Oh Family Picture Day

Soon, we’re heading off for a beach vacation with our oldest and dearest friends, all of our kids, and probably a fair amount of rum. It’s a yearly tradition, and luckily, because one of the aforementioned oldest and dearest friends is a photographer, it usually includes family pictures on or around the beach.

Susan specializes in child and family photography, and she has a knack for putting people (especially children) at ease in front of the camera. (You can see some of her beautiful work here.)

Anyone who’s ever even been around a family knows nothing puts a parent on edge like trying to orchestrate the perfect family picture. By the time you’ve researched photographers, coordinated outfits, fed/washed/dressed everyone, and arrived on-time at the designated location, you’re probably closer to killing everyone than snuggling up for a warm, happy family portrait.

When I look back at the pictures my parents have of us I remember things like that’s the one where Mom burned my neck with the curling iron then yelled at me to stop crying so my eyes wouldn’t be red in the pictures OR that’s the one where my brother peed on the floor in the waiting area at the Sears and my dad wanted to run out but my mom refused because she had a coupon and we were already in our outfits.

I like the pictures, but I like the story about the pictures even more, which got me thinking that maybe making the memory is really the whole point of the family picture ordeal. Maybe it’s just a few cherished moments of imperfect family time someone happens to photograph. That’s what makes the most sense to me now. Much more than restrictive fancy outfits, pretending to smile, and being forced to tilt my head at an unnatural angle.

Still, it is nice to have a decent photo or two of the family and luckily for most of us, the time of the staunch family portrait has passed. We can all relax a little and actually enjoy our family pictures.

On this note, I’ve worked with Susan to compile a quick list of tips that might help make family picture day a little less traumatic for everyone involved.

External Preparation:

1) Consider the locale, time and setting. Plan around the family schedule as much as possible. Try to avoid nap times, meal times, etc. Tired, hungry kids don’t photograph well. Also, factor in the typical weather conditions when choosing locales and outfits.

2) Coordinate don’t match. And honor each family members unique tastes and style whenever possible. Forget white and denim, at least for a while. Consider; back & khaki, chambray & neon, complimenting colors & patterns. If you’re worried about your ability to coordinate, check out Pinterest, ask your photographer, or look at your favorite websites or catalogs for styling ideas. Every reputable advertisement is a professionally staged photo. And you don’t have to copy it exactly. Just use them for inspiration (colors/patterns/materials/poses) then adjust to what works best for your family and picture plan.

3) Pose with caution. Have a few in mind, but don’t over do it. Especially today when the popular style favors more candid, natural looking photos.

Internal Preparation:

1) Adjust your expectations. This photo isn’t going to make you better looking, slimmer, or change any dysfunctional family dynamic. Relax and enjoy the moment. Otherwise, the camera will catch the angst and stress. Trust the photographer to get a good shot, hopefully while you’re none-the-wiser and consider the light touch of a skilled editor your BFF. Our best family pics have come from shoots where I left sure there was no way she was able to get one decent shot.

2) Nix the fakey, fakey. Be yourself, take it easy, and let the camera and photographer do the work. Just get in position and enjoy a few moments of family time. Focus on each other or the beautiful locale. Celebrate the fact you’re all bathed and dressed and together. It will show in the photos.

3) Respect everyone’s limitations. Especially the kids. Most of the best shots come in the first 15 minutes, especially with younger children. If you’re forcing them into poses, they’ll degrade quicker. Get those (few) poses in at the beginning, then just interact and try to forget someone is snapping pics.

Hitting even a few of these will improve the picture-taking experience and the pictures.

Does anyone have other tips to add? Anyone have a memorable moment or story from a past family photo or session to share? I’d love to hear ’em.

Image Credit: Family pic taken by Susan Miller of Susan Miller Photography


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