Every year at about this time, I make my family do the yearly “pilgrimage” to take our annual family photos for our holiday cards. The first few years of this endeavor were met with some major resistance by all family members (myself excluded, of course). But as the years have gone on, my family has moved past the resistance stage and moved into what I call the “acceptance stage” of this annual tradition, because they know it’s just not negotiable! Also, I bribe my kids with gummy bears. True fact.
First things first—I don’t do this to my family to punish them, although they may beg to differ. If you’re a mom like me, who spends most of your time BEHIND the camera lens, our annual family photo session is one of the few times each year I actually get some nice photos with my children. You know, ones where they are actually looking at the camera, not the stray dog walking down the street off to our left. So yes, maybe these photos are for me, just a teeny tiny bit, but I also know that the kids LOVE looking back at our photos every year and noticing how much they’ve grown each year, when they were missing a tooth, etc. Since this is our (gulp) 8th year of having an annual family photo session, I thought I’d bestow some of the wisdom I’ve learned over the years.
Find a photographer that fits your style and price point. There are SO many photographers to choose from in practically every city. Each photographer has his/her own style, method of shooting, posing (or not posing) you, lighting, etc. If you are at all particular, I’d recommend looking through a bunch of that photographer’s images. If you find yourself “liking” all or most of that photographer’s images, then the chances are good that you will be really happy with your own family photos. Also, prices and packages can run the gamut, and more expensive doesn’t always mean better. There are some really great photographers who are just starting out, and you may want to give one of them a try if you’re trying to stick to a strict budget!
Coordinate those outfits, but be careful! This is, by far, the hardest thing for most of us. I’m sure many of you reading this post right now, myself included, have searched Pinterest for “family photo shoot outfits.” You’ll see some good ones and some that have gone horribly wrong. I have a LOT of opinions on this subject, trust me. Here’s a few of my favorite do’s and don’ts:
- DON’T have everyone wear the same white shirt and khaki pants. It seems harmless enough, but please, just don’t. You’ll end up looking like you’re in a school uniform commercial for Old Navy.
DON’T choose tiny stripes or small gingham print shirts. They can create a moire effect (google that term later) that ends up looking really weird in photos.
DO layout all of the outfits together before the actual photo shoot to see how well they coordinate. I do this every year and almost always end up changing something out.
DON’T have too many bright and bold patterns. Keeping it muted and solid is the way to go for timeless photos, so put down that bright chunky plaid shirt I see you’re holding and opt for a solid one.
DO choose only 2-3 well-coordinated colors maximum for your family outfits. Think about your location and its colors when selecting these colors as well!
Choose a location that suits your family. Every year, I try to pick a new location for our family photos to keep it interesting and fun. If there is a place that is special or meaningful to your family, that can also be a great idea. Your photographers will have their favorite spots that they can recommend too. I love this because they really know the lighting at those spots inside and out and know that your photos will end up looking great!
The photo shoot itself is exhausting. Every year, I always think to myself, “Okay, this is the year that I won’t have to herd the kittens…I mean children.” WRONG. Every year…WRONG. They used to be babies, they’d crawl around on the ground, eat sticks and I couldn’t make them sit still. Now, my kids are 4, 6 and 8, and they are fighting with each other and inevitably someone pouts/cries (I swear it’s not my husband) every year. And to top it off, this year we added a puppy to the mix. That’s right, folks, a puppy. I mean, seriously Emily?! What in the world was I thinking? Well, I wish I had more advice for you on this topic, but it would mainly be to be prepared that it’s not as effortless as your end photos will end up looking! If you can, bring along a grandparent, babysitter or nanny, to help “herd the kittens”…or a puppy.
Plan in advance…like way in advance. Many of the good photographers book their fall/holiday schedules six months in advance and aren’t able to take on any new clients. If this is your first time at the family photo session rodeo, you won’t want to start your search in August for a photo shoot in October. Give yourself time to find the right photographer, location and coordinated outfits.
Print those photos! It sounds silly, but it’s one of my best pieces of advice. We send out photo holiday cards every year to friends and family, but if that’s not your jam, I’d still recommend getting prints made or even doing an annual digital photo book of the photos from your session that you can get printed and put on your coffee table. I am a big fan of blurb.com for my printed photo books. One thing I’ve noticed is that my kids LOVE to sit down with a tangible book, not an iPad or iPhone, and flip through pictures of themselves. These photo books also make GREAT holiday gifts for grandparents—just saying.