My sweet little family consists of me and my men.  My husband, my little man (who is almost 5) and my littlest baby man (who just turned 1.)  Yes, a baby-man, if you’ve held him you know…this little cutie is solid and tough as nails.

We recently did something we’ve never done before.  We had our family photos taken by a professional photographer!  Now we’ve had our photos taken before with my extended family for holidays and such, but this was the first time we did it for our own little Liston family. 🙂  We booked and paid for our session (we chose someone who was experienced and skilled, why?, because these documented moments are worth EVERY penny!), I planned our outfits, we attempted to plan out each hour on the day of the shoot (orchestrating nap times that would result in happy campers for photo time, altering meal times so bellies won’t be rumbling…you know…you KNOW!), and we  tried our very best to arrive at our shoot NOT stressed out and frazzled.  We succeeded in some of these areas, and failed in others, and this experience made me realize, this is what you go through too!  So I decided to put together a little list of my top 5 tips for insuring your photo session is an experience your family will enjoy, not dread!  These tips are mostly specific to families with toddlers, since this type of family session is especially challenging for all involved!  But hopefully all of you can glean a couple tidbits from this list, and apply them to your upcoming session.  These tips come from some things we did right, and some things we did wrong (avoid our mistakes!)

1.  Plan Your Outfits around 2 things – Mom’s Wardrobe & Your Home

This is an area we were ready for, since I do have experience in planning color and design themes.  I knew I wanted to use colors that would look great in our dining room, since this is where I plan to hang a large framed wall collage of images from our session (I’m hanging a collection out of the Frame Collections I offer, I’ll be sure to post a pic of this when it’s up!) I decided to go with green, denim and some black. When deciding on your colors aim for about three colors, with maybe one accent color.  Too many colors makes it hard to keep a cohesive look, but not enough colors gives too much of a matchy-matchy look.  Don’t be afraid to mix patterns and prints, as long as they have the overall appearance of the colors you’re using it will go great with your color scheme.  Use your accent color for hair bows, jewelry, hats, scarves, socks, shoes, etc.  Plan to begin thinking about your outfits a couple of weeks before your session.  You want time to consider options, comb through your current wardrobes to see what items your family may already own that will work, and time to shop for a couple specific items you might need to complete the look.

So, I started with my outfit.  Those of you who’ve met me know I’m not a tiny girl…I’ve got some curves (that I both battle and love depending on the day, that’s another post for another time :), so I knew I needed to feel comfortable and confident in what I wore.  Young children don’t sit still for long and I knew I’d be chasing them around, so I wanted to feel free to play and cuddle with my boys without tugging and pulling at my outfit for every shot.  I chose my black stretchy jeans (comfy & slimming!), a graphic printed black & white popover blouse (eye would be drawn upward toward my face), and denim jacket (to tie in with the denim the boys would be wearing.)  Since I knew what I was wearing, it made it easy to determine what other colors needed to be added to our pallet.  The boys then wore green shirts with denim (one with jeans, one with overalls), and I picked up a great plaid shirt at the Gap for my husband that had green, blue, and a bit of black in it too which helped to tie all the colors together.  A tip when using different colors and patterns is to have at least one clothing item on someone that contains all the colors used (or most of them.)  Here is a great example of a family session where mom’s dress contained all the main colors used, and everyone else had something a little different but that still went with the color scheme.  I love photographing this family – all that gorgeous curly hair!



2.  Have a good idea of what images you primarily want – and communicate that to your photographer!

If you’re booking a full session (usually between 1-2 hrs, depending on your photographer) you will have a little more time for more images, but especially if you’re doing a mini session with someone (which is what we did) you need to have in mind your main goal for the session.  When working with toddlers you never know how long they’ll be interested in taking photos (squirmy and squealy can happen after 30 min or after 10 min!)  For us, I knew I wanted to focus on family shots.  Some of us posed, some of us playing together.  Then any extra time we had would go toward the boys’ individual shots or other ideas the photographer had.  While a great professional photographer is going to have the skills to capture a lot of looks and moments in a short amount of time, it is still a good idea to communicate with your photographer what your main goal is for your session.  Some of you may really want an awesome sibling shot, so letting the photographer know ahead of time what you’re hoping to capture will help them make that a priority during your shoot.  Then all those extra wonderful photos you never knew you’d love so much will be icing on the cake! 😉

3.  Be realistic with your expectations.

Now, I’m not saying to settle when choosing your photographer, by no mean!  Whether you work with me or someone else, you should search for a photographer with experience working with young children (that fabulous wedding photographer might not be the best choice if she doesn’t have experience with kids…working with kids is a whole different ballgame!), be sure your photographer is skilled with their gear (you want them to be snapping away at those sweet little moments that are happening at lightening-toddler-speed, not finicking with their camera settings and missing that one perfect shot. A seasoned photographer will know their gear), and remember you usually get what you pay for (typically a less expensive photographer is less experienced or uses lower grade equipment, is sometimes uninsured and without backup gear, and also may not offer the quality of products you’ll want.) 

What I mean by realistic is, remember who you’re working with here…your children! 🙂  In my case, my one year old and 4 year old aren’t likely to sit still in my lap for several posed photos in multiple locations.  You might have all these wonderful photos you want captured, but get to the session only to have your kiddos squealing and running off leaving you to chase them all around the lawn.  So if this happens to you – go with it!  Get whatever posed shots they let you get, then have fun with them!  Let them run, chase them, tickle them, toss them up in the air…play with them!  Those are the photos you will fall in love with, they are the real ones, and they are the perfect compliment to a couple great posed shots since they tell the real story of your family, what goes on behind the scenes.  If you arrive at your session and the kids are a little less than cooperative, take a deep breath, relax, and go with it.  If you’ve taken care of step #2, you know your photographer will get the couple of shots you just HAVE to HAVE, and if you’ve carefully selected a great photographer, their skill and artistic eye will be able to make those crazy silly tickle moments into works of art to hang in your home – giving you a visual memory of this special, fleeting time in your family’s early years.

4.  Keep your photo session day as low key as possible.

You might be surprised how much time it will take you to get the family ready for a short one hour timeframe!  Or maybe you’re well aware of this!  Either way, remember to keep your photo shoot day as low key as possible.  Don’t plan to go shopping, go to a playdate, get some huge project done at home…etc.  Instead make the day as restful as possible, allowing plenty of time for any toddler related accidents that may arise (cause you know they will!)  Kids are way more aware than we often give them credit for. They can tell when you’re frazzled and stressed out, so do your best to keep them excited about your photo session by being excited yourself!  Tell them you’re going to all go play together while someone takes pictures of you snuggling and tickling.

A little planning never hurt either, so consider bringing along things that will keep your kids excited and interested.  If they have a favorite toy or comfort item, bring it.  Consider bringing a non-messy snack, when the kids get squirmy mid-session take a mini snack break to let them refuel.

5.  Lastly, make it a fun family outing!

As mentioned in #4 tell your kids how much fun you will have at your session!  Allow yourself to relax and have fun too!  Depending on the time of day, plan to go out to a special dinner together afterwards.  Or if you have little ones that are tuckered out afterwards, head home for nap time and spend time relaxing with your husband, talking about how much you love the family you’re raising together.  Let your time in front of the camera remind you of what is really important – your family and your love for one another.  That is always my hope and prayer for all my clients, that they will leave a session feeling even more love for their family and reminded to just soak up all these wonderfully messy, cuddly, giggly toddler years.  These years will be gone before we know it, let’s love on our babies while they’ll still let us! 🙂


I snapped these couple shots of my boys as we were getting ready to load up after our photo session.  Baby-man was done by this point, and squirmy as ever. 🙂 But we had a great time together!  I’d love to hear how your experiences with family sessions have gone in the past?  What tips do you have to keep family sessions stress-free?  Leave a comment below and share the love!

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Interested in seeing more of my family and children photography?  My website family galleries are currently being updated, in the meantime, head over to my Facebook Page to see images from previous family/children sessions!