The Art of Capturing Authentic Family Moments: What to look for in your Photographer

Most families hire a photographer at some point during the year to capture updated photos, whether for art in their homes, or holiday cards, or gifts. But, how do you know who to hire? Today I’m sharing a few tips for what to look for in a family photographer, specifically one who excels at capturing authentic moments and genuine emotions. I’ll also share a bit about how the picturesque charm of Charleston (my city) can be the perfect backdrop for your family’s story.

Family walking on a sunny evening at Isle of Palms beach in Charleston captured by Kelsey Halm Photography

What “Shooting Style” to look for:

Your family is unique, and your relationships with each other look different than any other family. A beautifully posed portrait is (of course) important, but the true beauty of photography happens when your photographer knows how to capture the real moments, the true emotion. Most of us (photographers) can set up a well-posed portrait, but the difference is in the rest of the process.

When I photograph a family I set up a few posed portraits, but afterwards I prefer to be an unobtrusive observer and gently set up candid moments between you and your loved ones. (If you’re worried about knowing what to do, don’t worry! I’ll make sure you’ve got enough direction to feel completely comfortable, but also to allow for real moments to happen.) If you’re searching for a photographer, I’d suggest finding one who has an unobtrusive shooting style to capture candid moments, knows when to offer gentle direction, and when to let moments unfold organically.

Children wearing pink and holding hands walking through Hampton Park under Crepe Myrtle trees and Spanish Moss for family portraits

Clear communication with your photographer is key. Part of my client process prior to the photo session is to go over your specific goals for the session, and also who will be attending. Share any helpful information about your family ahead of time! If you’re worried about how quickly your kids will be over it (or how quickly Dad will be…), don’t! Just let us know ahead of time and we’ll make sure to structure the session to cater to your family specifically.

Ask the photographers you’re thinking of hiring about their process, and what it’s like to work with them during the session. My strongest suggestion is always to work with someone you connect with. Your session should be super personal, so working with someone you’re comfortable with is key!

Mother in a white dress and father in a blue shirt swinging their toddler daughter between them on a brick path in historic downtown Charleston, photographed by Kelsey Halm Photography

How to prepare for, and get the most out of your session:

Once you’ve found your photographer (and in case you haven’t, HERE is my inquiry page), the best way to make the most of your session is great preparation. If you have ideas in mind for what you’d like your session location to be, share them with your photographer! We’ll do our best to shoot where you’re dreaming, and also make sure we’re choosing the best time of day and the best light. Kids usually do best in the early morning (from someone who’s photographed hundreds of families), so even though it might be an early wake-up call to be ready, morning sessions are usually my favorite!

Wardrobe styling and coordination is another piece of the puzzle that can feel daunting, but don’t stress. Each photographer does things a bit different, but another part of my client experience is a helpful style guide. I also work with a professional stylist, so if you’d like an even more bespoke session styling experience, we can add this on. Really (again) the biggest tip I have is to be super communicative with your photographer. We don’t mind lots of questions, we’d rather you be excited and really comfortable!

Large family vacation portrait on Isle of Palms Beach Charleston with styled wardrobe photographed by Kelsey Halm Photography

During your session being able to relax and enjoy the time with your family is essential. Hiring a photographer who is skilled at building rapport and making families feel comfortable is key…but it’s also important to head into your session expecting to have fun. Your kids will be kids, your partner will be whoever they are – don’t stress! It’s our (the photographer’s) job to encourage natural interactions and play, and then capture it. Don’t worry about your kids looking at the camera (trust me, the more stressed about this you are the less likely they’ll cooperate), just laugh at their antics. You’ll walk away with beautiful photos that tell your real story, and not cheesy smiles. You want a photographer who can embrace the unexpected and capture spontaneous moments, and we will!

A little love for my city, Charleston:

Charleston is magic. The cobblestone streets, historic and colorful architecture, gardens with sprawling live oak trees and gorgeous blooms, and the sandy beaches and warm ocean waves all contribute to the beauty of the city. The hardest thing about photographing family portraits in Charleston is choosing the best spot since they’re all so beautiful!

Jasmine blooming on a teal building in downtown historic Charleston
Colorful architecture in historic downtown Charleston by cedar trees
White decorative gazebo under spanish moss and live oak trees at Magnolia Plantation and gardens

If you’re a family who loves to be outdoors, I’d suggest planning your photo session in one of the parks, or at one of the beaches where your kids can run their little hearts out. (and if you want to go into the water, let’s do it!) If you’d love something that shows off more of the history and southern charm of the city, let’s plan your session for the historic downtown. If your session is long enough, we can do multiple spots!

One last hint for an amazing session that really captures your family: think about where in your home you’ll be displaying these photos. What is the size and design of the room? Do you have room to showcase a beautifully designed gallery wall? If so, think about the room specifically and maybe even share photos with your photographer while you’re planning. Part of my process is to walk you through choosing heirloom art pieces for your home, so I’ll help you style your session and choose your backdrop to perfectly accent the room these memories will be displayed in. If that sounds daunting, just ask us! We (your photographers) can walk you through every step of the process, and even do many of the steps for you.

Your family is unique, and your legacy deserves to be documented so it can be shared for generations. Someone (I’m not sure who) said “The days are long, but the years are short”, and it’s so true. Let’s freeze time, at least a few moments of it.

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