to find a photographer you trust. You need to love their style so you don’t have to search pinterest all day looking for the shots you want. I even send my clients my pinterest wardrobe board to make it easier for them.

      Beth, please don’t think I’m putting down your photographer… she did a good job with your photos, especially if she is just starting! And, it sounds like she works well with your kids which is SO important! It seems like you had a lot of ideas for your shoot, which is awesome, but like Kendra said, it’s not always necessary and I hope your readers know that in the end, it’s really the photographer’s responsibility (and what you pay them for) to come up with creative shots. If anything, clients should search through their photographer’s blog and find cute shots they have done and ask for those.

          • Beth @A to Z says

            Uh oh. In a bad way? This post seems to have hit a nerve in many ways.

        • Richelle says

          No, not at all! One of my photographer friend’s posted it to his in a positive way to his clients. That’s why I checked it out.

          • Beth @A to Z says

            Phew. Glad to hear it ;). I’m so not ready to deal with an onslaught of negative comments today. I am a DIY home blogger. I like to DIY everything and teach people how to create beauty on a budget. I had no idea that when I wrote this post last August teaching others to create beautiful photos on a budget that I would be angering a large community of professional photographers. I would LOVE to receive some gorgeous professionally done photos of my family someday soon, and agree tenfold that you get what you pay for, but right now the pricetag just isn’t in our budget. Leigh’s photos have been attacked for their immaturity and lack of technique. However, these exact photos of my fam have been pinned well over 65,000 times, are currently on a book cover, and have been on a billboard in Arizona. Obviously it doesn’t always have to be perfect to be beautiful :).

        • Richelle says

          I’m so sorry to hear that she has been attacked! I just checked out her website and she does a really good job and it looks as though she has even gotten better since your photos were taken. I never understand that… photography is subjective and although there is a technical side to it, a lot of it is artistic interpretation. You were obviously attracted to her work because you like her artistic eye. I’ve never had a client come to me and say “wow, you follow the rule of thirds so well”. lol That’s awesome that her photos are getting around so much! I hope the majority of the attention she is getting is positive.

  9. says

    I thought this was a great post, Beth! I can certainly see Kendra’s point about a photographer’s creativity…but ultimately, if I’m saving and paying $$$ for family pictures I want what I want. :s Is that awful of me?? I LOVED the section on color coordinating. That’s going to be very helpful for me!!

  10. says

    As a photographer of 6 years, I love it when my clients have their own props and ideas for poses. I think there is a line that can be crossed sometimes, as in the case of one client I had who sent me about 25 photos she “had” to have, and it did freak me out a bit. But overall, I think all of your tips are great. I do agree with Kendra that you need to trust your photographer’s artistic eye and let her stylize the shoot, yet it would only make it better if the client had some great shots in mind too (maybe 5-10 max). Those are just my own .02c. :)

    • Beth @A to Z says

      I guess I’m feeling a bit defensive here on the behalf of our photographer. I only showed a few examples in this post of our shoot and in no way want to give the impression that Leigh just followed my guidance like a puppet. As I stated in the beginning of my post it’s imperative to find “someone with an artistic eye who is willing to listen to your ideas and knows how to elaborate upon them.” Leigh did a fantastic job of expanding upon all of my ideas and brought her own energy, creativity and expertise to the session.

      • says

        They are amazing pictures; I hope she is encouraged to keep moving forward with her business. You are right that even if you had told her the pose ideas, they wouldn’t have turned out as great without her own artistic eye and skills. I love all of them so much; I only wish we had a barn around here somewhere so I could do this myself! :)

    • Emily says

      I think you did a great job of explaining what you did! I like the ideas you came up with because I honestly am disappointed when I don’t get at least a couple shots I was dreaming of. If you don’t tell the photographer what you want, then you definitely won’t get it!

      Although photographers are artists, they are also working for you. If you have things you want done and a photographer would refuse- they aren’t the right photographer for you!

      I’m “pinning” this post for my photography board, so I can remember some things I want to do for our family photos this fall!

  11. says

    Well… I am glad I made a mark on the blog.haha, Honestly, we live a life moment by moment inspired by something – right ? Hero’s like Mother Theresa, Ghandi, Jesus,the women that fought for our right to vote etc. Whom ever doesn’t live inspired is missing out- and in the end isn’t life about being blessed? I think we need to remember photography is about blessing someone with the gift of a moment, a moment captured- with the people they love. This is why I do what I do, to give that gift. And yes, we copied beautiful ideas and were Inspired by other ideas, I am big enough to be small enough to say that, I look up to other artist’s and what to be great like them. AND, how adorable are her kids yall ??? ADORABLE!

    Love them so much, beautiful people on an incredible journey of faith.

  12. says

    Beautiful. I was pinning like a madwoman last night. I’m thinking early fall and some applepicking would be a great time for a photoshoot! Once again, you’ve left me inspired.

    Thanks Beth.

  13. Jenn says

    Hey Beth, what great advice and tips! Your family is so sweet – a lot of these photos made me smile and tear up just a little at the same time. What a blessing!

  14. says

    This post is terrific. You have a beautiful family and your pictures are fantastic. Ever since I saw my son’s engagement pictures done in Old Town Spring, I knew I had to get family pictures done there, as well.

    Our children are grown and married…no grandchilren yet :(
    I want my mom involved, as well. So, it would be hubby, 2 sons, 1 daughter, 1 DIL, 1 SIL and my mom.

    With over 100 degrees temps in Texas, now was NOT a good time. We have already discussed doing these in October.

    I didn’t know the jeans and same color shirts/blouses were out. I think I still want jeans, barefooted and solid color tops.

    Again, this post was so timely and wonderful :)

  15. says

    Beth, just found your blog. Great post…will help tremendously with our family photos. I take scads of pictures…usually of animals on our farm. This might help with some “people” pictures! This post caught my eye, as I recognized the Star Barn and figured it had to be “our” star barn. We lived in the Hershey area for many, many years…and passed this treasure frequently. Now we live on our farm about an hour north towards State College. Will check back…..thanks for the tips!

  16. Wendy Hunter says

    It was just vicariously fun walking through the process with you all ! :-) Lotsa fun! Thanks for sharing. wendy

  17. Gretchen says

    What a great, helpful post with beautiful photos to boot! Thank you for sharing these wonderful ideas. I’m sure they’ll come in handy in the fall as we take photos for Christmas cards. :-)

  18. says

    Hi Beth, I just found your blog and thanks for the awesome post! I’m going on vacation next month with my boyfriend and his sisters’ families and we’re going to do a big family photo shoot. I’ve never had the family portrait thing done so I was pretty apprehensive but I love how fun you made the process look. I had to laugh at the part about “bribing” the kids, because we definitely have a nephew that’s going to take some coercing!

    Your photographer was great, and your family is lovely!


  19. says

    I hate deciding what to wear for family photos!

    But, lately I have been putting off updating my photo because I have a daughter lost in a world of addiction. I feel like our family would be incomplete. I have thought about having a picnic photo with an extra plate or her… or perhaps an empty chair.

    I just have to give myself permission to go down that path of grieving instead holding on to hope. I think my little will be grown before we get a new family picture made.

  20. says

    I am OVER THE MOON that I found this post!!! We are having family photos taken at the beach at the end of Sept and I wanted to mix it up a bit, stray from the traditional beach photos (we had them taken last year too), and this post just gave me a ton of inspiration! Thank You!

  21. says

    This is a really informative and helpful post!! I love it. Seeing how you got inspiration from Pinterest and used it…very cool. Love these poses!! When my boys are a bit older, we’ll have to do this. Our photo shoot this year lasted about 5 minutes….you know how things go with 2 year olds… :)

  22. kristin M says

    As a photographer, I would love it if more families had more of an idea of what they wanted. It usually all comes from me. If people have seen my website they inevitably see a shot they would like “duplicated’ and I always tell them that there are a lot of variables and it will never be exactly that shot but a springboard for their own personal version of that shot. I think this is a great post!

  23. says

    Super post idea! I love how you used Pinterest to look for inspiration, and thanks for sharing the originals plus your version. All the planning you did and obviously great communication with a talented photographer worked out well, as your photos are lovely.

  24. says

    THIS IS AMAZING!!! THANK YOU SOOOOO MUCH!!! I didn’t know if I was doing it right until now. So thank you for letting me feel so proud of myself today! Gonna share this article with everyone I know. YOU ROCK

  25. says

    thank you so much for your post! this sums up what i verbally tell my clients.i too just started my photography business, and i will be sure to be sharing your site- and often!!! :)

  26. says

    This is an absolutely wonderful post! As a photographer, it is always so rewarding to see people who plan and are just as excited about their images as the photographer is. I cannot express how important it is for clients to work towards personalizing their own images as well. This post sums all of it up so nicely, and I will definitely be recommending future clients to read this!

  27. Megan Crofton says

    That is a great tutorial and a really easy read. I am a photographer and this really helps when giving suggestions to families.


  28. says

    just wanted to add to you list, when photographing kids (advice for parents AND photographer) know when to quit. I’ve had to do a half a shoot, because the kids were “done” and then schedule another one on a different day. :)

  29. says

    Hi, I love these pictures. To capture the whole family having fun is quite rare. This is done in a very natural way so very nice. I recently saw another website where I think visitor of this website could be interested in. Fave a look at, it’s another interesting way to capture the whole family.

  30. Kelsey says

    Thank you so much for these great tips. I am just starting out in the photography business and I send the link to this exact article to my clients for them to read and look through before a shoot. It helps all of us to be on the same page and know what we want to accomplish from this experience. Thanks! :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *