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How To Prepare for a Lifestyle Family Photo Session


March 23, 2018
You know what they say: “a picture is worth a thousand words.”  Sure, it may be an overused idiom, but that doesn’t make it any less true.  Pretty much every photographer will tell you that they feel most inspired, most fulfilled, by their work when it captures the invisible qualities of a subject.  Have you ever looked at a photo and felt you could see into a person’s soul?  Or seen a photo of two people in love and felt as if you witnessed a magic so pure and true you couldn’t put it into words?  Photography is such an incredible tool for telling stories in ways we can’t articulate through speech alone.
I make it a personal goal each year to continue honing my craft by taking workshops on an area of photography in which I want to grow.  This year, I wanted to up my game in emotive photography so I took a class with Twyla Jones, a photographer known for her Storytelling Sessions.   We started the day doing family portraits and ended with an anniversary session for a couple at the top of Max Patch.  When it was all said and done, my mind was buzzing over how I could apply all I’d learned to my lifestyle family photo sessions.
Then it dawned on me that what would really help families prepare for their session is by defining what a lifestyle shoot is in the first place!  So let’s start at the beginning…


Fall what to wear pictures

What is a lifestyle family photo session?

The best way to think about a lifestyle family photo session versus a more traditional photo shoot is that it’s more casual and relaxed.  The goal is to capture your family interacting in an authentic way.  Seated, posed shots in which everyone is looking at the camera and smiling are not what this session is about!  (Though we can include a few of those, too.)   Lifestyle sessions are meant to be candid, capturing your family the way that you are: how you love each other, how you connect, how you laugh and play together.

Now that we’ve established the basics of a lifestyle session, here are three things to consider when preparing for your lifestyle family photo shoot.

Brothers holding hands and running

1 | Location

The location of a lifestyle family photo shoot plays a big role in the look and feel of your photographs.  Think about where you and your family love to be, where you feel the most happy and natural.  Do you love the outdoors and exploring nature?  Do you enjoy going out for ice cream or trying new foods?  A rolling field, colorful garden, vintage soda shop, or historic landmark are just some of the fun places families like to take their photos.  Even inside your home can work!

Also consider the types of photos you want to get out of your session.  If you love photos of a mom twirling with her kid in a meadow, or children running free as birds through a grassy field, then you should be outdoors.  On the other hand, indoor locations are great for “day in the life” type photos.  A mommy and daughter putting on makeup together in their bathroom, or your son’s toothless grin covered in chocolate syrup as he digs into his banana split, make wonderful snapshots of this moment in time.  However and wherever your family loves to be together should inspire the location!

boy picking raspberries


2 | Time of Day

While storytelling may be a photographer’s biggest inspiration, our biggest asset is good lighting!  Scheduling your lifestyle family photo session at the right time of day will play a big role in getting the right “look” in your photos.  Ideally, I like to schedule my families for either at sunrise (early birds get the perfect photo worm!) or two hours before sunset.  I realize that for some families, especially those with very young kids, these times may conflict with their schedule, and I will always work with you to make sure the time works for you.  While lighting is crucial for good photos, so are well-rested and happy kids!

Your location influences the best time of day to take photos, too.  Outdoor sessions are best done during the early morning or late afternoon hours when the sun is not at it’s peak or brightest.  Contrary to what you might think, a cloudy day can actually yield some great pictures!  Indoor sessions are affected by sunlight, too, as well as electric light.  Late morning or middle-of-the-day light is preferable so that we aren’t forced to use artificial light that may cast unwanted tones.

Mom cuddles with older boys while

3 | Clothing

Mamas, this one is for you!  I’ve chatted with so many moms who are at a loss over what to wear themselves and how to dress their family.  Some families love a matchy-matchy look, while others prefer to look coordinated without dressing exactly alike.  While your fashion choices are ultimately up to you, what you wear really goes a long way in creating not only beautiful photos, but photos that say something about your personality.  Here are a few tips I share with my clients before they start shopping:

  • Moms photograph so beautifully in dresses that are longer and somewhat flowy.  You don’t need to wear a kaftan by any means, but a frock that moves with your body and a light breeze looks so romantic on film!  I prefer something longer so you have the option to sit down on the ground or play with your kids without risking a wardrobe malfunction.  I know some women feel the most casual and relaxed in jeans, but jeans just don’t convey the same level of carefree levity that a twirling dress can.  (Again, no judgment if denim is your go-to!)
  • If you want more insight into the right dress to choose and why dresses are the perfect piece for your family photos, I love this post by Asheville-based fashion blogger and wardrobe stylist Brooke Williams of The Tony Townie.  She lists five things to look for in a dress that make it camera friendly!
  • While jeans aren’t my first recommendation for moms, I do love them on dads!  The textured fabric shows up well on camera, and I find most men will relax in front of the camera more quickly if they feel at east in what they’re wearing.
  • Children’s clothing can bring an element of whimsy to a lifestyle family photo session!  A tutu, a cool pair of shoes, some sassy sunglasses…there are some really great opportunities to have fun!  Just be sure your little ones can move and play easily in whatever they’re wearing.  Cool shoes aren’t so cool if they’re hard to run in or cause a kid to trip and fall.
  • If you want to create a cohesive, coordinated look for your entire family, moms should start by picking their dress first.  Then build everyone else’s looks based off the colors in your dress.  For example, if your dress is printed, weave one of the secondary colors into the other outfits.

It’s so important that my families feel prepared and at-ease going into their lifestyle family photo session because a relaxed attitude really conveys on camera!  I always discuss each of these elements with them before we confirm our time and location, and I am now offering more advice on wardrobe choices as well!

Family fall session what to wear
Here’s one last question I get a lot from my families:

Do I have to fill out the questionnaire?

The short answer is YES!  All of my clients receive a questionnaire to fill out prior to our lifestyle family photo session that lets me know a little more about them.  Truly, it does help me remember everyone’s names.  But more than that, it provides me with a little insight into everyone’s personality.  Who loves to play dress-up?  Who’s the rambunctious spirit?  What special qualities do you love about your kids?  Your spouse?  Answering these questions helps solidify the vision of the story you want your photos to tell about your family.  They can also serve as inspiration for outfits, or props you want to bring to the shoot!  You may see that super hero cape or princess gown all the time now, but one day they’ll just be relics of your children’s childhood.  It’s so wonderful to capture them doing and wearing what makes their hearts happy in the here and now so you’ll always remember it!

Mom laughing with babyBlue skys and mom and son on rock

Behind the Scenes: The Dean Family

Before I wrap things up, I just have to tell you a little more about this precious family I recently photographed.  The Deans are a family of five, with mom, Winslow, and dad Matt, raising three boys ages six, four, and six months.  In their questionnaire, Winslow mentioned several times that her family is full of energy and loves to be active.  An outdoor location seemed ideal for letting the kids run around, and it just so happens that Winslow’s family owns the gorgeous Old Sherrill’s Inn in Fairview, NC.  This location provided the open space for the children to play in as well as photogenic gardens, buildings, and views.

Okay, so maybe the older children had to be bribed a little bit to get some of the shots, and maybe they weren’t too keen on “dressing up” for the afternoon.  Keeping the vibe casual and low-key (as lifestyle sessions are meant to be!) helped the boys relax and be themselves.  Soon they were jumping on the trampoline, climbing on rocks, and chasing each other around the gardens.  Mom and dad looked on proudly, and snuck in a few photos snuggling the baby.  You could feel so much love surrounding the Dean family, and sense how close-knit they all are.  These photos do a great job of sharing a little bit about this adorable family!

Family in field Lifestyle family photo


Lifestyle family photography sessions are about real life.  Just being yourselves, enjoying your time together, having fun and letting loose!  Sure, we’ll get a few posed photos, but the point is to be your authentic selves so you can look back on these photos one day and remember how you were then.  The missing teeth, the skinned knees, the cookie crumbs.  You’ll likely remember the broad strokes of this season in your life, but lifestyle family photos bring back the beautiful details.  Let’s chat about planning your lifestyle family session!

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Meet Kathy

A woman in glasses holding a coffee mug.

I’m Kathy – wedding photographer, mom of 1 daughter & 2 doodles, and avid sunset watcher. Once you’ve gotten to know a little more about me, it’ll be my turn to get to know you as too!! When I work with a couple, we usually end up feeling more like old friends by the time your wedding day arrives – which means a more relaxed, enjoyable wedding day experience for everyone. And when it comes to photo style, you’ll find your photos are vibrant and classic, in true-to-life color and timeless black and white. It’s my honor to serve joyful, authentic couples who want their wedding photos to be as timeless as their vows.

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