Tips to Nail Your Family Photos | North Shore Family Photographer - Kathryn Jean

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Tips to Nail Your Family Photos | North Shore Family Photographer

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March 11, 2021
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katie reynolds
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A fall portrait of a brother and sister sitting in a field during their north shore family photographer session

Have you thought about a family portrait session but start feeling overwhelmed and full of dread when you consider what all goes into it? You’re not alone.

Many clients report that they put off family photos because it seemed like a lot of work and stress or because they had an experience that just wasn’t the best.

It has to be said; even if the photos turn out okay, who wants a memory on their walls of a terrible time with your family at a portrait session?

This is why I work so closely with my clients to make sure their sessions are successful in terms of beautiful photos on the wall, and so EVERYONE has a great time.

For more details about what is included in my family photos sessions, click HERE

mom and  dad pose outdoors with their newborn  during their north shore family photographer session

Ways to Increase Loving Your Family Photos


If this is your first professional family portrait session, or if you’ve had one of those less-than-ideal experiences, then I’m going to let you in on the secret behind having a great portrait session here in Chicago and its north shore; the work you do before the session will make all the difference in the photos.

Choosing your North Shore family photographer


When you begin to surf through websites seeing family photos, pay attention to the photographer’s style. Do you see a lot of very posed photos? A lot of props? What do you like (or dislike) about the photos?

My style is a blend of lifestyle and connection, so the photos that I show are a mix of very interactive photos (kids in motion, families hugging and walking) and some loosely posed portraiture. This style attracts people who want to see some personality in their photos and not a very posed and classical style of portrait photography.

If I had a new client want me to do a very stylized session with props and specific looks to the photos, that would not be a good fit for my style, and I’d refer them to another photographer.

So, make sure when you look at the photos, you love how they look. You may not have the words as to why, but if you tell the photographer which photos you love in their portfolio, they will know what you mean!

mom and son holding hands on the beach looking at each other during their north shore  family photographer session

The Best Time of Year to Schedule Outdoor Photos


Here in the Midwest and on the north shore of Chicago, the weather tends to be right for outdoor photography from about May-October. The time of the year will influence the look of your photos!

Consider the aesthetic of your home, as well. What colors and seasons would look good on your walls?

Spring Sessions


When those first “real spring” days rear their head in Chicago, energy is high, and it’s a time that kids love to be able to get outside!

The trees are green and blooming, and the feel is very much of a muted pastel palette. If you like a bright and airy look, spring is a great time to consider a session.

Days are starting to get longer, but sunset is still generally pretty early, so you might want to consider that when it comes to naps, dinner time, and bedtime. We want to avoid bright overhead sun, preferring to do sessions in the early morning or the late afternoon.

Spring can be unpredictable weather-wise, so when people schedule, we do have to take those crazy days where the weather changes 30 degrees in a day into consideration.

However, if you can be a little flexible about switching your time session if that happens, spring is a really lovely time to have family portraits made.

twin girls sitting in field of white flowers brother and sister sitting together

Summer Sessions

We all know how much Midwesterners love their summers, so this is a great time to get the entire family together. You don’t have to worry as much about inclement weather or layering clothing.

Summer gives us many opportunities in terms of places to do sessions; there are many parks and beaches and other beautiful outdoor areas to do sessions right around Glendale and the Lake Forest area.

Days are long in the summer, so we need to be mindful of the best time of the day to photograph, which can be later on in the evening. This time is referred to as the “golden hour” when the sun is slanted and makes for gorgeous portraits.

This time can coincide with little one’s early bedtimes, so before you get your heart set on a summer session, let’s check when the golden hour/sunset is.

A mom holds her daughter's hand while looking back at her family on the beach

Fall Sessions


Popular because of the fall foliage, late September and October are simply gorgeous in the Midwest for a family portrait session.

Many people love the more rustic and nature-toned look of the sessions, and the light is beautiful for photography most of the early morning and late afternoon until sunset.

The weather does dictate the color of the trees, and it’s always a guessing game when “peak” is, but there are so many beautiful places to choose in Glendale for a fall family portrait session. I have lots of locations to suggest to you, depending on the look you want for your portraits.

family hugging and laughing  north shore north shore family photographer session

Selling the Portrait Session to Your Family

Having a great experience for your Chicago family photography session starts from the minute you decide to have a session. I can’t stress this enough: if you hire a professional, listen to them and follow their lead.

When I’ve had clients that were overly stressed about their kids (or their husband) behaving during the session, it shows. Children can sniff out fear, and if you spend weeks cajoling or coaching them, it’s a sure-fire way to get them to act out during the session.

The Secret Sauce for Perfect Family Photos

The “perfect” family photo session is one where you get photos that look like YOUR family. If you approach this session like any other fun outing like going to the beach or out to dinner, then that’s how your kids will see it.

The good news is it takes only one good experience to make annual family photos fun for everyone. My sessions are highly interactive, so kids enjoy them! But, kids are kids, so leave the directions and the guidance to me during the session. I’ve got lots of tricks up my sleeve!

One other tip: don’t bribe for smiles. You want to normalize having a session and expecting them to work for treats often backfires. There’s an age where almost every kid adopts this horrible “cheesy smile,” and if they are bribed, they will insist that they are smiling, and that’s very hard to argue with!

Of course, rewarding good behavior after the session is encouraged, but resist the urge to offer them a bribe before the session.

a family portrait on the beach with all hugging closely and smiling

What to Wear


Right after worrying about how to wrangle the kids is usually this worry; what to wear? This is easily one of the top of the mind questions before the session, but I want to assure you that choosing clothes does not have to be complicated, nor do you need to go out and purchase all new clothing for your family.

I provide all my clients with a style guide that helps them choose the right outfits for their sessions. Here are just a few of the things I highlight!

Matchy-Matchy is Out


The khaki’s and white shirt or jeans and chambray shirt look is one you want to avoid; your photos should have personality like the people in them! Avoid dressing twins alike, dressing in all one color palette, or having everyone in black and white.

Neutrals ALWAYS Work


When it doubt, go back to the basics and think neutral creams, beiges, and tans. These colors look great on every skin tone and can have added pops of color with accessories like scarves and hats. The brighter the color, the less there should be across the whole family!

A portrait of a mom and dad with their young children playing on the beach

Avoid These Things in Photographs

Bold stripes and solids dominate the eye, so go easy on them and use them sparingly. Blacks should be saved for your accessories and navy should be kept to a minimum. Also, avoid neons anywhere, including on kids’ shoes. Ditch winter jackets and layer up, and use puffer vests or scarves for a pop of texture.

Check the Shoes

Comfortable, well-polished shoes are a must. Since my sessions are a bit adventurous, I recommend my clients wear flats or shoes that can move on uneven ground. Don’t try out shoes for the first time at sessions because we don’t want painful blisters ruining the moments!

Dresses ALWAYS Photograph Beautifully


For mom, a dress will flatter you in all the right places. Choose one that is easy to move in and that you feel great in. The natural movement of the dress photographs beautifully, and you’ll look put together without feeling overly dressed up.

Check out my Pinterest Guide for some outfit inspiration!

close up of mom and young son hugging  at their north shorefamily photographer session

Pets are Always Welcome!

I’m always happy to include your furry family member in your portraits! I suggest you bring a familiar “wrangler” to entertain the dog when they are not being photographed and bring plenty of treats and water.

Personalizing the Photos for Kids

If there are special items in your child’s life you want in the photos, bring them along! These items can provide comfort to children, and they make for great memories later on. Some everyday items are favorite stuffed animals, blankets, or special books or toys.

three brothers posing on front porch with dog


On The Day of Your Family Portrait Session

Now that your session is here, the hardest part is over! Truly, RELAX!! After getting everyone out of the house, all you need to do is let your professional photographer take over.

Arrive a little early, so you don’t feel rushed, and so the kids can explore a little, and then get ready to make some fantastic photos.

With this sort of planning, you’re set up for family portrait success, and those photos you hang on the wall will remind you of the good times you had with your kids.

If you are thinking about a family photo session on the north shore of Chicago or the greater Chicagoland and you’re looking for authentic lifestyle photos, contact me. I’d love to help you create some lasting memories and some great photos!

Thanks for reading these tips from your local Chicago family photographer, Katie of Kathryn Jean Photography!

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