The case for yearly family photos

This gallery wall is a house project I’ve had in my head for years, and I finally have enough high quality photos to fill up our wall space. As I look at these pictures, I’m struck by how faithful God has been over the years to provide for us in each season. I’m also struck by how well-rested we look in our wedding photo!

I’ve made it a point to have professional photos taken every year since we were engaged. Time moves so quickly, and I want to commemorate each year together as something to celebrate. We skipped 2018 because we had unexpected job loss that made it financially unwise, but we made up for it the following year by booking two shoots throughout my pregnancy. These photos are treasures to me, and I encourage you to prioritize documenting your family in photos. During my time in Lexington, I was lucky enough to work for an incredible photographer and I learned so much from watching her work magic. (Lexington area friends, Kelsey Malicote is the GOAT!) Here are some tips to make yearly family photos happen!

Put it in the budget: Andrew was initially reluctant about annual photos due to the cost. Thankfully, he trusts me, so when I’m really passionate about something, he’s willing to try it. We got our first family photos taken when Lyla was five months old, and he immediately said, “This is the best money we’ve ever spent.” As long as you’re working with a trustworthy, professional photographer whose work you love, you will never regret having photos of your family. Even if you don’t have kids yet, you’re a family of two! I love looking back on our newlywed photos and having them to share with Lyla one day. If you go into your budgeting with the mindset that you’re going to book photos each year, you can set the money aside in whatever way works best for you. Save up over time, transfer a lump sum to savings so it doesn’t get spent, designate it in your Excel sheet…whatever you need to do. If you want to make family photos a priority, be willing to make them an investment.

Make it a date: Once you’ve budgeted for photos, consider when you’ll schedule them. Every household is different so there’s no one size fits all answer. What makes the most sense for your family? Consider making this your yearly Mother’s Day present and book photos in May every year. Do you want to have a standing Christmas card photo shoot? Maybe late fall would work best. Does your family take a yearly beach vacation? Perhaps there’s a local photographer who could capture those memories each year. If you want a variety of settings/backdrops, maybe you’d like to choose a different season every year. Think about what milestones or special events your family has coming up and let that inform when you choose to book your photo shoot.

Find your person: Do not…and I cannot stress this enough…cheap out on this. The old adage, “You get what you pay for” is never truer than in professional photography. Trust me; there are some bad ones out there. None of your forethought and preparation will matter if you don’t like your photos. Research photographers in your area. Look at their work online. Pay attention to the photos your friends post and display in their home. If they have beautiful photos, ask who took them. Once you find someone you love, reach out to them and get your session booked. Don’t put it off! Professional photography is an industry that never sleeps, and chances are the good ones in your area book up quickly and well in advance.

Set yourself up for success: As you work out the details of your session, be realistic. During my time as a studio assistant, I cannot tell you the number of photo shoots I culled where it was clear the subjects thought putting a camera on their family would somehow alter reality. If your dog is jumpy and wild, don’t bring him. If your toddler usually naps at noon, don’t book your session for 12:30. If your baby hates grass, book a studio session instead of an outdoor location. In short, use common sense. Don’t live in a fantasy world. Ask yourself, what is the best use of this valuable opportunity? Do I desperately need a photo that includes my three dogs, cat, and all of my family members? (Y’all. You don’t.) Or would I rather stand a chance at a photo where everyone is looking at the camera? A great photographer can get the shot no matter the challenges, but I promise you will have way more photos to choose from if you keep it simple.

Another way to ensure the shoot will be a success is to be realistic about what your photo subjects can handle. Do you have small children? Opt for a mini session. They’re less expensive and will be over before attention spans run out. Don’t dress them in itchy, uncomfortable outfits. Make sure they’re well rested, well fed, and offer a post photo shoot reward (read: bribe) if necessary. Make sure you stay true to your word and you’ll stand a better chance at cooperation in the future. The less you torture them, the more likely they are to smile.

What to wear: This is probably the element of family photos that causes people the most stress. The effort to get everyone dressed well, out the door, and to the shoot location on time and without blemish is enormous. To get the most out of your session, think carefully about what you’ll wear, but don’t obsess. Think simple and timeless. Where will you hang these photos? Let that inform the color palette. Is your home mostly neutral? Have your family dress in neutrals. Are these photos going to hang in your blue and green living room? Consider a blue and green color palette for everyone’s outfits. You don’t have to match perfectly, in fact that look is pretty dated. Choose pretty colors that look good together, avoid too many patterns, and be true to your style. This is not the time to make a bold, out of character style choice or wear something you’ve never tried on before. Opt for a tried and true outfit, or buy something new ahead of time so you have time to try it on and make sure you’re comfortable in it.

The most important thing to remember about family photos is, this is not an effort to trick people into thinking you’re perfect. It’s an opportunity to capture who you are in this moment in time. Screaming at your entire family 15 minutes before the shoot isn’t going to make for great memories or great photos. If you follow the advice I’ve shared here, you can minimize the stress of this often overwhelming task. If you find yourself wishing you could freeze time, wanting to look at your people in each of their phases, use these tips to make yearly family photos a part of your family’s rhythm.

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