Gathering the family together to take a photo may seem like a daunting task — especially during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. No need to fret, we asked 13 expert photographers to share their best tips for family photoshoots — so you can confidently snap timeless family photos that you'll want to remember and cherish forever.
Whether you're after a funny or candid family photo to go on this year's Christmas card or a posed and polished living room portrait, keep these helpful tips for family photoshoots in mind.
1. Embrace the time change
“Wait until after Daylight Saving Time ends to get pictures with children. If you're taking your family photo outdoors, you'll want to do it during the golden hour or the last hour before sunset. With sunset so early after the time change, you can fit your family photo in before the kiddos get hungry and tired," says Colorado-based photographer Sara Herkes.
2. Stay home
“Sometimes, you don't have to go far for a photoshoot! Arrange the living room in a fun way, set up a camera or hire a professional photographer who is experienced with at-home mini sessions to capture your family in their natural habitat," says Haley from Local Lens, “You'll be extra comfortable and you'll get to remember how your home looked in the years to come."
3. Make family photoshoots a tradition
“My best family photoshoot tip for a successful family photo during the holiday season is to make the photo session a tradition. Something that your kids look forward to because they associate it with a fun day with the family. Tell the kids what to expect, and what you expect of them. Plan something fun afterward; perhaps they can pick what's for dinner or what movie you will watch once the photo session is over. Or, incorporate a fun activity into your photo session if you'd like casual photos to document the fun of baking cookies, decorating the Christmas tree together or going out for ice cream," says Nashville lifestyle and wedding photographer Darien from Darien Photography.
4. Pay attention to what's in the background
“Besides staying relaxed and opting to wear classic clothing — something that will make for a timeless image, one of my favorite tips for family photoshoots is to keep looking at the camera. No matter what anyone else in your party is doing, focus on where the camera is," says Abrah Salk Zion, owner and photographer of Miss Z Photography, “Also, beware of what's in the background. If you don't have the room inside or there is too much clutter, move the photo outside."
5. Focus on fun
“Make fun the focus. Instead of worrying about the perfect frilly tights and shining up those shoes that your toddler hates, pick clothing that feels like you and your family. Make up some hot cocoa to make it special and fun if you're outside in the cold — or have the shoot at home where everybody feels really comfortable!" says Leah O'Connell from Firefly Photography, “By leaning away from all the extras and focusing on what you love about your actual family's relationship —you're taking a step forward to have photos that truly mean something more than how pretty they are."
6. Think of the kids
"Most kids don't really care about getting an updated family photo, but they will jump for joy if you incorporate some of their favorite things to do into the shoot. However, try to avoid food and bribes, since that will quickly become the focus of your shoot and are best saved as a last resort," says photographer Adam Kneeland of Reminisce Photography.
7. Don't spend too much time on what to wear
“Don't overthink finding the perfect outfit. Enjoy the time you have as a family so when you look at the images you'll remember a joyful experience instead of the stress," says Boise, ID-based Hannah Curtis, owner of Alessi Photography.
8. Avoid anything too matchy-matchy
“Don't try to match everyone's outfit exactly," says Indiana-based photographer Jamie Simpson, “Instead, choose a color palette for the entire group to stay within. Avoid large prints, as they can be distracting. And don't dress anyone in solid white — unless everyone is wearing it. The human eye is naturally drawn to the brightest object in a picture."
9. Go for the candids
“Don't say cheese! Instead, if you're photographing family, especially small children, get their attention and get a laugh out of them by doing something amusing, unexpected, animated or silly that will get them genuinely engaged and happy. And when that happens, take lots of photos! The authentic smiles on everyone's faces will be so much better than a forced face," says family photographer Stephen Govel.
10. Opt for real over picture-perfect
“The most important thing you can do to make family picture day special is to relax. It's easier said than done — especially in today's world where there is so much pressure to present a picture-perfect family photo to social media," says Houston, TX photographer Courtney Griffin, “One of my go-to tips for family photoshoots is for parents to go into the experience with the mindset that these photos are to capture and celebrate their family exactly how they are now."
11. Manage expectations
“I always tell this family photoshoot tip to all the families I work with. Set low expectations for your kids during family photos — even teenagers," says Vancouver, WA family photographer Jaime Bugbee Photography, “The more they can be themselves, know that they can't “mess the session up," and they don't have to give cheesy fake smiles the better your session will be, promise! Just make it about having a “family date" and have a laid back attitude about the experience."
12. Pick a date and go for it
“Don't overthink it! Book the photosession. You won't regret it, unless another year goes by undocumented. Be yourselves and let the professional do the rest," says San Francisco Bay Area photographer, Jennine Coosaia.
13. Include Fido, if you want
“Pets are part of the family, so absolutely plan to include your dog in any family photoshoot this holiday season," says owner and photographer of A Perfect Gem, Diamond Tullis-Koonce, “If you're looking to snap a successful family photo with your pet, these are my tried and true tips for family photoshoots with pets:
- Feed them: You don't want your pup becoming aggressive for any treats you might use during the shoot!
- Play beforehand: After you feed your pet, take them on a lengthy walk, make sure they use the restroom or make sure they've had some strenuous activity. This will help minimize your pet — especially dogs — from thinking it's playtime during the family photoshoot.
- Limit distractions: If your pet is hearing loud noises or there is a lot happening in the area where you're staging the photo, your dog won't want to sit still.
- Bring a toy or two: Tie a string to your pet's favorite toy and dangle it near the camera — this will help your dog keep their attention on the lens.
- Practice “sit" and “stay": Once you decide where you're family photoshoot will take place, practice for the photoshoot with your pet in that area. Asking them to sit and stay while in that area will help condition them for the big family photoshoot!"
And last but not least, Tullis-Koonce says, “Bring plenty of treats!"
Ready for your close-up?
When you and your family gather for this family photo, stay present. Don't worry about what your cousin in Nebraska will think of your family's Christmas tree in the background or how your family photo will age 10 years from now. The most memorable photos often come from memorable experiences — so make this family photo session count.