It’s that time of year when the warm weather has left, the leaves are turning, and it’s time to think about the next season quickly approaching… family photo season!

Here in Minnesota, many clients wait for fall to update their annual photos in order to get those gorgeous golden outdoor hues in their shots. While the season’s natural settings may be perfect, the real success of your family’s photo shoot depends on your preparation and planning.

As a seasoned professional photographer, I’ve put together my top ten tips to help you stay stress-free as you plan ahead for your next Christmas card image. While I always recommend hiring a professional to make sure YOU are in some gorgeous non-selfie images, these tips can also help you coordinate your own little informal family events, any time of year!

  1. Choose your photographer and book a session. Sound like a no-brainer? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a family wait until the last minute to schedule a session, only to find out that no one is available. It’s also an important step when it comes to capturing your unique family dynamic. Find a professional whose style you admire. Do you like formal poses? More lifestyle or candid shots? Look through local photographer’s websites for examples of their work that you think fit with your personality. While making sure you stay within your budget, consider the lasting value that professional images, and professional prints, will have over the years. A pro will know how to make sure you and your family look your best and give you treasures to look back on (those Instagram and digital phone selfies just won’t cut it 50 years from now).

  2. Determine the setting. What kind of atmosphere fits your family? Do you love open country? Camping or hiking in the woods? Scoping out the streets in an urban jungle? The more comfortable you feel in the environment you are in, the more comfortable you will look in your photographs. Do you avoid going downtown for fear of getting mugged? Then don’t venture into an awesome-looking alleyway or downtown park. While you most likely wouldn’t get mugged, there is a chance you might look like you feel a bit out of place. If you aren’t sure of the perfect spot, your photographer can help you with suggestions based on your family preferences.

  3. Get the timing right. While your photographer’s schedule may influence the time of day your session takes place, timing is important for a few reasons. If you have little kids, think about their “cranky times.” If possible, avoid shoots right before their normal nap time. Make sure you clear your schedule as much as possible that day so that you don’t feel rushed getting to the session. The time of day also influences the lighting of your shoot. My favorite times to shoot are first thing in the morning and about an hour before sunset to get gorgeous light that flatters your skin. While a professional will know how to work the light in any condition, it’s best to avoid shoots in direct sunlight with the sun right overhead, especially if you’re trying to take photos of your own family with your camera.

  4. Find unique inspiration. Notice I didn’t say go spend hours on Pinterest dreaming of your perfect photo. While Pinterest is an obvious place to help with planning, many clients end up with unrealistic expectations of what their photos will look like (refer to tip number one about finding a photographer that fits YOUR style). While you can find ideas, find a way to make them your own instead of copying what you see. If you give it your own spin, it will have MUCH more meaning in the long run! For example, if your family doesn’t play Scrabble, don’t feel pressured to set up a Scrabble board on a crate and vintage quilt in the middle of an apple orchard. It just won’t make sense or tell your story in years to come.

  5. Plan your outfits. This is the most obvious stressor that comes to mind with photo shoots. If you’re planning for your family outfits, first find something that YOU (as a mom or wife) feel awesome in, and plan your family around that. Women are most critical of themselves, and let’s face it, it can be hard to find the perfect pair of pants or blouse. The most important thing to do is find an outfit that makes you feel beautiful. You will ultimately look like how you feel (refer back to tip number two).  Need some color suggestions? Download my outfit guide to help you get started.

  6. Envision the final outcome. Before your shoot, think about how you want to display your final images in your home. PLEASE don’t go through all of the investment and work only to have your images sitting on a disc or computer somewhere, never to see the light of day! Pick out frames ahead of time and plan where you want to hang them. Do you want more vertical or horizontal images? Tell your photographer these things ahead of time so that they can make sure you get what you want!

  7. Practice your poses. Most of us aren’t natural models, but that doesn’t mean you can’t look like one! While it might sound dumb, practice smiling at yourself in a mirror so you get your practice smiles out of the way. Why not turn on some fun music and have your own little fashion show at home before the big day? It will help you feel more comfortable and prepared for how your outfit makes you feel.

  8. Let your kids be kids. On the day of your shoot, simply interact with your family. While everyone wants at least one “looking at the camera and smiling” photo, don’t force your kids to say “CHEESE.” When this happens, most kids turn OFF their lively personality and turn on the most forced-looking smiles. Have fun. Hold hands and spin in circles. Play Simon Says. Race in the park. Photos that are filled with motion and EMOTION end up being the most treasured and true-to-life photos you’ll treasure forever. Can’t get a smile out of your kid? Sometimes the pouts are perfect. After all, you are documenting this exact phase of your family’s life. You’ll love the pout later on.

  9. Have an open mind. Your photographer has years of experience in working with individuals to make them look their best. We’ve got tricks up our sleeves to help you feel relaxed and have a good time. If your photographer asks you to make a silly face or have a dance-off with your husband in front of the camera, it’s not to make you look awkward. It’s to capture those laughs and smiles right AFTER we make you do those things. You’ll love the results!
  10. PRINT YOUR PHOTOS. Print them. Just do it. But not from Target, WalMart, or Walgreens. Most      professional photographers will offer professional prints with their photo packages. Take them up on that. It will remove one more step for you to worry about with proper coloring, quality and cropping. If you are set on printing the digital files yourself, I recommend using It’s the closest thing to a professional lab that consumers have access to.