How to prepare for your special family photo session

You have found the photographer, booked the date, and paid the deposit. Congrats! The first big hurdles are finally done! You are officially on the calendar for a beautiful family portrait session. Yay! Here is a comprehensive checklist that will walk you through every step of the portrait process to help you feel confident and prepared for your session.

Sonja Kilian Art and Photography, Sonja Kilian Photography, Namibia, Lifestyle Photography, Newborn, Family, Children

Get the kids excited about the shoot

When you first tell them about your family picture plans, act excited, because it is going to be SO much fun! Often attitude is contagious. 

Prepare the child for the session by letting them know that a very nice lady will be taking some photos of them. It is best not to surprise them. Kids are big part of your family and the reason you want these photos. So, involve them in the entire experience.

If they want to bring their stuffy or their cape along to the session, let them. These are details that reflect their personality and mark this time in their life. You want those captured. 

Get them excited about the shoot far in advance. Plan a surprise or a special treat like ice cream or mini golf after the shoot, so that they look forward to the entire day. You do not want your kids to think of the photo shoot as something scary, or worse, a chore.

Make an effort and plan

You are paying good money for these photos so do not look as though you have just come home from the school run in the rain! You do not have to look like you are off to a gala event either but look your best! Moms are often rushing around before a photo shoot, making sure that their family is dressed and ready. I always encourage mothers to have their hair and makeup professionally done. This will prepare Mom for her pictures and when Mom is feeling pretty and confident, this will reflect on the rest of the family as well.  Plan haircuts and other appointments (i.e. makeup, nails, if applicable) in advance, so that your family can show up looking their very best. Do not leave getting yourself ready for the last minute!

Involve the kids in the process from the beginning! If they get to help pick what they are going to wear, or what props they can bring, they will feel included and be more likely to cooperate. Sometimes the kids are not the only ones that drag their heels for family pictures. Quite often the men in the family do not understand the whole fuss about taking photos. Plan ahead, so that he knows it is coming and has time to mentally prepare for it. But trust me, in the end, he will be as happy as a champ when he sees the photos of his beautiful family!

Do not show up to a photo shoot on an empty stomach. I meet many families who come to a photo session with dinner scheduled at the end. If this is your plan, be sure to give everyone a healthy snack before the photo shoot.

Get ready early

Leave plenty of time for showers, baths, dressing, and grooming. When a family shows up to a family photo session rushed and disorganised, it sets the tone for a rushed and disorganised session. Give yourself extra time, so that you are ready before it is time to head out that door. 

Be on time or come early. This will help ensure you have a few minutes for your child to get comfortable with your photographer. These few short moments are more important than you realise. This is helpful for adults as well. It is just as important for you to have some time to connect with and get to know your photographer, before jumping in front of their lens. 

Try on your clothing in advance and take a photo together at home to make sure the outfits all look good together. Then you still have plenty of time to find something else if an element does not work.

Try to get your family to feel like they are in their own backyards by giving them accessories close to their hobbies and lifestyle. For example, a family who likes playing chess and reading books can bring a chess board and their favourite book. While these might sound very ordinary, the idea behind it is to bring out the uniqueness of every family who plays those games in their own ways.


Dress accordingly. Photos are not something we normally have done once a month on a professional level. So, make sure you are adequately prepared for this special event. Buy a new outfit, do some extra styling with your child's hair, or incorporate fun props like hats or scarves. If possible, go shopping for a new outfit for the shoot! Wearing a new outfit makes everyone feel good. And if you feel good, you will look good! It also has not been through the washing machine a million times and will look new and crisp.

For a photo that stands the test of time, opt for clothes that are classic rather than super trendy. Try to avoid trendy patterns and styles that might be outdated in a year. When picking out your clothes for the session, think on the side of comfort. You want to be confident in your clothing style but choose something flattering and timeless that will make you want to keep that family portrait up for years to come. What do your dream family photos look like? If they are soft and elegant, choose neutral colours with soft, flowing fabrics - think creams, very soft pastels, oatmeal, light browns, tans, greys, and slate blues. Want to showcase the fun and spunky side of your family? Then choose the clothes that capture your family's funky essence! 


  • Steer clear of the traditional matching jeans and white shirts look, which can look dated. I think that the portraits of families in uniforms of matching t-shirts and denim jeans is a blast from the past. It also erases any individual personality from the members of the family who are pictured.
  • Avoid wearing any clothing with large logos, motifs, characters, or graphics. These graphics, particularly logos and well-known characters can really distract from the focal point – your lovely faces.
  • Please avoid any overly branded clothing and outfits that are too casual. I want to see people looking comfortable in their portraits, but I also want to see them looking like the best versions of themselves. Tracksuits are hardly ever a good idea as wardrobe for a professional portrait.
  • Random collection of colours does not usual work. Choose coordinating colours. Think in the line of complimentary patterns, or colours, for example pastels or varying shades of the same colour.

I encourage you to lay out all the family’s chosen outfits on the floor beforehand to ensure they all go together. If you are unsure, I am only a phone call away!


Blankets, baby wipes, wash cloth to clean away flaky skin and eye boogers, clean and healthy snacks – carrot and celery sticks, cheese, crackers (no messy food – such as chocolate), water or other drinks that do not stain the inside of your mouth, Treats to reward children, hair brush, make-up, backup clothing – a second outfit or layers, either for a second look or in case clothing gets stained or wet during the shoot. Activity to do as a family – soccer ball, scooters, wagons, bikes, chess board, bubbles, or a musical instrument. Bring silly props – think fake moustaches, funky glasses, balloons or even some bubble gum for a bubble blowing contest. Props that will help your family interact for natural, candid photos. So, bring along a book to read to the baby, a game to lay out and play with the kids, or a picnic to enjoy together. Children to bring their favourite toy, stuffed animal, or blanket. For young children, bring toys that make noise such as rattles or squeakers to help grab their attention. Most of all, bring your patience!

Please do not forget to send me a list of your family members names and who is who! That will help me understand your relation to each other and to prepare for the photo session! 


Letting go of expectations will take a little bit pressure off and help everyone relax and just enjoy the time together as a family. Be realistic, the whole point of the session is to capture your family. You would not want to look like the family in the department store adverts because they are not real!

The perfect family photo may not necessarily be the one you envision. Open your mind, relax, have fun with it and the photos will reflect a lovely memory of time spent together. If you are relaxed, your children will be too.

Please, parents - leave the “cheese” at home. So many times, I have had parents stand behind the photographer and scream, “Say cheese to the lady, kids!”

Yelling and demanding young children to look at the camera to smile might only stress your children out (not to mention the photographer) and will result in strained, unnatural and often unflattering photographs.

Step back and allow the photographer to naturally interact and talk with your children. This will result in natural, gorgeous smiles. Help the photographer capture the true essence of your child’s personality, by talking with and coaxing out those smiles naturally and easily.

Always be touching

Always touch. Be sure that you are always touching someone. Whether it is a hug or a snuggle, or just a tender hand on the shoulder. Make contact with your family. This shows connections and love. 

Do not be afraid to pick up your children and toss them in the air. Tickle them or give them relentless kisses! Husbands give your wife a sweet kiss on the cheek. Wives tell your husband how much you love him and appreciate him for being there for your family.

Have fun. Cuddle. Giggle. Joke. Embrace. Kiss. Snuggle. Play. Give them a Squeeze. Doing these things will allow the photographer to capture the emotion and true beauty of your family. Show your photographer who you really are, so that she has the opportunity to capture your family as they are in the moment.

Let’s keep them busy

My most successful family sessions have an activity incorporated that the family loves doing together. Keep them busy. Let’s plan something to do at your session. This gives you something to do with your hands and feet. It engages the little ones and brings an authentic smile to your face.  

Take a walk around the area where we are, build a sandcastle, play tag, or sing songs. Do you love to read together? Bring some books. Is your favourite dessert ice cream? Bring some ice cream bars or drumsticks to your session. This is when messy food is allowed! Love to play board games or cards? Plan to play a round of Uno or Monopoly during your family photo session.

Other ideas include - football, piggyback rides, races, bike riding, hiking, singing, the ideas are endless. When families are engaged in doing something together that they love , the photographer will have the opportunity to take some beautiful and authentic photographs.

Keep it light-hearted

Remember to be silly, play, laugh and let go. Make your family photo session a fun event, something to look forward to.

Bring silly props – Not only do they look cute in photos, props also serve a very useful purpose. They keep little hands busy, fill in time while siblings are being photographed and help to draw out smiles and genuine interactions. 

Whatever you can do to ensure that your photo session is an event to anticipated, not dreaded, is going to help make it fun and will even help set the stage for future photos! 

Your kids will enjoy themselves so much more during the session, if you goof around with them and tickle them rather than telling them to behave or to sit down.

Do not stress

Stop worrying about what the kids are doing and just keep a happy face. We all know the saying "misery loves company". Well, I think happiness loves company more. If you can stay positive and playful, chances are much greater that your children will relax and their awesome personalities can be easily captured in a picture . 

Come to terms with the fact that things might not go “picture perfect”. Children’s emotions can be a wild card at any session. Embrace the fact that someone might cry, fall, get dirty or not sit still.

This is what makes them, them. I say embrace the crazy. Hug out the cries, tickle the tantrums, and chase hyper wild children that can not stay still. 

We are focusing on moments, so a shy kiddo can get extra snuggles and an active one can have extra run time. They are only little ones, small wonderful humans, and I promise that looking back on personalities over perfection will be worth it in the end.

Be patient and enjoy

With kids and family portraits, it is a hurry up and wait game. Hurry up and get the shot but a lot of waiting for that oh-so-beautiful shot. So, patience is key. If you seem stressed, the kids are going to pick up on that.

This is really the most important part about the photo session. Let loose a little bit because a little fun and laughter really brings out your personalities and makes for some awesome pictures.

But most of all…Let's stress this aspect one more time...have fun! Natural smiles are a result of a good time. Enjoy the time spent, capturing the memories and smiles of your family! The photos resulting, are what you will look back on and enjoy.

Ultimately, I want REAL smiles. I want you to enjoy this experience as much as I enjoy capturing it. I can guarantee you that you will not regret having these memories to cherish and your children will eventually thank you for it.

Relax, goof-off a bit and let yourself have a good time!