Preparing for a Lifestyle Family Photography Session

June 29, 2021

When you find really great photos families on Pinterest or Google… there is more going on than just a talented photographer – although that is vital too! YOU have A LOT of control over how great your photos turn out. Here are some tips to make the most out of your investment in a professional family photography session in Airdrie, Calgary and worldwide.

This session should be a family activity/outing and opportunity to have fun! Be relaxed and casual about it and hopefully this attitude will rub off on the kids! NO ONE has fun when mum is stressed out and yelling at everyone to get ready. Plan ahead and know it will take time to get everyone ready, including yourself. Make sure you know what everyone is wearing WELL IN ADVANCE.

What to wear for a family photography session:


MATCHING VS COORDINATING: Family photos are most successful when you coordinate everyone’s outfits. That is where the magic cohesion of an image happens in our brains and the best aesthetic is achieved. Please, for the love of all things beautiful, don’t try to match your family members! Not unless this is VERY, VERY deliberate – like cheesy matching Christmas sweaters. Instead, try to coordinate. Coordination means you are usually choosing different colours that look good together but are not close to being the same. Coordinate using similar styles. If mum is dressed up but her son is wearing an old, stained t-shirt – the ‘style’ is not coordinated. Dressy vs casual.

COLOUR PALETTE: Pick a limited number of colours that look good together. Pull the colour wheel out of your childhood memory and go for contrasting colours like blue and yellow, or go for colours next to each other in shades, like yellow, oranges and pinks. Pick something you all wear the majority of anyway, shades of blue and neutrals are always an easy one. But a POP of a contrasting colour like red shoes, scarf or hat can add a lot, just blue can be a little plain.

ADD POP: If you are going for blues and greys… especially in winter, perhaps you need to add a contrasting colour just for some vibrancy. Don’t over do it, something simple like red shoes, an orange scarf or hat can add a lot to an image. Try to give everyone a similar pop for design aesthetic.

NEUTRALS + KNITS: Neutrals are a photographer’s best friend! Beige, grey, cream…you may feel they wash you out, and perhaps some colours or shades that don’t work for you… The truth is, neutrals are the most photogenic colour for portraits. Couple a neutral with a natural looking fibre – sweaters, knits, scarves and they somehow pull off a dressed up look, without looking like you are trying to look dressed up.

BLACK + WHITE : Sure, black is slimming, but it’s always very heavy in portraits. There is nothing wrong with black but if you’re only wearing it to look thinner and deep down you’re hoping for light and airy portraits, it’s probably not the best choice. Plain black also almost always shows lint or other unwanted fibres in photography. I also advise to avoid a pure, plain white top unless it’s under a scarf or cardigan. Plain whites can overexpose easily in sunlight. If you want to wear white, go for something with lace or beading. Both plain black or white can lose detail in images.

ACCESSORIZE: Just add a pair of earrings, a chunky necklace or a cute bow in a little girls hair. A little goes a long way in photography. Jazz up images with very simple details. This is especially a bonus for a winter session. A matching toque, cosy mittens or wool scarf can get your much wanted extra time in the cold and makes for super cute images. If it’s winter, wear the fancy, dressy coat, even if it’s less warm than the down parka.

SHOES: Families go to so much effort to create amazing outfit matches… and then just throw on whatever shoes are at the door. Shoes matter! If you put your son in a new button up shirt, maybe his beat up, muddy, highlighter orange sneakers aren’t the best for coordinating to the outfit. Don’t go out and buy everything new, kids outgrown things so fast! There’s almost always a great option at the thrift store or online sales group like varagesale.

DRESS FOR THE SEASON: What is going on with the weather/ landscape outside during your booked times?

WINTER: Dress warm! This does not mean a big bright winter coat and a thin, not warm, nice outfit underneath. This means wear thermal underwear, dress in layers, plan on cosy sweaters, toques and mitts and if necessary a nice dress coat. WINTER can be very neutral. Plan to wear colour and lift the whole image.

SUMMER: Dress cool! Hot kids aren’t happy either. Opt for a collared t-shirt over a long sleeve dress shirt. Summer dresses instead of jeans. And make sure you will look good next to every GREEN! Maybe dressed all in red to look like a Christmas card!

SPRING/FALL: If you are lucky you will have lots of colour at your location. Maybe it’s time for more neutrals as not to clash with the blossoms or fall leaves. Weather is very changeable in these seasons so check the weather and make sure you have a way to dress appropriately for the temperature.

MAKEUP: You want your family photos to still look like you! There is nothing wrong with getting dressed up, but doing go crazy with the makeup. Go for a more natural look since there’s a good chance the rest of the family are not wearing any makeup.

HAIR: Book at a time when everyone in the family has had a recent haircut. Use a little product to keep things in place on a windy day. Bring a brush and some extra clips and hairbands just in case.


COLOURS TO AVOID: bright reds, bright oranges and bright greens and anything neon. These colours reflect onto skin and can be difficult to edit.

BUSY PATTERNS: anything smaller than a quarter: Tiny patterns cause something called “Chromatic Aberration” in digital images. Men’s checkered shirts are fine if the “checks” are on the larger side.

ALTERNATE HEAVINESS: If one of you is wearing very dark jeans, the other may want to wear lighter pants. If one of you is wearing a navy top, the other shouldn’t wear a dark/heavy coloured top. To a certain degree, alternating the “heaviness” of your outfits can make your images look more balanced.

GRAPHICS AND LOGOS: These are distracting for any photo. Human instinct always makes us want to ready or look at graphics. It distracts from the focus of the photos, your lovely faces!

THE LITTLE THINGS: Wear contacts if you have them. Transitional glasses or sunglasses. Take off the big black smart watch. Hairbands around wrists. Empty pockets of phones, wallets etc that will create bulges… and if you can talk him out of his baseball cap, please do…

How to plan for a family photography session:

Once you’ve figured out what everyone is wearing put it aside so it is clean and ready for your scheduled booking date.

TIME OF DAY: The optimal time for photography is sunrise or sunset because of the amazing light. However, if you have little children, that may not be best time for them. Chat with your photographer and choose a location that may have light going down earlier, or a spot with plenty of shade to be able to shoot when the sun is a little higher. Don’t plan to shoot during during nap time, bedtime or regular mealtimes.

LOCATION: Is it really necessary to drag your whole family out to the mountains for a family shoot? In my opinion, No. Family photos are much more about your happy smiling faces and capturing you family in it’s current state. There are plenty of pretty locations close by. Photography in general is more about good light and family photography in particular is more about good moods and smiling faces.

DON’T FORGET TO EAT: Feed everyone BEFORE they get dressed. “Hangry” people and happy photos don’t mix. Bring snacks for the little ones along the way. Choose snacks wisely as we don’t want messy fingers, faces and clothes.

LAY OUT EXPECTATIONS: Tell everyone they are getting a professional photography session. So many little children are caught off guard when a stranger (me) comes over and talks to them! Have a chat with the whole family about what you expect to get out of this session.

ARRIVE EARLY: Always plan on there being traffic. Plan on getting to the location earlier than the scheduled session time. This is particularly important for young children. Let them out of the car, stretch their legs and get comfortable with the place. Let them have a little explore or play before having to sit and smile. For young children, bring a toy they enjoy or their stuffy for comfort. It can make for a cute pic and put them at ease too.

Things to bring on a family photo shoot:

BLANKET/ RUG: Great to sit on and get down to the little kids level without having to worry about wet grass. Also great if it’s a little cold and you can all wrap up. Try to match your colour palette where possible or as neutral a colour as possible.

WIPES/ TISSUES: Use them to wipe down faces and hands immediately before the shoot! Blowing and wiping noses can go a long way.

CONTACT LENSES: I always recommend these over glasses (especially transition lenses). Glasses have glare problems and eyes are also a focus of photography.

FAVOURITE MUSIC: Load up your phone with favourite songs – music NOT videos. This can cheer a teary toddler.

TREATS: Bribery can go a long way! A promised candy at the end of session can curb some mischievous behaviour.

Hope some of these tips help. But remember, it’s all about having a fun time together as a family and capturing some memories.