00:00 / 00:00

I won’t lie, some days I’m completely jealous of the perfect Instagram family, their perfectly staged photos, and all the kids smiling, eyes open, facing the camera. 


Were we the only ones who couldn’t make it past 20 minutes without somebody in tears, after I would spend a week planning, washing, and ironing clothes doing everyone’s hair for hours just to have it all fall apart within minutes?

Over the years, I’ve learned.

To manage my expectations.

And to still have amazing family photos.

With varying ages, levels of comfort, and completely different styles, it can be a TASK to take on, but I have some tips, some little saving graces, to make the days leading up manageable, and the moments memorable (not just happy faces, in-between tears).

1. Dress For Your Home

It’s obviously a good idea to coordinate your outfits in one way or another. But, take it a step further and consider how you’ll be using these images. Will they be on social media only, given to relatives, or hung up in your home? 

If the answer is “hung up in your home” it’s time to think about what colours work for this. Trust me, as someone who did an entirely colour-themed family shoot once that clashed entirely with our decor! I tend to go for neutrals because it’s timeless and works with our home best. If you have an accent colour, don’t be afraid to add that same accent colour into your photos!

Photo by Richelle Hunter

2. Finalize Your Colours, Then Give Choice

Kids, especially as they grow, are practicing their personal style and exercising their voice of opinion. Family photos aren’t the time for shushing it away, but instead, giving them control while still maintaining the goal! 

In our last shoot, we decided on “Lakeside Neutrals”. Tans, beiges, blues, whites, grey. Then we hit their closets and the mall and they could choose what to wear. Y’all… this was a game-changer!!! It removed the battle of them wearing something they didn’t like and allowed them to find something that worked, in their own style!

Photo by Lydia Ivy Photography

3. Consent, Consent, Consent

It’s no secret that consent in our homes and on social media when they come of age of consent is important. So, you may see my kids in photos, but you may not. That is a choice left to them, when they are of age to choose it, and it can change day by day. As kids enter into their teen years, they can become more aware of the eyes that may see them, and opt for more privacy (this has been our experience). So how are family photos going to work, if they don’t want to be in them? 

A big piece of the puzzle that I’ve been figuring out is that it’s not that they’re unwilling or unwanting to be in the photos, they just want consent over what’s posted. Fair! So fair! Knowing that Mom & Dad aren’t posting these pictures anywhere without asking them first, causes them to relax and enjoy the moments without running through their minds “who is going to see this?”. (Even with an emoji-covered face, consent is given). Obviously, little ones, they can’t speak up yet! This is where parental consent comes in until the time comes!

Photo by Lydia Ivy Photography

4. Make it Short, Make it Sweet

Give your kids (and partner) a bit of a time warning. For this last shoot, I said “about 20 minutes, 30 max!”. Again, giving a heads-up helps manage expectations. 20 minutes is enough time considering you need, what, 2-3 images for keeps, but will get around 100-200 shots in that time frame depending on the photographer? 

Follow up with the sweet – a reward! We did “hey after this is done, let’s go get ice cream!”. It made everyone perk up a bit with excitement as well. 

This shoot happened during a sudden rainfall, it was 6 minutes total and one of our faves by Lydia Ivy Photography\

5. Compensate Them *optional*

Obviously, this is optional. But, I’m going to share it. Because let’s be real, for us this may be “just a photo” but for them, it may be a TOTAL chore. I like to incentivize my kids and also teach them to value their work, too! Before each photo shoot, I will lay out what we are doing and where, the time and expectations, and even a bit of a vision board. I’ll ask them to come up with some ideas for shots, as well as come up with a value rating that they feel they should be paid.

I grappled with this notion at first, like I was paying off my kids to smile in photos. But the reality is, they are doing something that is valuable to me, and I want them to know they are valued. And no, they don’t make hundreds for a photoshoot. It’s usually somewhere around $20 each to spend as they choose, after a job well done, and it’s earned! 

Photo Alicia Thurston Photography

6. Roll With It

As a family of 6, the likelihood of a perfect picture of all of us is kind of hard. Squish us together for a photo, someone *will* tickle someone else, resulting in some faces we maybe didn’t plan on. Not to mention, if you have a son like mine…he will pick up a frog, fall in the mud, and maybe even split his jeans. It happens, roll with it. 

At the end of the day, these photos are a snapshot of time and memory. Remember the why, as much as you can. They won’t always be perfect, but they will be you. Perfectly you. Captured, in a moment of time. Frogs and mud included.

Photo by Alicia Thurston Photography, in which Bo really did pick up a frog and fall in the mud.

7. Golden Hour

A photographer’s best-kept non-secret…golden hour. Beyond just being this dreamy electric yet soft time of day for lighting, it’s also the end of the effing day, and MY GOSH y’all can sleep after this mini-marathon (or just you, because you’re the only one running this thing). But, here’s why it’s amazing: No sun in the eyes, no harsh shadows, no trying to find the perfect light and the perfect backdrop all at the same time… it’s just the best!

Find when it sunsets, and go an hour before. For us, the sunset this day was 830, so we got there at 730… the light and the mood change quickly during this time, giving a really diverse mood board of photos when you’re done. Check your weather app to see when the sun is setting in your area and plan to be there before. I just checked mine and it says 5 pm now that the seasons have changed…ugh.

8. Backs to the Camera!

When it’s falling apart, as it surely may sometimes… turn away. The pressure removed from having perfect smiling, looking faces with open eyes all melt away. Stand together, face away… let the photographer do the rest. They may just be your favorite photos, after all.

At the end of the day, even if it gets messy and chaotic, this is your moment in time. There will be a season where everyone stands straight and proper but this may not be it.