Tips On Having A Successful Family Photo Shoot

Portrait and family photographer Lisa Gill shares her top tips on having a successful photo shoot.

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Lisa Gill Photography 1
Photo by Lisa Gill

Portrait and family photographer Lisa Gill shares her top tips for having a successful family photo shoot.

Preparation Tips

If you’re going outdoors for your shoot, it’s worth doing your homework to find suitable places – there are lots of things which need consideration, especially if children are involved. First of all, try to avoid areas with busy roads. Fields and parks are a great idea as the children will relish the chance to run around safely and have fun. We also go for the more unusual locations such as industrial estates as these often make our photographs very unique.

Secondly, remember that the family should be the main focus of your shots, so try to stay away from overcrowded public places where people may get in the way. Plan at least four different shooting spaces that are close to each other so your clients won’t have to travel around too much on the day.

In terms of studio preparation, we always plan for 3 to 4 different styles of shots for variety. Some examples include:
  • Sitting the family on a grand sofa by a window
  • By the studio doorway with great natural light
  • Using a range of props, like some old suitcases for the kids to sit on
Lisa Gill Photography Photo by Lisa Gill

Poses And Props

We love beautiful natural photography and for that we want the children and parents to be relaxed, so we always take the little ones for a run around. This lets the parents grab 10 minutes of peace and quiet. Whilst they look on from a distance it allows us to build a rapport with the children, to have some fun and to help them realise that this is going to be fun.

Throughout all of this we’re taking pictures, and you find by the end of it the children seem to have burnt off a bit of nervous energy and almost forgotten we have big cameras in our hands. This part of an outdoor shoot is very relaxed so there’s not a lot of posing, although we are always aware of what is behind them and where the light is, so that all the natural pictures we take are beautifully lit with nice backdrops.

In a studio we often start with natural daylight and depending on the age of the child, one fixed position like on a big chair is usually perfect. We sit them down away from their parents and engage with them, and chat about school and their friends if they are old enough. By now they usually become relaxed again and forget about the cameras.

Once we have the children on our side we can be more directional - we often intersperse more formal styled family poses with natural ones where the children don’t feel under pressure. We move between these two types of photography throughout the shoot. Outdoors styling and props may include sitting in front of lovely backdrops like nice containers or old doors. We have even had kiddies sitting in front of old skips and all sorts. The parents sometimes think we are crazy until they see the pictures, and then they understand.

We use anything we find, from fallen logs in woodland areas to benches and fences in parks – basically anything that creates a focal point in the images. Be sure to use these readymade props as they often bring in perspective and an extra layer of personality to the photographs.

Lisa Gill Photography 2
Photo by Lisa Gill


When shooting outdoors we suggest taking blankets with you as some kiddies and parents are likely to be squeamish about getting dirty when sitting on the floor. We also recommend they take wellington boots because shoes and stilettos aren’t ideal attire!

For studio shoots ask your clients to bring a selection of outfits for each family member, as well as favourite toys, teddies or even musical instruments for older children. This allows you to personalise the shoot and also brings variety to the final images.

Dealing With Restless Children

Children have relatively short attention spans, so keep things moving and changing as much as possible. If they are getting restless and not complying, don’t sit there while mum or dad frantically tries to bribe the child! Reassure the parents that this is fine, and change something to keep the little ones engaged – run around with them again, play a game, change the backdrop if in the studio.

One point I can’t emphasise enough is this – know when to stop. No matter how much everyone is enjoying the day, inevitably your clients will get tired at some point, especially when children are involved. If the children are unhappy and the parents stressed, call it a day, even if you didn’t yet get round to something you wanted to do. Why? Because the feelings they have when they leave are the feelings they’ll be telling their friends about. You want them to be happy!

Lisa Gill Photography is a professional photography studio and training provider in Buckinghamshire, UK. Started by Lisa Gill in 2008, the studio specialises in several types of photography, with family portraiture being one of them.

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