family session planning tips + tricks + wardrobe
Did you know?
Having family photos made is a healthy, self-esteem boosting activity for you and your little ones, and something that would be awesome to do regularly! Our goal during our family sessions is to give your little ones an environment where they feel free to express themselves and have fun, in an effort to capture them most authentically. Sure, we'll do a couple of "smiling at the camera," poses, but we're mostly interested in the laughs, giggles, snuggles, sibling footraces and yeah- even the "I want mom right now" crying fits.
Beautiful family portraits are a team effort. This guide is your roadmap to the backend work that needs to be done!
What to Wear...
Is one of the most important elements to your session. It can also be the HARDEST part of a session! I've found that often times this aspect of the session gets left until the night before, resulting in a stressed out mom who just wishes the shoot was over. There is no need for this! Here are our Ten Commandments of Wardrobe Planning to help you put together a magazine-worthy wardrobe ahead of time, and create images you'll love to see hung up on your walls every day.
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DO NOT LEAVE FIGURING OUT OUTFITS UNTIL RIGHT BEFORE YOUR SESSION!!!!
All caps means I mean business! I, even as a photographer, need this very important reminder! As soon as you've booked your session, you should start planning your wardrobe. Because this is a special occasion, there are pieces you may need to buy online or get from a store that isn't close by, and you do not want to be dealing with that close to session time.
we LOVE picking our children's outfits because, frankly, they're easier and cheaper- so we pick their's first. However, this leaves you trying to make your outfit work with whatever you've chosen for them. This is not the move. Instead, pick your outfit first, THEN dress the kiddos and your partner. That way you have the peace of mind knowing you love what you're wearing, and everyone else is fairly easy to dress!
Dress to your strengths / body shape
What do you put on and instantly feel good about? What looks best on you? For some, that may be emphasizing their waist a blazer. For others, that means lengthening their legs with high-waisted skirts or pants. For others, it means feeling easy-breezy in a maxi dress. Don't wear an outfit just because you saw a picture of someone else rocking it! Dress to what looks and feels the best for you. If you have a specific insecurity, do a quick Pinterest search for "Best outfits for ______."
Think Coordinating - not matching
Thankfully for us all, the era of everyone wearing jeans + black shirt (or conversely, khakis with white shirts) is over. I think that trend can largely be attributed to rule #1: "Don't leave planning your outfits until the night before." I can see a stressed out mom in my head right now saying "FORGET THIS! WE ARE ALL GOING IN BLACK SHIRTS AND JEANS." While your family will still be just as fun and beautiful in outfits like that, you will not be creating stand out images. When there is no visual depth, you'll get what we call "Unibody Syndrome." That's when you all turn into one collective blob with heads coming out of the top, because there is no distinction between bodies- no varying colors, textures or patterns.
However, you've got to keep in mind that Unibody Syndrome can manifest itself in different ways. Wearing all plaids or stripes, or all reds, or all superhero t-shirts... the only cure to Unibody Syndrome is avoiding same-ness. Furthermore, you want everyone's outfits to reflect the different personalities of each person. Do you have a wild child? An artsy child? A rough-and-tumble kiddo? Let who they are, in this moment, shine through! You want to look back at these photos and remember who they were in that little blip of time.
Consider season + location
Different locations provide opportunity for different outfit choices. You wouldn't wear fur coats and boots in blossoming spring, for example; or dress clothes in the forest. Dress in a manner that makes sense with your season and your surroundings. Be mindful of the weather- if you kids are freezing or burning up, they'll be grumps.
Think about the feeling you want to portray
Are you an outdoorsy family? Are you a trendy family? Your answer to this question should not only direction the location for your session, but also what you plan to wear. Your location + wardrobe should work together to create an aesthetic.
If you are doing an in-home session - consider, what would look natural in our photos?
Formal dresses and tuxedos while we're baking in our kitchen? Probably not. More than likely, it's your normal, everyday wear. Here you can go with a neutral/minimalistic color scheme if your home has a lot of color or you can choose to add a pop of color in your clothing if your home is more neutral and that pop of color says something about your family and their personalities. Just don't forget- even though you're dressing for an in home session you still want to coordinate.
Consider colors! Combine colors, textures, and patterns
Consider the location you're going to have your session. Which colors are already present? What would look good with that? What feeling do you want your session to have?
Don't dress with room to grow, dress from head to toe!
I know kids grow SO quickly that it's generally usual practice to buy clothes that they can wear for more than a week. While that looks 100% fine in our day-to-day lives, in photos, it can come across as bunchy and sloppy looking. We'll be doing a lot of sitting, snuggling, dancing, and playing- so you don't want a bunch of extra fabric hanging around. This goes for you too, moms and dads! Also, shoes are a part of your wardrobe. If your babies show up in an adorably coordinated outfit and Spiderman tennis shoes... I'm still gonna love them, but I'll be internally screaming. Haha. (But really)
Accessorize + Layer
These are the final, finishing touches that bring everything together! In the photo to the right, notice all the layers and accessories on display. Mom is wearing a gorgeous crystal necklace to pair with her lacy layers and knit textures. Little Miss has a bow, a fur vest to add dimension, and a multi-layer necklace. Dad is rocking a coordinated vintage-look suspender + belt combo!
Now, imagine this image with no jewelry, no outerwear, or layers. Would it still be a sweet moment? Yes! But the visual interest would be gone. We'd be left with just a cream top, a peach top, and a blue button up. Layers + accessories are everything!
Final thoughts on wardrobe...
1. No fluorescents. They will "color cast," everyone in your family will be pink/orange/yellow/etc.
2. No logos. I don't want to see dad's Under Armor, or big Nike checks on the kid's shoes. This will date your photos instantly!
3. Bows and headpieces should be kept simple. Even if your little one wears very large bows usually, it distracts and obstructs their sweet little faces in photos. I recommend Sew Whimsey, Petunia and Ivy, Kindred OAK, and
Shop Suggestions | $ . $$ . $$$ . $$$$
$$-$$$ The GAP | Great place for basics, lots of emailed coupons + great clearance rack!
$$$-$$$$ Free People | My absolute favorite store on earth. This easy, breezy, high-quality boho chic.
$$$$ Anthropologie | Second most favorite! Very pricy, but the items are quality and unique and will last a lifetime.
$-$$ Mak-Rose | Great cheap site for girl's clothing. Boutique dresses, sweaters, blazers, tights, etc. Things sell out quickly so if you like something, buy it! They don't restock.
$-$$$ H&M | I consider H&M to be the holy grail for all things men + boy. Their price points are ridiculously low, and they are always on-trend. Boy's trousers + suspenders start around $10, men's basics and accessories (hats, belts, suspenders, cool socks) are an absolute steal. Keep in mind that you'll typically need to size down for kiddos here.
$-$$ Forever 21 | Great clothing for women of all sizes (and men!) on the cheap. If you choose to shop in-store, bring a friend. It's a circus. But if you shop online, you'll have easy access to tons of cute, on-trend clothing, jewelry, shoes and accessories without breaking the bank.
$$-$$$$ Zara | Easy to get lost on this site! Adorable pieces for men, women and children.
$$-$$$$ Modcloth | Another great size-inclusive store that has timeless dress/tops/etc. for women! This store satisfies all my vintage artsy girl dreams.
alloyapparel.com | americanapparel.com | shop.nordstromrack.com | dottiecouture.com | urbanoutfitters.com | zulily.com | childrensplace.com
Ross, Marshalls, TJMaxx, Target, Amazon, thrift stores, garage sales, and antique stores are also great spots to pick up awesome, inexpensive pieces!
If you're planning on bringing your furry family...
We are so excited to meet them! Pets are an essential aspect to many families' dynamic. However, we ask that you also bring a crate, a friend pick them up, or work out other arrangements for them once they've made their photographic debut. While we love puppies, it's nearly impossible to continue a shoot while managing an excitable, confused pup (in addition to your kids!) Let us know ahead of time if you'll be bringing any animals, and what your game plan is for them.
Mental Prep for the Kiddos:
Our biggest suggestion is to talk to your kids and hype them up on our session together, especially if they're shy. Let them know that it's a special occasion, generally how long it's going to take, and what will be happening. I also suggest using language like, "Aren't you excited to go play with Jenna and Jack on Friday? We're going to have so much fun!" That way, when they meet us, we feel less like strangers and more like fun friends that their parents trust.
If we get to the session and your kids begin to act out, know that that is completely normal. We ask (beg) you not to reprimand them harshly or force them to smile. This usually has the adverse effect and causes them to act out further, or give really fake, forced smiles. In some cases, we may even ask you to step back while we work with the child one-on-one, as kids are much less likely to wild out when their parents aren't immediately present. Think of it this way: it's like having your boss stand over your shoulder and micro-manage you! We all hate that as grown ups, kiddos don't generally like it either.
Plan a fun family outing like dinner or ice cream for immediately after our session. This will incentivize the kiddos (and dad!) and leave them with fun, lasting memories for our next session together. This will get them more and more hyped for family photos every year!
We ask that you leave the "bribing," to us. We bring packs of Smarties candies to every session because they're clean, there are multiple to a pack, the plastic noise the wrapper makes is an instant reminder to the kids to behave, and most importantly, they don't stain clothes, hands or faces. While gummies or suckers may be your child's favorite treat, it's advisable to avoid anything sticky, messy, and strongly-colored. If you decide to bring your own incentives, we ask that you let us distribute them. Generally, if they know you've got a treat in your pocket/purse/etc., they'll be more focused on that than the task at hand.
Leave all toys/desirables in the car unless absolutely necessary. Out of sight, out of mind.
Crying fits are okay. What's more, they allow for a special kind of intimacy between child and parent that we don't always get to capture. Roll with it, it's for the best in the long run to let them get it out.