The weather is getting cooler, the leaves are starting to change, and the holiday displays are slowing being rolled out at department stores around the city—oh yes, WE SEE YOU, Target—so that must mean it’s time to round up the kids, throw a tie on the husband, and head out for the annual spectacle that is family portrait season.
Shudder. Right? Maybe.
To be fair, the work that goes into prepping for family photos: coordinating outfits to be just similar enough without actually matching, keeping everyone clean and happy after they’re dressed, finding the perfect park or apple orchard to capture a handful of authentic family moments we can print on Christmas cards … it’s worth it. Truly. I just have to remind myself of that fact while we’re in the thick of it.
You see, our family photos are this Sunday. And while we’re by no means ahead of the game (I just paid 2-day shipping on my dress, which I only found last night thanks to Instagram) there are a few things I’ve learned that may help fellow moms and dads who might be wandering down the same autumn path in the next few weeks. Herewith, my tips for slightly imperfect (but always memorable) family photos:
COORDINATE. DON’T MATCH
A childhood rite of passage for many moms I know included a family portrait session where everyone wore a variation on the same outfit: white button downs and khakis, a navy polo and crisp blue jeans, you get it. Of course you want everyone’s outfit to reinforce the idea that you, as a group, have met before. But stop short of making it look like you’re leading a pack of mini-yous. Your kids will thank you.
PICK ONE PATTERN AS YOUR MUSE
We are a family of four and our youngest just turned one. She is our muse—the one everyone else will take their ensemble cues from. To kick off my photo planning, I decided on a beautiful floral jumper with green and purple highlights from Tea Collection for her. Everyone else will have some variation of neutrals with accents that complement her dress. It simplifies planning for the rest of us and she’ll feel special, to boot.
MAKE IT PERSONAL
Loveys. Toy tractors. Lollipops. A guitar. These are all impromptu props that have made it into past photo sessions and actually ended up making them more memorable. The tendency is to separate kids from anything that doesn’t fit your aesthetic or theme, or to include (but hide) them. I absolutely see your point. But what if it transformed your photo? We now have a whole series with my son clutching his beloved Jelly dog. And his inability to sit still unless he was holding a sucker two summers ago? Well, some of those turned out to be my favorites from the whole session.
LET YOUR KIDS LEAD
You might have the perfect pose in your mind, but if your kids are anything like mine, there is an 83% chance it’s never going to work. In my experience, if kids (and I’m talking littles, here) are given some agency, you’re going to be surprised and delighted by the result. My son is happiest when he’s running, so we encouraged it and tried to keep up. The look on his face as he turned to catch the eye of the photographer—in a moment of pure bliss—was exactly what we were trying to capture anyway. If I’d tried to force it, it might not have happened.
LEAN IN TO THE CHAOS
So your son jumps into a puddle the second you open the car door at your destination. Your daughter refuses to look at the camera. It’s highly unlikely you will get these tiny humans to bend to your will, especially with a semi-stranger standing in front of you, giving them an audience (though if you have tips, please email me ASAP). Some of our favorite pics have taken place when we least expected them, or after an intense few seconds where I’m sweating through my dress in silent rage (We’re paying for this! These photos are supposed to last forever! Just sit down PLEASE!) Just lean into it. You never know how great the results may be.
Photos via BLK WLF Studios