Family photos don't have to be as stressful as you think. A professional photographer and mother of four offers simple tips to get family pictures you'll cherish forever.
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An illustration of a mom with a camera and her two kids.
Credit: Emma Darvick.

You're all ready for your family photo session: you've hired a photographer whose images you love, you're all dressed in clean clothes (maybe for the first time this week!), and you're hoping your kids will get through it without any issues.

And then the photo session starts and it's as if a switch has flipped. Your kids transform into something from a movie. Suddenly they're whining, crying, and definitely not interested in sitting still or listening to anyone over the age of 8.

I'm a mom of four and a family photographer who focuses on emotional images that capture the whole story of a family, even when everyone—including the parents—are not in the best mood. It can be stressful, but it doesn't have to be! Here are my secrets to getting the best family photos.

Remember Nothing Lasts Forever

Any behavior with kids, good or bad, doesn't last. But when parents try to control kids or feel desperate because their child isn't "behaving," it backfires. I've gotten some of my favorite images during or right after a child was crying. Don't hesitate to pause to hold and comfort your child—the images of your connection might end up being your favorites.

Brooke Schultz photo 1
Credit: Brooke Schultz

Imagine You're an Improv Actor

How do you manage your emotions when you just want your kids to smile, especially considering the time, energy, and money you've put into the experience. Try this: pretend your photo session is an improvisation scene. The golden rule of improv is "Yes, and." You must say "yes" to whatever your fellow actors offer, and add something else. When your child says "no" to something you want them to do, say "yes, and" by asking them to do something else, or by doing the thing you just asked them to do yourself. I've made a fool of myself by tickling my own belly many times as a photographer and a mom when a child wasn't interested in a tickle. While this might seem like an inconsequential mental shift, kids mirror your energy. When you're stressed, resistant, and trying to control everything, your kids will be too. When you're in the relaxed, open, playful energy of "yes, and"—your kids can't help but join in, even if it takes time.

Brooke Schultz photo 2
Credit: Brooke Schultz

Embrace the Chaos

Parents often feel stressed when a child is crying or refusing to play along, but photographers know this is a normal part of the process. Photographers have seen it all, and more than a perfected version of your family. Your photographer wants to see the real version of you and your kids: the version with slightly messy hair in beautiful light, too-loud laughs, and the way your baby nuzzles into your neck when he's feeling shy. The more you can let go of how you think the session should go, the more you can enjoy the quirks and joys of being in an unpredictable, beautiful family unit. The fun of a family photo session is embracing the chaos, letting each family member be authentic, and trusting your photographer to capture it with an artistic eye. With this in mind: a dirty shirt is far smaller a problem than a parent frantically trying to keep the shirt from getting dirty.

Brooke Schultz photo 3
Credit: Brooke Schultz

Bring Out Emotion Through Motion

Lots of families think they need to sit still to get good photos, but your photographer only needs you to be still for a fraction of a second, for a fraction of the photos. There is so much more to a photo session than smiling photos, so embrace motion to bring out emotion.

Photographers will come with their own games and ideas for guiding kids into play and poses that will highlight their personalities, but if you need a starting point, try spinning around with your child. Whether your child is a wiggly 1-year-old or a bored 7-year-old, motion always infuses life into a photo and keeps it from feeling stiff. If you find yourself feeling frazzled, don't be afraid to walk, spin, run, tickle, or hug it out with your favorite people in the world.

Brooke Schultz photo 4
Credit: Brooke Schultz

Leave the Stress Behind

Family photos can be an opportunity to be seen in the often invisible work of parenthood. The more you're able to lean into the fun improvisation dance between you, your children, and your photographer, the more you'll be able to look at your photos and say, "That's so us!" and leave the stress behind.

Brooke Schultz is a family photographer based in Southern California and Utah who gives parents the gift of being deeply seen through imagery. Sign up for her free tips for your own family photos here.