8 Tips for a Successful Family Session

Updated: May 12, 2020

Olympia, WA Fall Family Photos, Cherish Shanell Photography, Family Photographer, Blog, What to wear, Family session, fall session, tips

Last weekend I did my very first mini sessions, and I must say, they turned out perfectly. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I couldn’t have asked for a better day, better light, or better clients. It was awesome!

I was initially a little worried about my mini sessions. I have been researching and thinking about doing them for years, but always let the horror stories from other photographers hold me back. Such a silly thing for me to do! Some people love doing them, some hate doing them – just like any other kind of photography!

Once I started advertising, the messages began to arrive… “15 minutes? That isn’t nearly enough time for family photos!” or “It will be really hard to get kids to warm up to you in such little time.” Or “You are going to regret not doing 30 minute sessions - 15 minutes isn’t long enough to get 10 good photos!” I have to admit, I did let it get to me a little more than I should have. I got worried, so I padded the time between clients a bit so if we did go over, we could and the schedule wouldn’t be affected. Doing that made me a little more comfortable – even though I was pretty confident that with my photography style, 15 minutes would be plenty of time to get 10 good images.

Let me tell you, 15 minutes was almost too much time! With each family, I looked at my watch thinking, “We must have blown through 15 minutes by now, I have at least 100 good shots to look through” and still had 10 minutes of shooting time left. It was perfect!

I now know that I love doing mini sessions and will continue to set up seasonal ones. But they aren’t always the best option for everyone. Mini sessions are done very quickly so if you do have a little one that is slow to have fun around new people, an hour session is a safer bet. Mini sessions also have to be set up far in advance, which is scary in the PNW. (I got SO lucky with these considering it was dumping down rain the day before and for 3 days after!) During Fall, Winter, or Spring, we honestly never know whether it’s going to be beautiful or terrible outside until a few days before. So if you want a guaranteed rain free session, minis might not be the best option for you either. If you aren’t sure, just contact me and we will see what is best for you and your family.


Whether you opt for an in home session, outdoor family session, or a mini-session, I have some tips to ensure a smooth, fun, and successful family photo session:

1. Give yourself spare time. Getting a family ready to go have their picture taken can be a frenzy of hairbrushes, and surprise stains, and lot of “Mom/Honey! Where is my [fill in the blank]?”. Figure out your outfits (see #5 and 6), hair, etc. ahead of time. Give yourself more time than necessary, because arriving late, or just barely on time can cause that little tiny bit of stress that can ruin your mood for the whole shoot.

Olympia, WA Fall Family Photos, Cherish Shanell Photography, Family Photographer

2. Eat. This is a big one. Take the time to eat before your session. I even encourage parents to bring snacks for little ones during an hour session just in case. Hunger doesn’t photograph well.

Olympia, WA Fall Family Photos, Cherish Shanell Photography, Family Photographer

3. Bring a Happy item. It usually takes a few minutes for people to warm up to the idea of laughing, playing, and smiling while being photographed. If you have a special blankie, toy, snack, or anything else that you can use to comfort, entertain, or bribe your little ones with in the event of a grumpy face - bring it! It's better to have a happy family photo (even with a child holding something) than to have nothing and have a cranky pants in all of your photos. I will edit your photos, but I can't edit out a bad mood - so bring happy with you!

Olympia, WA Fall Family Photos, Cherish Shanell Photography, Family Photographer

4. Make a day of it. If at all possible, plan a fun and easy going day with your family when getting photos done. Whether it’s going to a movie, playing at the park, or getting some ice cream afterward, having some fun bonding time with your family will help your kids keep family photos in their hearts as a fun experience that they remember fondly. BONUS: You can also use fun things or treats as bribery for smiles during the photoshoot!

Olympia, WA Fall Family Photos, Cherish Shanell Photography, Family Photographer

5. Dress Up! No need to put on a tux or ball gown, but making sure you look good will help you feel good, which will help you photograph beautifully! Perfectly matching clothing can be cheesy, but putting your family in coordinating colors that don’t clash with each other will make your photos easier to look at. Try to avoid clothing with writing, graphics, or logos.

Olympia, WA Fall Family Photos, Cherish Shanell Photography, Family Photographer

6. Try to “pop” from your background. If we are shooting in a deep green forest, wear brighter, warmer colors. If we are shooting in a yellow field, wear deep rich red, navy, or green. If you aren’t sure – just ask me before our session!

Olympia, WA Fall Family Photos, Cherish Shanell Photography, Family Photographer

7. Bring an umbrella! This is Washington - if it rains, it rains! We will do our best to find an area near the shooting location that will provide some cover (I will notify you the day before if this is necessary), but be prepared to snuggle, giggle, and dance in the rain if the weather is yucky.

Olympia, WA Fall Family Photos, Cherish Shanell Photography, Family Photographer

8. Bring a good attitude! No matter what the morning, or work, or the last few years has done to you, this time should be a calm, relaxed, fun time with your family! Take a deep breath, let it all go, and enjoy this moment together! This is just my opinion, but family photos are a MUST. Our kids grow up so fast! Capturing these moments isn’t just about having a photo to put on facebook, or to send in this years’ Christmas card, it’s about having something you can look back on in 15 years and feel like the spirit of your family was truly captured. That is my number one priority.

If you want to schedule a session with me contact me at cherishshanell@gmail.com! Follow me on Instagram and Facebook to be the first to know when I’m scheduling mini sessions again!

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