Family Photography

7 Tips for a Successful Family Photo Session

July 6, 2022

In fact, I believe in family photo sessions so much that I’ve compiled a list of everything you need to make your next one a success. Get ready to kick back, relax, and even have fun the next time you’re in front of the camera — and spoiler alert: from behind the lens, the chaos of kids only makes it better.

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I'm a photographer, educator and weekly podcaster. I left teaching in a First Grade classroom to build a thriving photography business, and inspire and teach other like-minded women how to build, scale, and create a photo business. I am so excited to meet you!


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I get it — wrangling your kids into the car without spilling anything on your perfectly planned outfits seems like an impossible task some days. As a mama myself, I’ve been there! But family photos don’t have to suck the life out of your week. There’s a way to enjoy the process now and enjoy the results for years to come! 

Even if your picture day isn’t 100% perfect, these are memories that are well worth it. But I’m here to share a few tips, as a photographer who’s done this thing more times than I can count, that’ll make the actual photo-taking manageable and… even fun! Ready for some high-quality snaps at your next family session? Here’s how to make it a success.

1. Hire the right photographer. 

This might seem obvious, I know, but bear with me. When you’re planning a family photo session, the experience of the photographer matters every bit as much as the vibe or aesthetic of their portfolio. Investing in a quality photographer is just that — an investment! — so you want to make sure they’re worth their weight in gold. If you’re trying to capture moments with wiggly, high-energy kiddos, it helps tremendously if your photographer has experience shooting families and young ones. They’ll know just what to do to create and capture the perfect moments. When you choose well, you’ll look back on your photos and say, “How did you get everyone to look at the camera and smile?!”

2. Don’t overthink it all. 

A perfectly styled shoot with multiple props or locations is probably not the best approach to family sessions, no matter how fun it might seem beforehand. Keep things simple and sweet — that’s what gives you room to actually have fun during the photo process! Remember: it doesn’t have to be perfect. Your photographer is here to capture real, fun, sweet family moments, not find the perfect shot for a magazine cover. Sometimes, the silliest and most candid moments turn out to be the best snaps of the whole bunch. 

3. Do what makes you feel beautiful and confident. 

You might be surprised to hear this, but lots of my clients hire someone for hair and makeup before their family session! Sometimes, it’s hard to snap out of that “mama” role and find your confident, beautiful self that’s hiding in a mess of dishes and toys and Cheerios, you know? Treating yourself to a mini glam session can make the day enjoyable for you, and it might even bring down your stress levels, too! Of course, you can show up to your family session all natural and makeup free — whatever will make you feel at home and relaxed is the right choice for you. When you feel beautiful and confident in your own skin, your family photos will show it.   

4. Stick to neutrals in your outfit choices.

This one’s less about personal style and more about timelessness! Let’s face it: if you take your Christmas photos in red and green, that’s going to look amazing on the card, but pretty weird above your couch the rest of the year. It’s so tempting to dress seasonally — pastels in spring, earth tones for fall, festive Christmas outfits — but your photos will look timeless and chic when they can be displayed anywhere and blend right in. Of course, it’s absolutely your choice! But if you want to go for a look that’s a little more seasonally neutral, the neutral palette is the way to go. 

5. Bribe your family if ya gotta. 

If your family is particularly uninterested in a photo shoot this year, sometimes you have to bring out the bribery. A few great ideas: tickets to the latest hit movie, picking up pizza on the way home, or something wacky like running through the sprinklers in your good clothes. Get as creative as you want! My only ask as a photographer is that the bribe doesn’t take place during the actual photo shoot — I’ve seen one too many “candy situation” gone wrong, either because of a sugar rush that leads to chaos or sticky, messy fingers that lead to a ruined outfit. I’m absolutely pro-reward, but for your sanity and mine, it’s best served after the photo session ends! 

6. Trust your photographer. 

As a mama, you’re used to steering the ship and keeping everything afloat. Think of your family photo session as one of those rare, precious moments when you don’t have to be in charge of everything! Let your photographer guide you through the session every step of the way. They’ve done this hundreds of times, most likely, so they’ll know just how to pose your kids (and husbands) and keep everyone’s attention in the right place. My best advice? Just show up relaxed and let them do their thing. I bet you’ll be totally pleased with the final result. 

7. Don’t fight the chaos. 

Leave your perfect expectations in the car, because I can promise you — it’s going to get silly and weird, at least for a minute. Kids do bring a lot of chaos to a photo session, but they also bring a ton of joy and fun! I’ve found it best to capture the chaos instead of fighting it, because hey, that’s real life anyway! I just know you’ll look back on those photos with a laugh, remembering what this season was like. And even though this phase might seem endless, it really does go by in a flash. Enjoy the experience of taking photos as a family, and don’t be afraid to capture your real, wild, and wonderful life together. 

With these tips in hand, I can almost guarantee that your photo session will be a breeze — but even if it’s not, I know you’ll treasure these family memories for life.

Aren’t you ready to finally feel empowered to build the photography business of your dreams? It’s time for you to create art you love, build a client roster full of people that you want to hug, and feel confident in the business you’ve created. The BEST Way to Find Your Dream Client as a Photographer. My secrets to finding and attracting your dream clients on a regular basis.

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I’m Jillian Goulding, a photographer and educator raising babies and building my life in Sacramento, CA.

Over the years, I’ve transformed my side hustle into a thriving photography business that has taken me and my camera to the beaches of San Francisco Bay, the pages of People Magazine, and the screens of Extra TV.

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