Use these family photo shoot tips to make your next session a truly pro experience, from start to finish. The perfect checklist for young photographers! (Photographs by KATHY IZZY PHOTOGRAPHY)

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Family Photo Shoot Tips

Professional photography is more than a great camera and a creative eye. The most successful shoots are a wise blend of smart marketing, sound business sense, strong communication skills, and thoughtful creativity.

We’ve curated a checklist of family photo shoot tips that are necessary give your clients the professional experience they deserve.

Two parents stand in a field holding their toddler while two older children run circles around them.
The Great Big Checklist of Family Photo Shoot Tips (Image: Kathy Izzy)

#1. Start with a Contract

Every photography session should be supported by an attorney-approved contract. Get one customized by a trusted lawyer, or purchase a template in the ShootProof Marketplace. Remember: contracts protect both you and your clients, so don’t do business without them!

A mother holds her toddler in a wrap
The Great Big Checklist of Family Photo Shoot Tips (Image: Kathy Izzy)

#2. Impress from the Start

Strengthen your photographer/client relationship by communicating your gratitude and excitement for every booking. Even something as simple as an enthusiastic email can build a stronger relationship. If you’re a budget photographer, a simple hand-written note is a wonderful gesture. For luxury markets, consider welcome packets and small gifts.

Black and white photo of a toddler standing in front of his mother. He's wearing overalls with no shirt, and only the mother's arms and legs are visible.
The Great Big Checklist of Family Photo Shoot Tips (Image: Kathy Izzy)

#3. Collect Payment in Advance

It’s industry standard to require some sort of payment up-front to secure the shoot date. Collect the “session fee” at booking, or take a “deposit” to hold the session slot. Consult an attorney about what you can legally collect in non-refundable fees, and make your refund policy clear in your contract.

In this diptych, a woman in a white lace dress poses with a fedora on her head. In the next photo, a mother in a flowing dress holds her toddler daughter in a vineyard.
The Great Big Checklist of Family Photo Shoot Tips (Image: Kathy Izzy)

#4. Get Your Clients’ Names and Last-Minute Contact Info

Even if you’ve had your clients fill out a questionnaire, you’ll want to make sure you have last-minute contact information for them. Think: a cell phone number so you can reach them if you’re stuck in traffic. And give them the same from you! Make sure they have a way to contact you on the day of their session – some way other than email or your studio landline.

Also get the names of everyone involved in the session. You’ll likely still need to be introduced, but your clients will appreciate that you’ve taken the time to learn (and remember) little Abby’s and Alyssa’s names.

An elderly couple walks hand-in-hand down a forest boardwalk.
The Great Big Checklist of Family Photo Shoot Tips (Image: Kathy Izzy)

#5: Consider Bringing an Assistant

Assistants cost money. And if you’re at the beginning of your photography career, it may not be in your budget to pay for an extra pair of hands. That said, a competent assistant can help salvage even the most stressful session. Your assistant can help wrangle toddlers, elicit smiles, get all eyes on the camera, and hold your reflector.

Three children lie together in a bed with ivory linens. The toddler brother and sister kiss their infant sibling on the head.
The Great Big Checklist of Family Photo Shoot Tips (Image: Kathy Izzy)

#6: Have a Rescheduling Policy

Your contract should include a clause regarding rescheduling. It may not seem necessary, but when photographing families, you’re guaranteed to face rescheduling requests due to sick kiddos or work conflicts. Be realistic, consider your clients’ needs and your capabilities, and craft a policy that makes sense. These are some of the policies you might consider:

  • Permit a one-time rescheduling allowance for a small fee
  • Require a 24-hour advance notice for rescheduling
  • Charge a new session fee if the client reschedules

Only you know how busy you are and what makes sense for your business. Remember: you’re the boss, so you can always make exceptions to the rule in special circumstances.

A pregnant mother stands behind her husband on a forest boardwalk. The father is holding his toddler daughter up in the air and laughing.
The Great Big Checklist of Family Photo Shoot Tips (Image: Kathy Izzy)

#7: Scout Your Location in Advance

It’s not always practical, but whenever possible you should know in advance what your shoot location looks like. Know where the light will fall at shoot time, and identify which backgrounds will photograph best. If it’s impossible to visit the location prior to the session date, look for photographs online. And always arrive early for a photo shoot. You need time to adjust your plans should anything about your location have changed.

A father kneels in a field holding his two sons on his knees.
The Great Big Checklist of Family Photo Shoot Tips (Image: Kathy Izzy)

#8: Only Schedule When the Light is Right

You’re setting yourself up for failure if you agree to a 2:00 P.M. session in the middle of summer. Take stock of the light and temperatures, and only offer session times that will allow you to deliver those beautifully-lit, sweat-free photos your clients are hiring you for!

A pregnant mother in a flowing white dress walks down a forest boardwalk with her husband and two young sons. They are surrounded by fall colors.
The Great Big Checklist of Family Photo Shoot Tips (Image: Kathy Izzy)

#9: Get Your Gear in Order

Charged batteries, clean lenses, formatted flash cards: these are all critical for a successful session. Set aside time well before your session to get your gear in order, and always have a backup camera on-hand. You never know when your primary camera might decide to take an unanticipated break from functioning properly!

Two parents are surrounded by sun flare as they play with their toddler daughter in a field.
The Great Big Checklist of Family Photo Shoot Tips (Image: Kathy Izzy)

#10: Prepare and Practice Your Poses

Ask each new client to send you a snapshot of their family so you can plan poses that will work for them. It’s helpful to know how big (or small) the kiddos are, if anyone has a physical challenge, and if there are any significant height differences you’ll need to accommodate.

A little girl holds her parents hands and skips down a gravel road. The parents are only visible from the waist-down.
The Great Big Checklist of Family Photo Shoot Tips (Image: Kathy Izzy)

#11: Check the Traffic / Holiday / Event Schedule

Road closures, holiday traffic, and major events can all throw a kink in your photo shoot schedule. Stay on top of the events in your community so you don’t show up at the local park only to find it flooded with festival-goers!

In this diptych, a black and white image shows a mother carrying her son through a field. In the next image, the mother stand with her back to the father whose arms are around her.
The Great Big Checklist of Family Photo Shoot Tips (Images: Kathy Izzy)

#12: Set Expectations

A solid contract will go a long way toward setting expectations for the shoot. But so do these helpful hints:

  • Make sure your client has seen plenty of examples of your work, so they know what to expect from your posing, composition, and post-production.
  • Talk openly with your client about what they hope to gain from their session. Some families are focused on getting one great group photo, while others are more interested in a variety of groupings and poses. Find out what matters most to them so you can focus your energy.
  • Include a simple clause in your contract that defines your photographic and post-production styles.
Two parents and their two young daughter sit on a picnic blanket in the middle of a field at sunset.
The Great Big Checklist of Family Photo Shoot Tips (Image: Kathy Izzy)

#13: Allow Plenty of Time

Be realistic about how much time you require to complete a family portrait session. Just because ABC Photography can make magic in only 15 minutes doesn’t mean you have to follow their lead! Maybe you need a full hour to create a great set of images. Maybe 30 minutes will do it for you. Whatever the case may be, let your client know how long you’ll photograph, and gently draw the session to a close at the appropriate time so you aren’t doing more work than you were paid to do.

In this diptych, a father touches noses with his newborn baby against a sun-dappled wall. In the next photo, the newborn's head is cradled by the mother's hands.
The Great Big Checklist of Family Photo Shoot Tips (Image: Kathy Izzy)

#14: Provide Wardrobe Tips

It may seem obvious to you, but your clients may have no idea what it means to dress their best for a photo session. Give them plenty of visual cues, either with a custom client guide, or by creating a shareable “What to Wear” board on Pinterest!

A pregnant mother and her husband stand with their two young sons beside a pond at sunset.
The Great Big Checklist of Family Photo Shoot Tips (Image: Kathy Izzy)

#15: Use a Toy to Draw Little Kids’ Attention

Little kids have a notoriously short attention span, and many are too shy to smile at a stranger. Give them a reason to look and grin by holding their favorite toy or bringing your own kid-friendly attention-grabbers. We love:

  • animal puppets
  • rattles
  • anything that lights up
  • toys that make music

And if all else fails, ask the parents if their little one likes a particular show that you can pull up on YouTube. Hold the screen over your camera lens and click away!

New parents sit on the edge of their bed holding their newborn baby while their young son and daughter jump on the bed behind them.
The Great Big Checklist of Family Photo Shoot Tips (Image: Kathy Izzy)

#16: Have a Rain Plan

You can plan all you like for a rain-free day, but eventually you’re bound to face a soggy session. Plan ahead and include a clause in your contract about how you’ll handle rain. If you live in a notoriously wet part of the country, you may need to adopt a “rain or shine” approach. Or, if rain is rare, you can likely offer a one-time rescheduling option for rainy days. And when you’re photographing a family for whom rescheduling isn’t an option, have some backup solutions on-hand, such as indoor locations, covered bridges, parking garages, pavilions, etc.

A young girl holds her younger siblings' hands as they walk through a field at sunset.
The Great Big Checklist of Family Photo Shoot Tips (Image: Kathy Izzy)

#17: Guide the Parents on How to Handle Cranky Kiddos

Some parents take their cranky offspring in-stride, while others become panicked and stressed. Remind your clients in advance that their kids will respond to their energy. Tell them, “If your child cries, keep smiling, hugging, snuggling, and playing!” That’s much more likely to elicit a happy face from the kid than if the parent scolds.

A grandfather kisses his wife on the forehead while standing in a field.
The Great Big Checklist of Family Photo Shoot Tips (Image: Kathy Izzy)

#18: Send a Sneak Peek

Families are bound to second-guess their session the minute they leave. “Did we wear the right outfits? Did the kids smile ‘real’ enough? Is the dog’s butt facing the camera in every photo?” Reassure your clients by sending them an immediate sneak peak in the hour after their session. This will relieve their anxiety and boost their excitement for seeing the rest of the images!

In this diptych, a mother bottle feeds her baby while reclining on a white couch beneath a chandelier. In the next photo, two parents hold their young sun up in the air while standing on a forest boardwalk.
The Great Big Checklist of Family Photo Shoot Tips (Images: Kathy Izzy)

#19: Blog the Session

Want to book more clients? Showcase the ones you have by blogging every single session! Use these easy blogging tips for portrait photographers to build a blog that’s fun and SEO-friendly. Your clients will love sharing their blog post with friends and family!

Two parents kiss in the background. In the foreground, their toddler daughter stands in a pink dress looking solemnly at the camera.
The Great Big Checklist of Family Photo Shoot Tips (Image: Kathy Izzy)

#20: Set Yourself Up for Sales Success

Whether you’re gung-ho for in-person sales or more inclined toward a shoot-and-share model, you want to give your clients plenty of options for buying. Sell more through ShootProof by maximizing your gallery’s potential with sample images and package pricing. Your clients are eager for your guidance!

Two sisters hug while sitting on a furry blanket in the middle of a field at sunset.
The Great Big Checklist of Family Photo Shoot Tips (Image: Kathy Izzy)

#21: Underpromise and Overdeliver

Your clients expect the obvious: to book you, pay you, and get their photos. Go above and beyond with immediate wins like a Sneak Peek, and client-keeping moves such as a hand-written thank you note, upgraded packaging of their products, and even a follow up call or email making sure they’re happy!

Two parents sit close together on a picnic blanket in the middle of a field while holding their toddler son up in the air and smiling.
The Great Big Checklist of Family Photo Shoot Tips (Image: Kathy Izzy)

#22: Keep the Referrals Coming

Your ShootProof galleries can do so much more than deliver photos. They also act as a brilliant referral feature for getting new clients!  Your “best of” galleries can also be easily shared with publications (like the ShootProof blog) for possible feature articles!

A little girl in a white dress and white headband stands in tall grass. She is laughing, and her hands are on either side of her face.
The Great Big Checklist of Family Photo Shoot Tips (Image: Kathy Izzy)

#23: Archive Your Images

ShootProof Archiving is a super-simple, affordable way to keep every clients’ photos accessible at any time. Even if a gallery expired years ago, if it’s Archived, you can reactivate it in seconds for a pop-up sale or simply to re-share the images with your clients.

If you don’t choose to use Archiving, follow best practices to secure your images for the long haul. Our FREE guide to photo storage is HERE!

Two parents stand in a circle of sun flare. They're holding their young daughter between them and kissing her on both cheeks.
The Great Big Checklist of Family Photo Shoot Tips (Image: Kathy Izzy)

#24: Keep Learning

Every family photo shoot should teach you something new. Maybe it’s time to add a new clause to your contract, or perhaps you’ve discovered a new pose you can use over and over again. Community learning resources like Cole’s Classroom can help you expand on what you already know.

What matters most is that you keep learning, keep evolving, and keep growing into the professional photographer you’re meant to be!

Add your family photo shoot tips in the comments below!


Written by ANNE SIMONE | Photography by KATHY IZZY PHOTOGRAPHY


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