There are lots of great articles and Pinterest boards that focus on preparing for family photo shoots. They focus on things like coordinating outfits, advice on what to tell your children, whether bribery is ok, etc. All of that is excellent and much needed advice but I’d like to go a different direction and instead focus on you, the parent(s).

Doing a family session can be hard, especially when it involves young children. Taking pictures of kids is akin to taking pictures of fast paced sports. Any parent with a camera knows kids don’t always cooperate when you want them to and they usually don’t hold still for very long. Kids are going to do what they want to do and that’s just how it is. Having this knowledge and going into a photo session anticipating your kids’ lack of cooperation isn’t going to help. If you’re stressed about things going awry, your kids are going to feel it and chances are, things will go awry. So instead of worrying about the kids, who we can’t always control, let’s think about us parents and the role we play in setting the tone.

Let Go of the Idea of the Perfect Picture

We all want that photograph where everyone is looking at the camera, genuinely smiling and happy. Maybe our families aren’t perfect but we aspire them to be and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to capture that. But what exactly do you want to see when you look at your family’s photo? Do you want to see a perfect family or do you want to see the connection and love that you share? I’m not saying you can’t get that in the ‘ideal’ image that you desire but it’s easy to lose touch with what we really want to see when we focus solely on that idealized image.

Think about what it was like when your kids were really little. Do you look back at pictures and remember the sleepless nights and tantrums or do you look at those pictures and feel love and nostalgia for times gone by? When you put a lot of pressure on your family to look perfect, you lose sight of why you want these photos in the first place. We want to look at these photos and we want to feel. Rather than focusing on making sure everyone is looking at the camera and smiling, focus instead on how all of you feel. Focus on feeling the love that you share as a family during your session. Consider making this the goal of your session. Instead of seeing it as something you have to get perfect and right, see the session as an opportunity to spend focused, quality time together.

Stop Worrying About How You Will Look in the Pictures

Yes, mom and I mean you. I don’t like being photographed. I will be the first to admit that like every other woman out there, I pick pictures based on how I think I look. It’s what I think about when I’m posing and if there’s a picture where everyone looks great but I don’t like how I look, I don’t select it. But here’s the thing, you may not like the way you look but your family might see the picture differently. You might not like your gummy smile but your children might instead notice how happy you look.

As a photographer, I don’t know how many times I absolutely loved a picture of a family and then they don’t select it. I’m not saying your photographer’s opinion means more than yours but what I am saying is that when you concentrate too much on how you look, you can lose sight of the big picture. The picture as a whole may be more meaningful and authentic but that’s easy to miss when you are only focused on one detail. Worrying about how you look doesn’t help the general mood of the session either and it could keep you from being truly present. Now this is advice I can totally give myself too. I’m working on it!

See the Session as an Opportunity to Have Quality Time with Your Family

I’m guilty. When I have my own family’s photographs done, I approach it with dread. I think about the stress and all the things that will go wrong—my kids being cranky, soiling their clothes, or worried it will take too long to get them to genuinely smile, etc. Being a perfectionist, I’ve trained my kids to pose and taught them how to smile so I have high expectations from them. If they don’t perform, I get frustrated and well, you can guess how the rest of it goes. If there is anyone in this world who knows just how to push your buttons, it’s your kids. I get that. But, if you go into the session with this attitude, it will more than likely end up being stressful and not fun for anyone.

Change your attitude. Expect that things will go great and if something comes up, just roll with it. Instead of seeing your session as an annual chore, see it as a way to connect as a family. You know your kids best. You know what makes them smile and laugh. Hold their hands, hug them, tell jokes. Tell your kids how excited you are to spend time with them and that you’ll have fun exploring your location together. Thank them and tell them why having family pictures is important to all of you. Act excited, even if you’re not, while you’re getting ready and listen to cheery music in the car on your way to the location. Get your spouse or partner on board. Think of the session as an opportunity for focused quality time with your family and go with the flow.

Recognize Who the Pictures are Really For

Generally speaking, the mom is usually the one who wants the pictures of her family and the dads and kids go along with it because they have to. There are even some dads who do it willingly to make their wives happy (way to go dads!). No matter what the situation is, I cannot emphasize enough how much attitude matters. Even if both parents are willing to be photographed but just want to get it over with, it will affect the session experience.

When they are grown and look back at these pictures, do you want them to remember how stressed you were and how much they hated doing sessions year after year or do you want them to remember it as a fun family tradition that you celebrated with dinner and ice cream after?

One of the main reasons why we feel like family photos are a chore is because we forget why we take pictures. We are short sighted about a photo’s purpose because photography is so ubiquitous and accessible. In the short term, we do fall pictures so we can use them for holiday cards or to hang on the wall. But pictures are not just about today. They are about capturing a memory and feeling so that we can look back on them in the future. They are not ultimately for you but are for your children. When they are grown and look back at these pictures, do you want them to remember how stressed you were and how much they hated doing sessions year after year or do you want them to remember it as a fun family tradition that you celebrated with dinner and ice cream after? Think about that, discuss it with your spouse or partner and go into your session with this in mind. Do it for the kids.

Trust Your Photographer

Let’s say that your photographer poses you and your kids and they are getting kind of goofy. Rather than getting annoyed because your kids aren’t listening or smiling at the camera, just lean into it and get goofy with them. It only takes a split second for your photographer to capture just the right moment (it is literally a split second). You chose your photographer for a reason. Trust that she knows what she is doing and will be able to capture a beautiful image of your family. Don’t direct your kids. Let her do it. She doesn’t have the emotional attachment to your children that you have and that’s a good thing! They don’t push her buttons and because they’re not her kids, she will have endless patience. Don’t worry what the photographer will think or that things are hard for her because the kids aren’t listening. Most are experienced with different kinds of families and know how to handle them. Trust her and let her do her job.

I will admit that this advice is something I can definitely take myself. Since making a commitment to be in my family’s photographs, I’m trying to shift from not liking myself in pictures to appreciating having pictures of me with my family. I’m trying to shift from the defeatist attitude of trying to get that perfect family photo in a session to giving my children a tradition that they look back fondly on. Attitude matters and with that shift, you’ll notice that not only will you enjoy your sessions more but the rest of your family as well and all that will show in your images.