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My Approach to Family Photo Sessions Part 1

July 29, 2021

Filed in: Tips

Welcome to part one of my 4-part series on my approach to family photo sessions. Over the last decade, I’ve refined the way I photograph families to make the process enjoyable and authentic for each family, as well as something that can be reproduced so that the feel that you see in my portfolio is similar to what you get at your own session! I thought I’d share some of the most important points of that with you in this series so that you know what to expect at your upcoming sessions, or if you’re a photographer looking to streamline your own work it can help you grow. I hope this is helpful to you, and if you have any a-HA! moments, drop them in the comments!


“We just need a posed picture for our Christmas card.” 

“I just want candid photos. I hate when everyone looks stiff and posed.” 

“I want photos that feel like US.”

These are ALL things I hear from clients as we go through their booking process, and the great news is–during an hour long session, we can get ALL of those things! If you’ve been in a session with me before, you know I can be very particular about what my clients are doing–because I know when I have my own photos taken, I NEVER know what to do with my hands. I need someone to tell me! Even if my family and I are having a candid moment…in the back of my mind, I’m 100% thinking, “Do my hands look weird? Does my FACE look weird??” and I never want my clients to feel doubtful during their sessions! So I give a ton of direction. But as you look through my website, what you’ll see is a lot of genuine moments that don’t look overly posed. That’s my sweet spot!

hillsboro family photographer candid or posed

I think of this style as “posed candid” and you’ll often see it referred to as lifestyle photography. Instead of full documentary or candid work, where I stand back and let you do your thing, I take more control over the session to make sure you look great and that your photos check all your boxes:

  • great light (I’ll tell you where to stand!)
  • flattering (I’ll tell you HOW to stand!)
  • connection with your family (yup, I’ll tell you where to put your hands and how to tilt your head so you all look like you love each other as much as you do!)
  • not awkward (I’ll adjust you so that people aren’t being blocked by other family member’s heads in that great group hug!)

None of those things come naturally. When you’re out having a day at the park with your family, you probably aren’t looking for great light to stand in naturally (well, unless you’re my family. Then I’m probably making you).  You’re probably not standing as close to each other as would look good in photos. You might even be doing that thing where you pull your chin in, giving you three chins (Me, in every photo ever. That’s me. I’m probably doing it right now.)

And all that’s okay! You’re out having fun with the family and making memories! If someone’s taking candid photos of that day, you’ll probably have some of those things happening in your photos. I know my phone is filled with photos like that, and I love all of those photos.  But if you’ve hired me to capture your family the way you’ve seen other families’  photos on my website, I’m betting you want me to pay attention to those things to make sure they DON’T happen!

Enter: Posed candid photos.

When you get to your session, I’ll have a carefully-selected spot for your photos to make sure you’ll be in the best light. We’ll start out with the must-have photo: the holiday card photo! Even if you don’t send out holiday cards, I’ve bet you’ve got a parent or grandparent who wants a photo of your family, traditionally posed, all looking at the camera with a good smile, right? So let’s get grandma what she wants! We also start off with this one because if kid moods go south during the session, at least we got that everyone-smile photo out of the way.

hillsboro family photographer candid photos

Then I’ll have you start interacting with each other. Usually this just means smiling at each other or laughing together. It totally feels weird at first–I mean, you’re standing super close, laughing at each other in a field?? But the first few faked laughs generally give way to real, true laughter: and THAT’S what I’m after!

hillsboro family photographer candid photos

Then I’ll prompt some more things for you to do to really interact with each other in an authentic way. I might ask dad to snuggle his son, and maybe he smells that sweet baby-hair smell and it makes him smile–BOOM! We’ve captured that genuine, authentic moment–that action you’ve done a thousand times and is such a genuine parent moment. I can’t tell you how many times pure magic has happened in those in-between moments.

hillsboro family photographer candid photos

Look at that! In the space of the first five minutes, we’ve hit all the goals of each of those different clients in the beginning: a traditionally posed photo, a candid laughing moment, and an authentic feels-like-US moment. And it’s all happened in great light, with everyone looking their best. That’s my favorite thing, and that’s what you book a portrait session with me for!

So when you’re thinking about what you want your session to look like, I’d encourage you to think beyond “posed” or “candid.” Because the big secret is that most of the time, those candid moments you see aren’t completely candid! There’s thought and direction behind the location for incredible light, behind the way they’re standing to show how much they care for each other, behind the prompt to show how they interact, and all of that allows those moments to unfold beautifully.


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