‘Tis the Season… For Fall Family Portraits, and We’ve Got Top 10 Tips

Yesterday was officially the first day of fall, and for many families that means it’s time to plan their annual family portrait session, especially if they’re thinking ahead for holiday photo cards.

Each fall, Wilton photographer, (and GOOD Morning Wilton‘s contributing photographer) Andrea Topalian of Moments by Andrea Photography, photographs over a hundred families for their fall portrait sessions. After photographing literally thousands of people in the last 10 years, she has learned a lot about what makes a session successful.

Whether families work with her, book another photographer or take their own pictures, she’s got great tips to share to help make a portrait session a success.

1.  Mom and Dad–Get in the pictures!

You don’t have to use the family picture on the holiday card or even hang it on the wall, but you should definitely get in a few to have as keepsakes! Put aside what you think you “need to change” before you get in pictures and do it now for the kids! Nobody knows what tomorrow brings and these pictures will one day be priceless memories.


2.  Manage your expectations.

Kids are very intuitive and sensitive. If you have high expectations of “perfect behavior” and are feeling stressed about “getting the perfect shot for the holiday card” they will be stressed too and it will show. Approach the session like a fun bonding experience for the family. Pick an experienced photographer, prepare, show up and go with the flow. If you can relax, so can the family and you will get great shots.


3.  Get “buy in” from the family.

Telling your spouse and kids they “have to do this for the holiday card” isn’t exactly the best way to get them excited for the session. Talk to them about what the pictures mean to you. Get them excited about capturing images of the family together. Make it a fun experience for the family. Don’t make it something on your “to do list” or they will feel it and might give you a hard time.


4.  Pick a time of day that works best for your kids.

If you have a baby or toddler in the family that naps, that is your first priority when picking your session time. Yes, there are some times that might be best for lighting but if you hire a skilled professional they will make just about any time of day work! What’s most important is that you show up with well-rested and well-fed children. Let the photographer worry about lighting.


5.  Keep your clothing simple.

Solid colors in muted tones are best. The eye is drawn to the brightest area of the photo and the areas with most contrast. You want that to be your face, not your clothing. Also you don’t all have to match–try coordinating your clothes instead. Lay out all the outfits on a bed and make sure they look good together and don’t clash or blend into one.


6.  Don’t wait until the last minute to pick wardrobe.

I have a ton of tips about wardrobe on my blog but the most important thing is to not wait until the last minute. Pull the outfits together with time for you to shop for missing pieces, order bigger shoes for the kids or get clothes from last season dry cleaned.

Make sure the kids like what they will wear too! Don’t throw an outfit at them the day of the shoot and expect them to happily wear it. Otherwise, you might be asking for trouble.


7.  Dress for the weather.

Just like tired or hungry kids, cold children do not photograph well. Do not expect your children to take off their winter coats and “pose for pictures” while freezing. It will show on their faces, in their body language and in their moods. Dressing in layers is best!


8.  Check haircuts and nails ahead of time.

If your little one has a mop on his head, your roots are showing and your daughter has leftover polish on her fingernails, take care of it ahead of time. Don’t expect the photographer to “fix it in Photoshop.” Although some of that is possible, it might be expensive for you and might not look natural either.


9.  Use POSITIVE reinforcement, LOVE and HUMOR to get smiles.

Do not tell your kids to “smile” as that will give you the fake smiles most parents don’t want to see. Follow the photographer’s lead. Use humor and fun games to get them having fun and giving you natural smiles.

If poor behavior is an issue then try distracting them, showering them with affection or doing something totally crazy and unexpected to win them over. Whatever you do, do not scold them or threaten them. It’s unlikely to work and you’ll see it on their faces in the photos.


10. Plan something fun for after your session.

Give them something to look forward to after the session. You can even talk about it during the session when you need to get them back on track. Visit the animals at Ambler Farm, plan a trip to the ice cream shop or a special dinner at their favorite restaurant. Continue the celebration of your family!

Overall, there’s one thing to remember. The perfect holiday card photos are really the bonus from a professional portrait session. The real reward is the images that you will have forever. A little planning in advance will go a long way to the great feeling you’ll have each time you look at them for years to come.

I have a lot more tips on my blog. You can see some of the images I have gotten by applying some of these same tips on my website. And I’ve got more tips just for you if you’re taking your own pictures.


Certified professional photographer Andrea Topalian is a Wilton resident since 2001, a Wilton mom since 2003 and a Wilton family portrait photographer since 2006 (www.momentsbyandrea.com).