Counting Down to Your Photo Shoot!

By Catherine Sparks Oostdyk

                                                               family and baby photo shoot

You’ve made the decision to hire a photographer for portraits, but now what? WHO should I hire? What do I WEAR? These are all awesome questions, and exactly the questions you should ask yourself to ensure you get the amazingly awesome photos you want!

 6-8 Weeks Before the Session:  Make an Appointment

Why 6-8 weeks ahead of time? Because photographers book up quickly! Finding a last minute appointment can be challenging, and you might end up with someone based solely on their availability, and not because you really like their photos.

But who do you hire? No matter where you live, you’ll have plenty of photographers to choose from! Some things to consider in your search are: Do I like their style? Do they offer the end products I want? (Digital files, prints, albums, etc) Are they experienced with the type of session I want? Do I want props, and do they provide them?

If you want family, baby, or children’s portraits, it’s important that the photographer be experienced with, and like, children. Unfortunately, I’ve heard stories of photographers being rude or grumpy with kids during shoots. That’s not ok, and would ruin the experience for your family, and possibly the outcome of the photos.

After you’ve chosen your photographer, communicate all your desires for the shoot with them. Tell them the reason for the session, where you’d like the photos taken, and share any inspirational shots or ideas. In turn, ask your photographer for THEIR personal preparation tips and ideas for the session. Open communication is vital to a successful shoot.

4-6 Weeks Before: Choose Your Wardrobe!

You’ve got the date on the calendar, and your photographer is lined up. Now you need to plan what you’ll be wearing. Give yourself plenty of time to do this, in case you order clothes and need to make a return. When deciding on what to wear, my top tips for clients are:

  1. Simple is better. These photos are about you and your loved ones, not the attire. Don’t let a huge, fancy, bedazzled headband detract attention from the sparkle in your daughter’s deep green eyes.
  1. Think classic and timeless. The more trendy items in your photo, the more dated it will seem in 10+ yrs. Put the baby in a trendy ruffly dress for maybe one shot, then take some photos in something a bit more classic, like a pale pink dress, or a white onesie and jeans.
  1. Sleeves! Sleeveless shirts or dresses aren’t generally advised for any age or gender. In the photos, your eyes will be drawn to the bare arms, instead of the beautiful smiling faces.
  1. Coordinate. You don’t have to match exactly, but you should plan for the colors and styles of the outfits to mesh together. Mom and dad wearing dressy clothes, while the kids wear shorts and t-shirts, just doesn’t jive well.

                                                                      family picture

1 Week Before: Haircuts and Laundry

Mom, if you want a cut before the shoot, you’ll want to call ahead sooner for an appointment with your stylist. You’ll also want to make sure the clothes you want to wear are getting through the wash this week. 

1 Day Before: Organize

Put together all of the outfits, make sure you have the address for the shoot in your GPS/phone, and have the mobile number of the photographer, just in case you get lost or delayed. It’s not a bad idea to go ahead and pack your purse/diaper bag too. Wet-wipes are great for kids of all ages, and so are little bribe snacks. We photographers are totally ok with some bribery at a session.

1-2 Hours Before: It’s Go Time!

Make sure everyone, adults included, are well-rested, have fully tummies, and empty bladders (or fresh diapers). Check that faces, noses, and fingers are clean, and give yourself plenty of time to arrive to the session so you don’t get there feeling rushed or frazzled.

At the Session: Go with the Flow

Kids can be wiggly, and want to run and play. That’s real life, and that’s okay! When I shoot families, we start off with poses, then we move around and get out our wiggles while I shoot candids, then we’ll move back to posing. I also like to get participation of the kids in the shoot. I’ll ask older siblings to pick flowers for another, or sprinkle fallen leaves over mom and dad. I’ll also ask them where they want to take their individual photo. It gives them a feeling of being involved, and not just trudging along following the grown-up’s orders. If you want to get the best picture of your baby, you might have to read 5 Simple Ways to Get a Smile Out of Your Baby.

Parents, please don’t stress or get frustrated. We photographers know how it is on picture day, and we’ve seen it all. Heck, most of us are parents too, and have been in your shoes! If you start to feel frustrated, just laugh it off, kiss your partner, tickle the munchkins, and chase them around a bit. You’ll feel better, and the photos of that will be lovely.

 don't get frustrated with kids during the photoshoot

Before You Go Home: Recap with your Photographer

Now is a good time to feel out your photographer about the turn-around time for the pictures. Most will give a quick preview of some images within a few days, but the delivery of all the proofs can take anywhere from 2-6 weeks. This will all depend on your photographer, and what they have going on at that time.

If you want your images to remain private and not be shared online, this is a good time to remind your photographer of this, as many of us utilize social media to deliver preview images.

That’s a wrap!

Now the hard part is waiting to see all of your stunning photos!  I hope the advice above gives you a starting point in planning the best session for you and your family. And with that, please remember this is just advice, no hard fast rules. If you are planning a whimsical photo-shoot for a child’s birthday, of course she can wear a sleeveless princess dress with a tiara. That would be fantastic! The most important thing is for you to walk away completely satisfied with the photos you captured, and hopefully, you had fun making them too.


Catherine Oostdyk has been a professional photographer since 2004, and a hobbyist shutter bug since elementary school. She’s primarily a wedding and portrait photographer, but also teaches basic photography workshops, and offers one-on-one mentorships. She lives with her husband of 15 yrs. and two children in Germany. In their spare time, and sometimes in conjunction with work, they enjoy going on travel adventures together.

You can follow her adventures and work via her FB Page and on Instagram @Fotosparks

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