Family sessions are my favorite to do in the summer, even if the sun sets a little later, which makes it hard for our little ones to stay up. This summer Maybury State Park family session is the perfect example of why summer is my favorite for families (though fall is always the most popular!).
Maybury State Park in Northville is one of my favorite spots because it has gorgeous morning AND evening light. For a summer Maybury State Park family session, there is gorgeous goldenrod. This beautiful family is now expecting their third boy in July (can’t wait to do his newborn photos!).
For little ones, there’s plenty of room to run around and enjoy the space. I like to let the kiddos lead our session, especially toddlers. They’re just not ready to follow every direction yet. Sometimes just letting them play is what you gotta do! The key, in my opinion, to a good family photo experience with young children is to lower your expectations and have patience! See more tips here.
Every year, usually in the fall, families of all shapes and sizes seek one thing: the perfect family photo. The family portrait experience usually proves to be stressful no matter how large or small your family is or how old your kids are, human or fur notwithstanding. The family photo experience should be an opportunity to make memories as a family; the photos will likely hang on your walls and be on display at home for years to come. But how can you create a fun family photo experience? Is that even possible with two under two?!?! How can you make the family photo experience more fun and less stressful? Here are my top five tips for fun family photos.
1. Lower your expectations
My number one tip for fun family photos is to lower your expectations, especially if you have small children (usually five and under). If you go into the session with high expectations that your session will be the epitome of every family photo session you’ve seen on Pinterest, you are doing a disservice to yourself, your family and your photographer.
I know everyone wants THE family portrait of everyone smiling into the camera perfectly posed, but sometimes with small kids, it just doesn’t happen that way or it takes longer to get to that “smile say cheese” moment. Trusting that you’ll come out of the session with good images (maybe not Pinterest perfection on a rough kid day – but still good).
Kids are so smart and really pick up on our attitudes. It can be so difficult to not be embarrassed if your child is acting out or misbehaving in a big way. Keeping your cool and maintaining a positive approach can keep the tears (hopefully) at bay.
Sometimes the best photos are taken when you let everyone just be themselves. This means not constantly nit-picking your partner (kids pick up on the negative energy) or fighting your kids. Patience and positivity can go a long way. Giving a negative reaction is exactly what your toddler might be looking for – don’t give it to them. Re-direct, play, and praise good behaviors (even if they’re small).
3. prep, prep, prep!
One of the key things you can do to optimize your chances of a successful session is to prep your kids. Often a photo session is a new experience; I am a stranger to them and it can feel threatening or scary. Prepping your child by going through exactly what will happen at the session (First you’ll put on a special outfit; we will drive to the woods where we’ll meet a lady with a camera like mommy’s phone; then we’ll get to take a short walk where we can look at all the colorful trees; then we get to play a game; then we’ll have a tickle fight; it’ll be really fast and fun!). It sounds silly but for toddlers, it can really work to over-prepare them for what’s about to happen.
Being upbeat the day of, playing fun music on the way to the session, and creating any positive association to the session is ideal! Bringing a special toy that gets attention or provides comfort is a good idea too.
4. bribes are okay
There is no judgement in rewarding your kid via bribe. Bribes are a thing because they work! I’m not here to judge your bribe and I encourage it if it will get your child to even somewhat cooperate with simple direction (hug mommy, walk with dad, etc.). If your child is more easy-going, save the bribe for a clutch moment if needed. Stick it in the purse in your car and pull out if needed. If you child is stubborn or shy, it can be good to promise the bribe during the prep phase (i.e. if you follow the directions, you’ll get an ice cream cone on the way home).
What should you bribe with? Usually something they don’t get every day. Something special works well, whether that’s an experience, toy, candy, food, etc. Just make sure you follow through if you promise it. Bribes work on older children as well (and honestly adults too – aren’t you motivated by some form of bribing yourself?).
5. Trust Your Photographer
Though it’s rare to end a session (even a chaotic one at that) without any good images, at the conclusion of the session, it may feel like you got NOTHING. While you were busy worrying about your children’s behavior and concerned about your outfit and if your partner is smirking instead of smiling, your photographer was snapping away — looking for those moments you probably missed in your worry. With little ones, I snap so many images because they are usually on the move! In a lifestyle session, it can feel like a lot, but I’ve never come home with absolutely NOTHING to show for it (even if the family tested my patience beyond measures).
One of the most important tips for fun family photos is to really leave it to the photographer to deliver images that reflect your family. Take your photographer’s suggestions seriously and listen to their advice! Though you know your family best, they know what they’re doing. When they step back and let you play with your kids, know that they’re capturing some moments that are truly fleeting. How often do we get to capture that interaction as parents? One day those will be the images you cherish, even if the “smile say cheese” photo is the one that ends up on the holiday cards and over your mantle.
Hire a photographer with patience and kindness. Listen to their advice on length of session (depends on your children), time of day (mornings honestly almost always are best for younger kids) or location (limited walking, open spaces, and NO playgrounds). And please don’t schedule your session in the middle of what should be nap time — even if you want the most perfect golden hour. It’s not worth it parents!
Five Tips for fun family photos wrap up
Throughout your parenthood journey, if you take at least yearly family photos, there will be sessions that end in what feels like disaster. You may not get the “perfect” photo out of these. And that’s okay. That’s why we lower our expectations and meet our children where they are. Kids have their days just like we do, they just don’t have the emotional capacity and practice at coping. Keep trying and keep exposing them to photo sessions and eventually they’ll grow to have fun! I’ve watched shy children blossom over the years and each session, they get better and better in front of the camera.
Don’t let one crying toddler meltdown ruin your view of family photos. Fun family photos are possible, but they take practice!
Emma was born as a leap day baby, right before the pandemic shut everything down. Ashlee reached out in the summer to ask if I’d be able to do a Royal Oak in home session to capture Emma at five months, and of course I said yes!
In home sessions are fun (and honestly easy on parents) because I come to you! Also, I find kids are more comfortable in their space.
This session took place on a rainy, dark August morning, which is highly unusual for summertime! But we made it work and I love how this session turned out! Emma just turned one so I know that her parents treasure these first family photos at this Royal Oak in home session.
A recommendation I give parents who aren’t sold on newborn photos (some people aren’t into it or are overwhelmed those first weeks) is to just wait until their baby is between 6 and 9 months old for photos, or when they can sit up. Usually six-nine month sessions are my favorite and I don’t get to do them often! Usually baby is more responsive, can smile, can sit up, but can’t run away from us yet! It’s an option – and if you book a full session, we can still do some in your home and capture the nursery and your family in a natural way.
This past Valentine’s Day, I had a giveaway for an at-home session. I’ve really been wanting to document more families in their homes, just interacting and being themselves. Erin won and I was so excited because I had met her when she was the maid of honor in one of my 2019 weddings.We scheduled the session for the end of March and called it good.
But then, COVID hit. And we had to reschedule a few times, but on a bright, beautiful May Sunday morning, we did a family session at Greenmead Historical Park in Livonia.
Erin and Tom have the best behaved kids I’ve ever photographed. I really mean that (and sorry to all the other parents who are clients and are reading this). Maybe they were at the perfect ages or just are very good in front of a camera, but all three of these kiddos were really easy and fun to direct! We got the ones smiling at the camera and we got lots of interaction, snuggles, and hugs. Win-win!
I loved using Greenmead’s scenery as a Livonia family photographer. It’s really do-able for families because it has natural elements mixed in with historic buildings. And it’s usually not super duper busy, which was the case on this Sunday morning when we visited.
These five are always welcome in front of my camera, and your family is too! I’m now booking fall sessions! You don’t want to miss out on romping through leaves with your littles, right?
With the arrival of baby Kendall, this beautiful family has two beautiful girls! Before COVID took off in mid-March, this Birmingham newborn photographer was able to spend a Sunday morning with a sleeping Kendall, big sister Aubrey, mom, and dad in their beautiful home, which was picture perfect in every way!
Not only did Kendall sleep basically the whole time (which was new for me, as my newborns usually love to be wide awake), but Aubrey was simply adorable and a wonderful big sister. I know these two are going to have so many adventures and memories. Their age gap is close to me and my sister’s and I love having a sister!
Fall, the season of family photos. This Auburn Hills family photographer knows that y’all love your photos in the fall colors. Throwing leaves, frolicking through golden hours with orange and red and yellow backdrops.
There’s no shame in loving fall family photos. I know I do too! The Heeringas invited me to their backyard to get in some family photos before Christmas card season last fall.
I want to take a moment to acknowledge the perfectly coordinated outfits. So many times as an Auburn Hills family photographer, I’m asked “What should we wear?” This session should serve as inspiration. Everyone’s outfit goes together without everyone wearing the same exact thing.
At the end of the session, grandma, grandpa and auntie joined us for a big family photo. Sometimes I think we forget these intergenerational photos. It’s something you don’t often think about, but is always nice to have when you look back. I think big extended family photos mean even more as your family grows up.
When I think about family photos, I know that it can be a stressful experience, especially with little ones. You just never know how toddlers are going to react to the camera. But I can promise you that no matter what, we’ll get enough photos that you’ll treasure forever.