Stress-Free Family Photo Sessions: Expert Tips for an Amazing Experience

Not everyone loves being in front of a camera. Sometimes the idea of being front and center and not knowing what to do can be intimidating, but when you add a whole family on top of that? Planning your family photo session can seem daunting (and honestly not very appealing). However, here’s the thing – planning a family photo session doesn’t have to be a daunting task. In fact, with the right approach, it can be a lot of fun and completely stress-free. Drawing from my years of experience as a photographer, I’m excited to share my top tips for having an amazing family photo session that leaves you with gorgeous images and a fantastic experience.

Family of three at Middleton Place under the oaks all wearing blue

Prepping for Success: Planning your session


The initial stress of planning your family session often revolves around the question: “What on earth should we wear?” If you’re one of my clients, I’ll provide you with a detailed guide before our session, offering even more insights into outfit planning. For now, let’s focus on a few key things to consider:

Extended family portrait session on Isle of Palms beach in Charleston SC

1. Avoid outfits that are too “matchy-matchy”: Coordinating, not matching is the key to winning the outfit planning game. Although it can be tempting to dress everyone up in the same thing (sounds simple, right?) photos really look stunning when there is nice coordination without matching. I typically suggest dressing no more than two people in the same print or color. This helps to balance your photos and keep the attention on YOU, not the outfits.

Mother and father laugh with their baby sitting on a blanket at Middleton Place amid sheep

2. Start with a Core Outfit: Begin by selecting one or two outfits as the foundation. Starting with an outfit you (or Mom) love sets the tone, since it’s often hardest for you/her to find something. Often it’s hardest for Mom to find something she loves, so I’d suggest starting there. If you choose a pattern/print, compliment it with a solid color for your partner.

3. Bring in layers, and don’t forget details: Layers on men (think: blazers, sweaters, etc) always photograph really well, plus they give you more opportunity to create a fully coordinated outfit. Details are a great place to tie everything together! Think ties or bowties, a great necklace or statement earrings.

4. Get some inspiration. Pinterest is a great spot to go for outfit inspiration if you have no idea where to start. Think about the colors you have in your home, and what would coordinate well when you hang those beautiful portraits in your living room. Search “Family Photoshoot Outfits” in your chosen color scheme to find inspiration.


While your photographer will guide you on the optimal session time based on light and location, here are some tips to consider:

1. Little ones usually do best in the morning. If you’ve got babies and toddlers, morning sessions tend to capture their best moods. Yes, sunrise might sound early, but those genuine smiles are worth it. Less fuss means happier family photos!

2. Older kids often prefer evening sessions. Older kids usually prefer evening sessions, as they’re more inclined to stay up late than wake up early. If you have both babies and older children, prioritize the younger ones when scheduling. (Babies aren’t quite old enough to understand cooperation) 😉

Essentials to Pack

Half of your session success is in planning properly, and packing the essentials is key! Here are a few things I’d recommend bringing with you for your session:

  • Baby’s favorite toy. This is a great way to encourage smiles, and also to get baby’s attention if he/she isn’t feeling very cooperative
  • Snacks and water. Toddlers especially tend to suddenly get hungry or thirsty as soon as the session starts, so having some snacks along and something to drink can help avoid any issues ahead of time.
  • A backup outfit. Kids spill stuff, jump in the ocean, find the mud, etc. Bring a backup outfit JUST IN CASE and you’ll never need it.
  • A cute blanket or throw. If you’d like some photos of baby alone, it’s great to have a spot to put him/her where they can be cozy and not directly on the ground. It’s also a great way to get some snuggly family photos.

During Your Session

Don’t Stress About Kids Being Kids

Okay I know this one is the hardest one, but I mean it. I don’t mean ignore them or let them run around like hooligans (they do need to hang out in the same area we are if you want them in photos), but don’t stress about them being silly or being kids. Allow them to be themselves and I’ll capture those spontaneous, silly moments that often turn out to be the best photos.

Family of four smile at the camera during their family photo session in Charleston

Focus on Your Photographer’s Guidance:

This is another tough one, because I know as parents it’s natural to want everyone looking at the camera, but trust your photographer to handle the kids. Here’s the truth: after literally hundreds of photo sessions I have SO many outtakes where the little ones are looking, but the parents aren’t! The parents are looking down, or talking to the baby, or something else.

Family of four laugh at the camera in Hampton Park Charleston

Your kids will look at the camera, I promise (and I’ll ask if I need your help). It’s most important to make sure all the adults present are paying attention to the photographer and not the kids. I promise, if they’re doing something wild it’ll either be a great photo, or they’ll look up and laugh and it’ll again be a great photo. I’m going to say it one more time, don’t worry about making sure your kids look, just make sure YOU are looking at the camera when your photographer asks you to.

Portrait of the men in an extended family on Isle of Palms Beach SC

Don’t Be Afraid to Play

My goal when I start photographing your family is to give you beautiful photos of course, but more than that I want to highlight your family’s unique personality and bonds. In order to do my job well, I want you to play! Interact with each other, be silly together, and focus on fun. I’ll make sure we get those important posed and smiling photos right at the beginning of our session, so the rest of the time can be focused on candid and genuine emotion.

Mother spins her daughter at the beach wearing matching dresses

The good news is this – I’m taking still images, so even if you’re making funny noises at your little one, or running around with them like crazy all I’m going to capture is the moment. You’ll look joyful and connected, not crazy. (and if there are some photos where you’re looking a little less than your best don’t worry, unless you specifically request bloopers I’m going to make sure those don’t make it beyond the camera)

Trust Your Pro & Have Fun

The last piece of advice I’ll leave you with is to trust the photographer you’ve chosen. If their work is beautiful there’s a reason, and I guarantee that (even if they don’t have their own family) they’ve had FAR more family photo experiences than you have. They want your session to be a huge success, and they want you to enjoy it! They’re going to do their very best to set you up for success, trust them to do their job.

If you have any specific photos requests, absolutely tell your photographer, but then trust them to get the photo. They’re going to put you in the best light, help you pose properly, and make sure they capture beautiful memories for your family. Arrive prepared but ready to enjoy the experience – because that’s when the magic truly happens!

Family of three stand under a crepe myrtle in downtown Charleston SC


  1. How long does a typical family photo session last? It depends on the session you’ve booked, but an average family photo session is between 30 minutes to an hour.
  2. What should we wear for a family photo session? Opt for coordinating outfits with complementary colors. Avoid busy patterns and choose comfortable attire.
  3. Can we suggest specific poses or ideas to the photographer? Absolutely! Your photographer wants to hear what you’d love to have, and will do their best to include your requests.
  4. When is the best time for an outdoor photo session? This depends on the specific location, but generally right at sunrise, or a few hours prior to sunset. Midday (when the sun is highest in the sky) is not the best lighting, so I’d suggest avoiding scheduling then.
  5. How soon can we expect to receive our photos after the session? The turnaround time for receiving your edited photos varies by photographer but is typically around 2 to 5 weeks after the session.