the journal




fresh 48



Over my 7+ years of photographing other families, I have learned a few things about successful sessions. The common thread of family photo sessions that run fairly smoothly vs. the sessions that feel like an uphill battle. Honestly, sometimes you have a situation that is out of your control. For example, occasionally there is a wild card child, (i.e. that kid who hasn’t taken their naps all day) and it’s just impossible to rally. I have had one session EVER that we just decided to reschedule. During that session, the kid simple was not having it. It didn’t matter what the parents and I tried. Believe me we tried our whole bag of tricks. However for most sessions, keeping these tips in mind will help you have the best family photos this year.

Oh, and just to be clear, my definition of “best” family photos is based on my style, which means genuine smiles + laughter (not forced/fake smiles). Ok, so here are my tips of “how to get the best family photos this year”:

  1. Prep the family: before you arrive to your session, prep your children (especially younger children) by explaining the situation. It’s super helpful to frame it as “we are going to go play with Jess”. It can also be helpful to prep your partner (especially if they were not a part of the booking process). Share with them that the session will be interactive and encourage them to just have fun + enjoy the time.
  2. Go in with realistic expectations. Even the best behaved likely aren’t going to listen and follow every single instruction (given by you +/or photographer). There really is plenty of time to allow for kids to be kids. Often times, kids do not respond well to being told constantly “look at the camera, smile.” In other words, allow for your child to play or step away intermittently. I try to get a photo of everyone looking at the camera first. The rest of the session can be more interactive and typically results in more genuine smiles.
  3. Smile through the chaos. This piggy backs off the last tip. Parents that fixate on over instructing their child often don’t look happy. Usually they look like they are mean mugging in the background. Instead, understand that a lot of photo sessions are chaotic. Kids are typically chaotic. Chaos in the form of fun can result in the best authentic portraits of your child.
  4. Keep a “team mindset”. This goes for you and your partner, as well as the photographer. When the photographer establishes rapport with your kids, they can be the one directing the show (including boundaries/rules). Encourage your children + partners throughout the session, instead of criticizing. Most children want positive attention, affection + to simply have fun.
  5. Be choosy with rewards. This is a tough one. I understand that kids, especially toddlers love the rewards in the form of snacks. My 1.5 year old’s 2 favorite words are “mine” and “snack”, so yes I totally get it. However, snacks and candy can very easily backfire. It is kind of like feeding a small (very) cute monster. You give them snacks, they want mooooooore. You may get one forced smile in exchange for a few yogurt melts. A lot of toddlers respond well to redirection with movement or games (i.e. tickling, walking around etc). I encourage parents to plan a reward for the end of session. Here is a blog post that talks about different ideas of reward experiences based on my fave Iowa City photo locations.
  6. BONUS: Consider doing something “out of the box” for your next family photos. Your family may be more engaged + excited if you work with your photographer on trying something new. Here are some of my ideas for unconventional photos!
girl swinging with mom fun family photos iowa city

If you want more info about my family sessions, check out this page.

If you are ready to book a family session, contact me here.


How to have the BEST Family Photos this year: 5 fave tips