“If you have not had family pictures taken within the past 3 years, promise me right now that tomorrow morning, you will find someone to do it. I don’t care if it’s a neighbor, a portrait studio, or a tripod and a remote. Just do it. We have no guarantees in life, but at least we can have the photos to prove that we were here, we were together, and we were happy.” ~ Thanks, P.T. Photography
We’ve all been there. A professional photography session gone wrong. Bridals. Wedding. Maternity. Newborn. Birthday. Family holiday photos. Someone was hungry and uncooperative. The weather ruined everything. You didn’t get your photos back on time for an event deadline. Someone wore a t-shirt. One kid cried the entire time. Whether you take photos once a year, or several times, you’ve probably made some memories (some good, some bad) along the way!
Growing up with parents who valued photography and portraiture, my siblings and I were good sports (or at least I remember being a good sport) for the Texas tradition of blue bonnet pictures, family photos, Easter photos and the list goes on. In later years, my mom actually went on to become a certified professional photographer! We didn’t appreciate it at the time, but now that I am an adult, I am so thankful that we have so many family photos to look back on.
Candid photos, or today’s iPhone photos are great (and important), but there’s something about that classic portrait that captures a special moment in time. They’re a great way to honor remarkable people and milestones in our lives. It’s the gift that keeps on giving; you’ll never look back and say “I wish we never took those photos.” Over the years, Brent and I have had our fair share of professional photography sessions…that happens when you get engaged, get married and have a child. We don’t want to be overconfident, but after a few years of trial and error, we feel pretty good about our preparation and game plan. If you have small children or an uninterested/uncooperative spouse, you know the importance of being quick, but also making it fun and relaxed. I wanted to share a few thoughts and suggestions of things that may make your next session go smoothly.
It’s so good to be back with all of you. Hope you enjoy!
Finding the Right Photographer:
Connecting with the right photographer is key for fantastic family photos. Here are a few of my best tips for choosing the right photographer.
Choose a photographer that has experience doing the type of photos you need. This seems pretty straightforward, but I think it’s still worth mentioning. If you are looking for a great family photographer, choose a photographer who has portfolio work featuring families! If you need newborn photos, make sure you find someone who has experience working with small babies. It’s easy to forget that there are many different types of photographers out there who specialize in different subjects and styles. For example, if you really like the work of a photographer that primarily shoots at an indoor studio, but you’re wanting outdoor natural light photography, check with them first to see if they will do it/have experience with what you need. They should be able to give you a straightforward answer and their online portfolios may also give you a good idea of what they specialize in.
- Personality is key. I personally think the best way to find a good photographer is by asking your friends, especially for family or wedding photographs. Chemistry is pretty important, especially if you want to form a long-term relationship with a local photographer. If you’ve ever had a wedding, you know exactly what I mean. It’s important to be able to relax, be natural and have fun in front of the camera. If you have a good chemistry and rapport with your photographer, it will show in your photos. Kids are fun, but they can also be tiring, moody or uncooperative. Finding someone who is used to and enjoys being around children is important, when planning family shoots. Corralling your kids is hard enough, you don’t need the added pressure of an impatient photographer to add to your stress.
Chemistry at Work
Mindy of Happiness is Life Photography is one of our favorites! She is so good with children and very understanding and patient at each session. We never feel rushed with her and Mindy is comfortable with the stop-start-stop-start again nature of photos with a toddler. We just took some Valentine’s Day photos with Mindy at her property in Rosharon. She had this beautiful backdrop set up that was perfect for our little valentine. After the session was over, we walked the property to see some cows and dogs. Mindy’s personality and ability to connect and relate to Jillian is one of the many reasons we love working with her!
This is one of my favorite photos from my maternity photo session with Carlea of Carlea J Photography. Carlea is a dear friend and we first started working with her for our wedding photography. She was our natural choice for maternity photos and they have since become some of my most treasured photos. I will be the first one to tell you that taking pictures lying down or where the camera is directly on top of me is not my favorite. I don’t think it’s very flattering for me so I try to avoid it at all costs. I was 34 weeks pregnant here and feeling pretty large. Carlea was a natural at getting me out of my comfort zone and somehow made me look great in this position. Being with her at a session is so easy because she is so caring and thoughtful about poses, lighting and makes sure you don’t look stupid. 🙂 Yay, Carlea!
Scheduling and Planning:
Photos for special occasions/time sensitive If you need photos for a specific date or occasion, I suggest planning your photo session about 4-6 weeks out from your deadline. This gives you time for the session (or backup time if you need to do an alternate date due to weather). Make sure you check your photographer’s contract regarding turn around time. In my experience, most photographers will get photos back to the client by the two-three week mark. However, during the holidays or other peak times, they may have a longer turn around time. Talk to them before you book to make sure it works for your timeline. It will also give you time to print photos/frame them.
- Pick a time of day that is best for lighting (outdoor photos) and for your child. We mainly take photos outdoors (just our personal preference). Be flexible because Mother Nature has a great sense of humor. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had to postpone or switch days around due to extreme wind, rain or inclement weather. When picking a time, be thoughtful about it. When does your child(ren) nap? When are they most active? When are they in the best mood? Factor this with the best time for lighting (if taking outdoor photos). Outdoor lighting changes depending on the time of year. Ask your photographer what they recommend.
- Be thoughtful about your photo session location. Do some research on where you’d like to take your photos. Some places require special permits or fees for professional photography sessions. Others may be crowded at certain times of day. (If you’re planning to go to a popular park or tourist destination, check their calendar to see if festivals or other large events are planned on your date.) Some places may be really interesting, but require a long drive from your house (not ideal if you have small antsy children). Sometimes your photographer will have recommendations of places they like to shoot,but many leave this decision entirely up to you. If you don’t have any ideas yourself, try asking other parents in the area or google local parks or green spaces. Remember to also check your contract with your photographer. Many contracts will outline their travel radius that is covered in their fee. Anything beyond will most likely be an added fee.
- Bring an extra person. If it’s possible, try to bring a family member or friend with you. With the whole family in front of the camera, your child may not feel like smiling or cooperating for the photographer (someone they may not know). Having a family member or friend with you can be a great help to you and the photographer. Kids have short attention spans and the little ones may not have the patience for a long photo shoot (or even a short one)! Having an extra person they know and enjoy can help make everything run smoother and more efficiently. They can help with getting your kid(s) to smile, assist with outfit changes and much more. You may not have anyone nearby that can do this for you, but if you do, I highly recommend, especially if you have toddler-aged children.
Hearts of Gold
Let me take you back in time to a warm September day in 2012. I had my bridal portrait session with my fabulous friend, Carlea of Carlea J Photography. We took these photos at a beautiful park in the med center and I was lucky to have my Maid of Honor, Amy, and my step mom, Lena, with me. Parking was hard to come by and my dress was pretty heavy (and hot). Amy and Lena helped with making adjustments to my dress for the photos, helping with makeup retouches and schlepping all of our stuff around the park. Having them there to help with things like that made everything far more efficient. Otherwise, Carlea would have had to help me and take the photos, too. Here’s a fun photo from behind the scenes. #ittakesavillage #noiwasnotbridezilla
Here’s a photo from our holiday family photos back in October. You can’t see her in the picture, but my good friend Mercedes is right there behind the photographer to help get some smiles. Mercedes is a great auntie to Jillian and someone whom she is really comfortable with. I was so glad that she could come to the photo shoot! It wouldn’t have been the same without her.
What to wear?
- Coordinating, not matching. This boils down to personal taste, but I’m a huge advocate for families or groups coordinating clothing, but not necessarily “matching” (as in everyone wear white shirts and black pants). If you’re looking for ideas or resources, I recommend going to your photographer’s Facebook page or business page and checking out what other clients have done, looking on Pinterest, or checking with friends. Layering, clothes with different textures, complementary colors, different shades of the same color can all translate well on camera if done correctly. Here are a few great links of suggestions and ideas:
- Choose your outfits in advance. Don’t wait until the night before the session to pick out your outfits. Planning in advance gives you the chance to make sure everything fits, iron or steam, choose accessories, and inspect for holes or color fading, etc. I usually start with one person’s outfit as the inspiration or focal point and then coordinate the other people from there. For me, finding the right clothes for myself is the hardest. I usually need the extra time to buy something that coordinates with everyone else.
- Where to buy? Need some ideas of where to look? Here are some of my favorite places.
- For adults: Some of my favorite places include: ModCloth, Nordstrom, Old Navy, J.Crew, Anthropologie, Marshall’s, and Ross.
- For children: Some of my favorite places include: Blue Dove Kids, Nelly Madison, Olive Mae Clothing, Eleanor Rose, Gymboree, Old Navy, Smocked by Stellybelly, GAP, and Well Dressed Wolf.
- Change your child’s outfit when you arrive to your destination. Car seats can wreak havoc on a perfectly ironed or steamed outfit. Put them in play clothes on the way over and then change when you arrive. You can thank me later.
Coordination in practice
This beautiful photo of my mom and Jillian was taken on a family vacation to Treasure Island, Florida last year. Their birthdays are only a few days apart so I wanted to get some pictures of my two favorite birthday girls while we were all together. Jillian’s beautiful outfit by Olive Mae was the starting point/inspiration for their whole look. My mom looks great in pink, so I wanted to find a good coordinating outfit for her in the same color family. We found this beautiful hot pink Perfect T from LuLaRoe consultant, Christy Jackson and she paired it with white pants. Their accessories, a coordinating infinity scarf from Amazon and Jillian’s bubble tassel necklace by My Little Sugarbug Boutique provided great texture and tied everything together. We found some flowers near the beach and I think that one pop of yellow is so fantastic!
- Be careful of certain patterns or graphic tees. Some small checkered, plaid or striped clothing can look distorted on camera (appear as squiggles, zig zags, etc.). If you’re not sure, ask your photographer for their opinion or bring a backup outfit to your session. Please, leave your graphic tees or t-shirts with writing at home. You can take plenty of those pictures on your own. 🙂
- Comfort and fit. Comfort is key. It’s hard to be comfortable in front of the camera if you’re constantly pulling or tugging at your clothes, if your clothes don’t fit well or are uncomfortable in general. Avoid wearing clothes that are too tight or too baggy. If you’re not sure, try on your outfit and do different poses in the mirror. Maybe your shirt looks great from the front, but shows bulges in the back. Maybe your dress looks great standing up, but is unflattering from the side or sitting down. Find something that you feel confident in and won’t be worried about during your session. This goes for kids, too. Scratchy materials, large tags inside the clothes, uncomfortable shoes, clothes that are too hot for the weather, etc. can be irritating for your child.
- Movement In most cases, I think spontaneous photos or action photos of kids are the best! A kid in motion caught on film can be so delightful and memorable. If capturing action shots of your child is important to you, consider clothes that provide great movement (such as a twirly dress for girls) and steer clear from stiffer or heavier materials.
Child at Play
In the picture below, Jillian was having the time of her life running back and forth on one of Hermann Park’s many bridges. Her colorful and twirly Nelly Madison dress was perfect for capturing her in motion.
What I Bring:
After a few years of trial and error, this is generally what I pack for our photos (in addition to normal diaper bag supplies).
- lint roller
- small mirror
- lip gloss/powder
- hair brush
- blanket (for seated photos outdoors)
- props or decor (if a themed session)
- small toys or fun things for Jillian
- change of clothes for Jillian
- mosquito spray** (a MUST for summertime or year-round if you live in Texas ;))
- *Stroller or wagon (for outdoor shoots) This is great if you’re covering a lot of ground (large park, etc.). Your kid can hop in and out or at the very least haul your stuff in it.
Set Your Kids Up for Success:
- Entertain them! Keep in mind that your children may have stranger anxiety, may be scared of the big camera equipment or just bored or uninterested in being photographed. I recommend bringing a few favorite toys or fun things that may make them light up when they see it. My friend, Ashley, had some awesome ribbon wands for her wedding (dowel rod with ribbon and a small bell attached). We took ours home and use now use on all of our photo shoots. They’re fun to wave in the air and get Jillian’s attention. They may also enjoy playing with them in between pictures or in the pictures. (<–If you’re doing a themed shoot, try picking toys or books that go with the theme and it’s a win-win for all.)
- Bring snacks and drinks. If you do anything, remember to bring some snacks and drinks for your kids (and the adults)! Nothing’s worse than hangry kids or hangry spouses bickering and rushing the session. I would avoid fruit or messy snacks until AFTER the session.
- Let them run wild. If you’re taking photos outside, let them run around for a few minutes before you start and definitely after you’re finished. Some of our best pictures are of Jillian taking off, jumping or twirling around.
- “Incentives.” You may call it bribery, but I call it an incentive. 🙂 Dum Dums, M&Ms, Smarties, etc. can be great motivation for small children to smile and cooperate. If candy isn’t your thing, try bringing something else that you know will make them laugh and smile!
This was one of my favorite shots from our family session last fall. Jillian was in a great mood that day, but she was starting to fade towards the end. This was literally one of the last shots of the day and she was getting a serious case of the sillies. She barreled down that path, giggling all the way with Daddy behind her.
My Favorite Places for Family Photos in Houston
Hermann Park (go in the morning before it gets crowded)
The Orange Show (requires permission for private photo session and donation)
Rice University (requires permission and fee)
Wortham Park (parking is sparse, plan ahead)
My Photographer Recommendations (in alphabetical order):
Annie Parish Photography, based out of Austin, Texas
Carlea J Photography, based out of Houston, Texas
Christine Touchstone Photography, based out of Central Florida
Forever Yours Photography, based out of Danville, Kentucky
Happiness is Life Photography, based out of Houston, Texas
Kristen Eide Photography, based out of Houston, Texas
Southern Arrow Photography, based out of South Louisiana
Don’t Forget to Print!
Three cheers for mpix. Lastly, don’t forget to print your beautiful photos! If you are not planning on ordering prints or albums from your photography, I highly recommend that you print your photos with mpix. They aren’t as cheap as CVS, Costco, Snapfish or Shutterfly, but the quality is far superior! We have only had positive experiences with them and can vouch for their high quality images in all sizes (wallets to wall portraits). Sign up for their e-mails because they do run specials each month. Their shipping is usually very fast as well!
Blurb.com If you’re eager to go big or go home, consider making a professionally bound hard cover photo book with Blurb.com. The quality is amazing, the designer tools are easy to use and they are always running discounts (think 30-40% off)! We ordered our first one in January and I am impressed. Will definitely order another one next year.
Do you have any good tips for photography that you’d like to share? Please comment below and spread the love!
I Dream of Pretty Things
P.S. I lied; I have one more note to add. MOMS: get in those pictures. For many of us, we are so used to being behind the cameras doing normal day things, on vacation and at special events. So many times we put so much effort into what everyone else is doing and wearing, that we forget to join in on the fun. Your children don’t care if you don’t look perfect, are 10 lbs over weight or tired from a sleepless night. They love you the way you are and will be so thankful to have these photos to look back on when they are older.