Good photography is an artful way to capture life in motion. A way to preserve the fleeting moments of a cherished life. A way to visualize a brand, tell a story or express an idea. Whether you crave a gallery wall of wrapped-canvas family portraits or you are looking to bring your brand to life with workplace candid’s, planning a styled photo shoot can get you there.
If your last attempt at professional pictures fell flat of your expectations, we have a few tips for planning a photoshoot that will help you knock it out of the park on your next go around. There is a pretty good chance that you may have put too much on the photographer’s plate. Let your photographer handle the camera and get ‘the’ shot, but don’t overlook the details to set them up for success.
Start with a Concept or Vision
Have you heard terms like ‘mood boards‘ and ‘inspiration boards’? The first step in planning a successful photoshoot that will result in shots that you will love is to find out what you like. Maybe you already spend hours on Pinterest, saving photoshoot ideas. In that case, you’re already halfway there.
The rest of us may need to be a little more intentional in sorting out what styles we like and what will work for our purpose.
Take a few minutes to think about what you feel makes a good family photo. Are you drawn to certain poses or more candid shots? How will photos be displayed? Do you want traditional portraits or more artistic shots to decorate your space?
While brainstorming your vision, focus only on what you like and what you would choose, barring no limitations. Do not worry about where you will find the perfect old barn to be a background in your photos. Jot down all of your ideas and see where they lead.
How do you want your pictures to look? Light and airy with calming colors of blue skies and large, open grassy areas? Crisp whites and shades of neutral earth tones? Industrial with architectural backgrounds with crisp black and whites? Whimsical and fun and full of bright colors?
Choose a Color Palette
Are you drawn to the clean look of light and airy whites? Are you drawn to pops of color or prefer the dramatic high-contrast of black and whites? Coordinating colors for outfits and backgrounds will provide a cohesive look for your portraits.
With something like 10 million different colors in the world, choosing just a few can quickly become overwhelming. Instead of giving up, break it down into something more manageable. Color palettes are classified into three categories:
- Warm Palettes: red, pink, orange, yellow, brown
- Mixed Palettes: balance warm and cool colors
- Cool Palettes: blue, green, grey
Choose colors that fit with your brand, theme, or subjects. If your shoot is for family portraits, consider skin tones. The point is to make the subjects of the photos as photogenic as possible.
What Colors Look Best By Skin Tone?
Skin tones come in a variety of shades. For those with yellow, golden or peach undertones, warm colors will look best. Consider metallic colors like gold, bronze. Anyone with pink, red, or blue undertones will look best in cool tones like silver, grey, or magenta.
How can you tell if you have warm or cool skin tones? If your veins look green, gold jewelry makes your skin glow or your skin tans; you likely have warm tones. Bluish colored veins, an affinity for silver jewelry, or fair skin that burns easily means that you probably have cool undertones.
How to Choose a Photographer
A quick look through local listings, and you will likely find as many photographers as minutes in the day. The task of choosing – of choosing the right one can be daunting. Where do you start?
Do you read through customer reviews crossing off the ones who have had a past client dare to leave them a less than fabulous rating? Do you peruse their portfolios and look for what you like? Or do you go straight to their price sheet and make arbitrary judgments about who is charging too much and who might be a ‘good’ photographer?
Look for Experience, Hire for Skill
One truth that will save you some time and disappointment is understanding that not all photographers are equal. Some photographers have loads of experience and professional training. Others have a decent eye or natural talent and a camera, or maybe they just fancy themselves to be a photographer.
When looking for a photographer, do not forget to ask about their experience. At the end of the day, you may choose the fresh and inexperienced photographer because you love their style, and you just clicked with them. But part of managing your expectations for the photoshoot is knowing who you have hired.
Ideally, you will want to find someone with enough experience to do the job. Experience is essential, and ignoring a lack of experience can lead to a disappointing shoot. But experience means nothing if the photographer’s style does not match your vision or their skill is more along the lines of average.
Match Portfolio Work to Your Concept
People are who they tell you they are, and you should always believe them. The same is true for photography portfolios. What you see in the portfolio is very likely what you will get. Most photographers have a go-to style. As humans, we are all creatures of habit, so while some may be more or less versatile, all photographers have a preferred style.
Work Within Your Budget
There are some differences in pricing from one photographer to another. Price is not necessarily an indicator of experience or skill, so keep an open mind when shopping around for a photographer.
While good photography is valuable, you will be far more satisfied with the outcome if you do not overspend on your photoshoot. Spend as much as you can afford to, but don’t put yourself in the poor house just to get professional photos.
Understand the Contract
A professional photographer will work with a contract. Contracts are not something to be scared of. Much to the opposite, a contract should protect all parties involved from loss or liability.
A good photoshoot contract should cover scheduling, copyright and licensing of images, timeframes for the shoot, and turnaround on the photographs, as well as specific policies like weather-related cancellations.
Do a Meet and Greet Before the Shoot
Before making a firm commitment with a photographer like putting down a non-refundable deposit, or booking a shoot, meet up for a creative consultation.
The best photos are taken when we feel comfortable and confident, so the photographer you choose must be able to put you at ease.
Plus, this will provide an opportunity to communicate your vision to the photographer beforehand. Remember, photographers are creative, but few are great on the fly, so giving them a little time to prep for you creatively will shine through in the result.
Any photographer who is not willing to give you fifteen minutes of his or her time for a creative consultation is not worth booking.
Choosing a Location for a Photoshoot
Good lighting is the key to getting good photos. Natural sunlight is best, but if you cannot or do not want to risk the weather for an outdoor photo shoot, then a photographer with a studio and professional lighting is best.
While a good photographer should be skilled in both indoor and outdoor photography, every single one has a preference. Not all photographers have access to a regular studio either, so your choice for location is also an important factor when choosing a photographer.
Indoor photography, done in a studio or indoor event space, will provide a comfortable, climate-controlled environment. The upside is that the weather will not rain you out of your shoot. The downside is that artificial lighting and elements will be used. If you do not like the look of photoshopped backgrounds, skip the studio and head outdoors.
Outdoor photography is the obvious option for natural lighting and endless backgrounds. Mother nature’s whims make it a little more difficult to plan for, but her beauty makes it worth it. Outdoor photography provides the most options for flexibility.
Background inspiration is everywhere from old brick buildings in an industrial area of town to luscious leafy greens in a botanical garden, which are beautiful options for every taste.
You can use an outdoor shoot to embrace your family’s lifestyle. If you enjoy hiking, camping, or boating, then a shoot at a state park makes the most sense. You can capture the beauty of the seasons in your shoot by timing shoots at different times of the year.
Why not hire a photographer to photograph your family sledding on a favorite hill? City dwellers might prefer to take the shoot to an old industrial downtown area with cool architecture and more pavement than parks.
Family photos are all about capturing the memories and love of a family. If you can choose a location that has sentimental value for your family, that connection will add a level of depth to your portraits that are more valuable than any studio picture.
A rustic shoot on a family-owned farm or an open space in a beloved grandmother’s garden would make terrific sentimental shoot locations.
How to Coordinate Outfits for a Photoshoot
Choosing what to wear for family pictures is half the battle. Too many bold colors or competing patterns, and your photos will be too busy. They will be hard to look at with too many things competing for attention.
Not enough pattern or color, and your pictures could come out kind of bland. Try coordinating, not matching, outfits that match your shoot style for visual balance that lends to a cohesive theme.
Fit and Flatter
Choose clothing that is comfortable and flattering. Wearing well-fitting and comfortable clothing is important because the best pictures are taken when everyone is happy and comfortable. A lot can go wrong with kids and moods when gathering to take family pictures.
Scratchy sweaters and pants that pinch should not be one of them. Possibly more important than a comfortable fit, all outfits should be flattering.
Dark colors are slimming, but be careful to avoid dressing head-to-toe in black. Unless your theme is dark and moody, you may want to balance black pieces with pops of color or patterns.
Likewise, whites are clean and crisp and great for a light and airy feel. But, only bright whites photograph well. Unless you are going to go out and buy all brand new clothes, be cautious with whites that can come off dingy.
With some exceptions, a single color scheme where everyone in the photo wears the same color usually comes off pretty flat. At least avoid a single shade. Monochromatic color schemes using different shades of the same color can add dimension.
Use Patterns Sparingly
Not all patterns are bad, but it is a little trickier to coordinate different patterns than solid shades. If you do have a pattern that you love, build the family wardrobe around that pattern. Break it up with lots of solid colors.
For maximum visual appeal, remember that patterns do not have to be multi-colored to work well. In fact, multi-colored patterns can be very busy. It is a lot harder to pull off coordinated patterns with many colors in them.
Mixing patterns can also work well to add dimension to your family photos. A few simple rules to follow in order to make sure that your patterns pop as accents in your pictures and not overwhelm.
- Use an odd number of patterned accents. Three seems to work well.
- Use patterns that have the same color intensity. If one is pastels, all patterns should be pastels.
- Shoot for an even pattern distribution. You will likely do different poses so the same people will not always be grouped together. But, you can distribute by making sure that the pattern is on different clothing pieces (i.e., one blouse or shirt, one skirt, and one scarf or tie).
- Mix scale of patterns with large print versus small print and tie together with color.
The best way to coordinate outfits for a photoshoot is to pick a color palette that fits your vision. Use three complementary colors or three shades of color for a monochromatic look. Add three coordinating patterns with no more than one pattern per individual person.
Prepping for Poses
In preparation for your photo shoot, spend a little time getting familiar with different poses. Wait, um what? Isn’t it the photographer’s job to do the poses? Technically it is the photographer’s job to do this.
But, your pictures will turn out so much better if you take the initiative to make this a more cooperative task. Your photographer has a certain design aesthetic, and while you probably like their style, only you know what you truly want.
- Walking Hand-in-Hand: Capture the candid beauty of your family by capturing them in a natural action like walking together.
- Get Traditional with Seated Poses: Portraits of a seated family are probably one of the oldest poses. Shake this one up by having one person stand in the back and one person seated lower or kneeling in the front.
- Get Goofy: Encourage family members to play around and be silly to give the photographer a chance to capture their fun side in an authentic way.
- Play with Perspective: For something a little different than traditional group poses, try different perspectives. Put some people in the foreground and some in the background of the same shot. Or, lay on the ground and have the photographer take a shot from above.
- Show Affection: Family photos are all about capturing the love of the family. There is no better way to do this than to be affectionate and allow the photographer to get pictures of kissing and hugging.
- Line Them Up: Lining up from the tallest to the shortest creates order and enhances the visual appeal. Create a train sitting one in front of another. Stand in line with each one resting hands on their shoulders.
- Focus on the Details: Close up shots of hands, feet, baby shoes, wedding rings, or whatever your heart desires. You are paying for a photo shoot, so why not get some artistic shots at the same time?
As you look through photographer portfolios, Pinterest boards, or image searches on the web, start gathering ideas. Take note of what you like and what you do not so you can communicate what you want to your photographer.
Prepare a Shoot List of Must-Haves
Once you have a little familiarity with what types of poses you like, it is time to jot down a list of your must-have shots. While much of your shoot should be in the moment, you will want to make sure that you still cover your bases with all of your posed shots. A photo shoot can be a pretty significant spend of money. A shot list will help keep you organized so you don’t miss the opportunity to get key photos.
Who is in the Picture?
List out every combination of people to be featured in a picture such as ‘the whole family,’ ‘mom and daughter,’ ‘kids only,’ and ‘dad and kids.’
Get a Mix of Candid and Posed Shots
Divide your must-have shoot list into two categories and list out the shots that you would like for each posed and candid shots.
Mix of Textured and Solid Backgrounds
If you have booked a photographer, you probably already have an idea of what you will use your pictures for. Since you are having professional pictures taken, it is also a good idea to cover your bases for future holiday cards and announcements, web page or portfolio graphics, and more.
Solid backgrounds, particularly with open space on the left or right side, are great for holiday cards.
Both Portrait and Landscape Shots
Whether you are building a gallery wall or displaying photos in frames on a shelf, it is good to have options when it comes to layout.
All of the planning in the world will not stop life from happening. Kids will have tantrums in the middle of your pictures. Some shots will be unflattering. If you are shooting outside, the weather will be hot, sticky, sunny, overcast, buggy, or whatever mildly unpleasant thing you can think of.
Managing your expectations is part of how to plan for a photo shoot. Here are some things that you can do proactively.
You can save yourself a lot of disappointment by communicating your expectations early on when working with photographers.
Who will be allowed to attend photoshoots? How many people can you have? Can you include pets? What is the turnaround time? Will sneak previews be posted on social media?
Go in with an Open Mind
When picture day comes, relax a little and go with the flow. All of the planning has been done. There is nothing left to do, but be in the moment and focus on natural poses and having fun.
There is a real possibility that the photographer will not get every shot on your list. It will be ok. There is also a chance that something disastrous will happen. It will rain, or a kid will get sick, or any one of a million other things that come up to ruin your plans. It will be ok.
The worst-case scenario is that you will have to reschedule. But more likely, your photos will just be more authentic.
Picture Day Tips
With all of the prep and planning, when photo day finally arrives, the pressure is on to make sure everything turns out great.
Unfortunately, stressing over getting great shots is probably going to work against you. Tense muscles, fretty-faces, and worry lines don’t photograph well. Give yourself plenty of time and pack a few essentials in a bag to ease the stress.
Pack Clean, Protein-Packed Snacks
Hunger pains can really bring out the dramatic side of people. Avoid tears and meltdowns during the photoshoot with clean, easy to eat snacks that can be munched on in between shots. Obviously, avoid anything messy, a juice stain on an outfit is a disaster on picture day.
Bring a Change of Clothes
Maybe you are planning wardrobe changes, or maybe you are not. Either way, bring an extra outfit. There is a pretty good chance you will not need it. But, if disaster strikes, it could save the day.
Boredom Busters are Great for Little Kids
Young children have super short attention spans. Moms of little ones know that getting through a photoshoot can be nearly impossible.
If there is a large group participating in your photoshoot, such as extended family, then bring some small toys, a tablet, or handheld game to entertain kids when it is not their turn in front of the camera.
Be Prepared for Crying Kids
It is laughable to think that you will take your toddlers to a photoshoot and get perfect cooperation for Pinterest-worthy snaps. Toddlers are little, emotional time bombs that go off furiously and without warning. They cry because the sun is shining or a bee flew near them. But on picture day, those tears and puffy red eyes can derail your plans pretty quickly.
First, accept that tears will happen. Trying to prevent them is a futile effort. Check off all of the obvious boxes before your photoshoots like meals and naps. Pack their favorites. Sometimes toddlers just get overstimulated, and a favorite stuffed animal or blanket can calm them down better than anything else.
Redirection is your best friend here. Instead of willing or begging them to stop crying, focus on getting them to move on to something else. They will quickly stop crying, and the redness will dissipate from their sweet little face.
Be Clear with Expectations Beforehand
Chances are, even if your children are grown, this photoshoot feels like a chore to them. If you will be spending an hour or two taking pictures to be really upfront with that information so that everyone knows what to expect.
Bring a Picture Day Emergency Kit
Bottled water, Shout wipes, bug spray, and a powder compact to touch-up makeup are a few things that would be really handy to have with you at the photo shoot.
A professional photoshoot is a perfect opportunity to capture beautiful moments in your family as children grow up and parents age. It is a chance to personalize your home with artistic family portraits that show the love between your family.
With a little bit of prep work and a strategy, you can find the right photographer to make your wish list come to life. As a word of caution, there are many photographers out there, and not all of them will match your style or be able to deliver the quality that you are looking for. Really take the time to do your homework. Find the right photographer, the right location, the right wardrobe, and then let loose and have fun with it.