It’s Time to Smile for Family Photos

Get Tips and Tricks from a Pro

By Zale McGee

Family photos capture the love and joy you feel as a family. But as many parents already know, they can be stressful and overwhelming to plan. What do we wear? Where do we go? Who do we hire? What things have I not even considered? Rest assured, you’re not alone. I’ve put together some helpful tips and tricks that are sure to bring smiles for photo day! I have been doing photography for over 11 years, and have 3 kids, so I’ve had my fair share of experience on both ends of the spectrum!

It's All About The Choices


Spend time perusing Pinterest and other inspirational sites to search for a color scheme online. Find one that speaks to you or that you know your family looks good in! It’s best to lean toward light, neutral colors. Light neutrals are very flattering (Yes, they’re better than BLACK!) and are accommodating to a variety of backgrounds and settings.
Get into your closets! Now that you have your colors, you can focus on putting together each outfit. The great thing is that you don’t necessarily need to go shopping and break the bank. (Unless you want to, of course!) Chances are you already have a lot of what you need. You were drawn to those colors for a reason. Gather all that you have within your color scheme so you can build and supplement. Since I am the family photo planner in my house, I typically begin with my outfit and build the rest of the family’s clothing around mine.
Minimize those patterns. Patterns are okay to use sparingly, but you want the highlight of your photos to be beautiful smiling faces. Busy clothing is distracting to the eye and can create issues of clashing. It’s helpful to your photographer if they don’t have to worry about who can and can’t stand next to each other. Spread all the outfits out on your bed or kitchen table. If something doesn’t look good together, then take it out. When in doubt, snap a picture and ask your photographer. They’ll be happy to help you sort things out.


Location, location, location. Sometimes your photographer has already picked your site. If you’re given a choice, keep in mind that your clothing and background should complement each other. For example: Don’t choose a green setting if you’re wearing a lot of greens. And it isn’t a good idea to wear warm, snowy-weather clothing in the desert; it doesn’t really fit. If you let your photographer know what your clothing will be, they will give you locations they think are best! Again, when in doubt, ask your photographer. They can provide you with some favorites.

PC: Zale Amaya Photography


Find your style. Picking the perfect photographer is a lot like choosing your outfits. Although photographers are creatives and can capture a variety of styles, most have one they specialize in. What are you drawn toward? You can find a lot of inspiration online by using the right keywords. Use terms like light and airy, dark and moody, or bright and true to life. If vibrant colors define your home décor, you won’t want to hire a photographer that specializes in dark and moody.
Match your budget. Once you figure out your photo style, you can research pricing options on each photographer’s website. Unless they work for a large company, each photographer sets their own prices. There will be a photographer out there within your budget.

PC: Zale Amaya Photography

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly - Prep-Photo Prep


If you want your hair (or anyone else’s) done before the photoshoot, PLEASE do NOT do it within a week of your photos. Accidents happen. Bad haircuts happen. The last thing you want is a bad haircut the day before your photos. Boys’ hair typically grows fast, so getting a haircut a week out is perfect. It will still look fresh but will also have time to settle in just a bit and cover any possible mistakes. If you’re going to color your hair, I suggest at least two weeks out. That gives time for your hairstylist to correct your color if something happens.


Life is busy, and we can’t put everything on hold or live in a bubble just to get family pictures. But it is a good idea to refrain from excessive outdoor activities within three days of your shoot. You do not want to show up to photos with red or peeling skin from a sunburn or be in a body cast from your recent skydiving adventure. You want to look and feel good about yourself.


Approach getting a new tan with EXTREME caution. Do not try a spray tan for the first time right before photos. You’ll want to try it a few times. Make sure you like your spray tan artist. See how your skin reacts and how soon the tan starts to fade. Does it streak? Do you like how dark or light it is? IF, in the end, you are fully confident in your spray tan artist and what your skin will look like, then go for it! Personally, I like to plan on day 3-4 of my tan to get my photos done.

The Day You Have Been Waiting For - Photo Day!


Prepping ahead will help alleviate much (but not all) of your photo day stress. Smiles can’t hide everything, and a stressed mom or dad will show through the photos! Do your best to be as prepared as possible, but also know there WILL be stress. It’s inevitable. So accept it and go with the flow. Remember, timing is everything.

‘Twas the night before pictures when all through the house . . . gather all your clothes and accessories the night before. Make sure you have all the pieces, and everything is clean and ironed. This will avoid the last minute, “I can’t find my shirt!” or “my dress is wrinkled” moments. Give yourself more time than usual.

Picture Day. Whatever the typical prep time is for your family—add 30 minutes to an hour. Getting a family ready and out the door is always a mad rush, so if you plan on extra time, it makes it a little less hectic. Allow yourself to breathe and know it will be okay because you have planned on it taking longer.

Are we there yet? Be sure to research how long it will take to get to the location. Add an additional 15 minutes to that drive time. This will account for missed turns, traffic, detours, red lights, etc. Running late causes stress and tension in everyone. By allowing yourself plenty of time to travel and park, you will arrive at your photoshoot much calmer.

Bribes are totally okay! If you have young children, moody teenagers, or a spouse that is reluctant to have their picture taken, bribes work better than threats. If your bribe of choice is candy or food at the shoot, choose wisely. Chocolate is a NO GO. It is incredibly messy and can take a long time to eat when time is precious. My personal favorite for the little ones is Smarties. They aren’t messy, can be eaten fast, and have a lot in a package. I do admit they may not work for teenagers and spouses, so you’ll have to get creative.

Be gentle. One of the most important things you can bring to your photo shoot is a calm presence. If you are tense, upset, yelling, and flustered, your kids will close off. Do your best to be gentle and speak calmly. Let the photographer work on getting the smiles from the difficult ones; you keep smiling no matter what!

As a reward for all your preparation, planning, and zen attitude, you will end up with a great experience and photos of your loved ones that you will cherish forever. Good luck—Maybe I’ll see you at my next shoot!

Zale Amaya Photography
Instagram: @zaleamayaphotography

PC: Zale Amaya Photography
PC: Zale Amaya Photography

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