Family Photo Etiquette

A picture can say a thousand words…but so can a screaming child at a poorly planned family photo session. So before you pick out your matching outfits, follow Modern Manners Guy’s 3 tips for a painless photo session.

Richie Frieman
6-minute read
Episode #220

Family Photo Etiquette

by Richie Frieman  

This past weekend I took my entire family to lovely Boca Raton, Florida for my mom’s 60th birthday extravaganza. And what an event it was: food, music, family, and, of course, photos. Prior to the big bash, all 30 family members met on the beach for some photo ops that my mom had generously planned. With the sun quickly setting on the horizon and various family members of all ages getting antsy, the photographer did his best to make sure all the shots came out just right. And they were picture perfect.

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However, it doesn’t matter if you have the best family in the world, or are the result of a Kelly Bundy and Bart Simpson union, every family photo session has its ups and downs. So before you iron those matching shirts and put enough gel to withstand a Florida hurricane, check out my top 3 Quick and Dirty Tips for painless family photos:

Tip #1: Timing and Planning Are Key

In my tenure as Modern Manners Guy, I often stress the importance of planning and timing. When going to a wedding, plan accordingly to be on time. Got a date? Plan to be on time. Job interview? Be. On. Time!

Similarly, timing is a key element in a successful family photo session. For example, my friend hired a fancy photographer to take family photos of his family while they were on vacation. He had everything planned—the location, the theme, the clothes, the props, you name it. The one thing he forgot to plan for was the weather. Now, I know that on any given day the weather can go from sunshine and rainbows to storm clouds and lightning with little notice, but as Everyday Einstein will tell you, weather forecasts tend to be pretty accurate nowadays.

So if you make plans a week or two ahead of schedule, you have to be prepared to deal with unexpected weather. Counting on doing something based on good weather is an improper (and foolhardy) way to plan an event – especially something as important as family photos. My friend wanted the fun beach photos with his family, right as the sun was setting. But he neglected to check the weather forecast and didn’t have a Plan B. Of course, when a storm came rolling through an hour before the photo shoot, he was shocked and his dream day was ruined.

I don't want to throw my buddy under the bus, but had he simply checked the weather – which is easy to do with a number of smartphone apps – and come up with a Plan B, he could have avoided the disappointment altogether. Properly planning for a family photo is just as critical as planning on everyone wearing matching outfits. But I promise you, if everyone's hair and clothes are ruined by the rain, the only thing matching in the family photos will be their angry faces.

So always check the weather and have a back up plan. Even ask the photographer if you can postpone in advance, in case you both decide that the chosen day won't work because of something that’s out of your hands.

Tip #2: Kids Will Be Kids…Always

As I said before, the matching outfits are great, but making sure the kids wear what you want is about the only battle you will have a shot of winning. Will they actually smile for the photo? Maybe. Maybe not. Will they be antsy and want it to be over? Absolutely. Whether it's a baby crying or looking away, or a toddler more fascinated by the props than the camera, or the surly teenager who insists on texting like it's his lifeline, kids will be kids…always. This, my friends, is something you cannot plan on – you can only hope to work with.

My kids are angels – of course they are. But there is no guarantee that my 4-month-old won't cry or spit up. As well, being only 4 months old, he's yet to understand the concept of "holding it in," so accidents will happen at any time. And my toddler is about as awesome as it gets but she's still a toddler, so who’s to say she won't get tired or just happen to sit down in something that stains her dress? Happens all the time. Working with kids in any capacity – let alone a family photo – is not only a part of being a parent, it's an art form.

When you are going to take photos of kids, you have to make sure to work around their schedule and get them in and out as quickly as possible. For example, at the family photos this past weekend, my mom – aka, The Wedding Maven of South Florida – planned the photo shoot close to bedtime, but not so late that it would push some of the smaller kids over their limit. Plus, we prepared. We had the bottles ready, the diaper bag packed, and enough snacks for the toddlers to tide them over until dinner. As well, since their attention spans and patience is limited, the kids were the first to pose in front of the camera. And wouldn't you know it, they were fine. Sure, they wanted to play rather than take photos and of course when you tell them to smile over and over again, they only get more unruly, but it's to be expected. We were all kids and we all hated getting our pictures taken. Call it the circle of life.

Tip #3: Let the Photographer Do Their Job

Every family has a know-it-all. Some families have more than one. And whether we like it or not, this "genius" feels that they can do it all much better than anyone else, regardless of the task at hand. I was in a wedding once when one of the aunts openly offered her opinions to the photographer. Granted, I never met this photographer but since the bride's father shelled out a few grand for him, he probably knew his way around a flash. However, this particular aunt thought she knew better. You know, because since she posts snapshots of her grandkids to Facebook every day, she must be the next great photographer. So as the photographer was jockeying for the best light and climbing on a ladder for a cool shot, this aunt kept saying that the other side of the room was better She even yelled out, "Wait, wait, wait. Everyone stop!" because she thought that the bride's hair needed to be fixed. It didn't. And the most annoying thing was that she consistently took a photo at the same time as the photographer, so her flash interfered with his.

When it comes to hiring a photographer to take your family’s photos, hire one you trust and trust their judgment. Sure, you can discuss your preferences in advance, but don't boss them around. Yes, you are paying them, but they do this every day of their lives. They know what works best. If they tell you to tilt your head up, do it. If they say that the lighting is better in one spot over another, than trust their call. And like the intrusive aunt from the wedding, unless you are a photographer and can actually talk shop, keep your mouth shut. Nine times out of ten, the extra help will only annoy the photographer even more. Work with them, not against them. Don't act like you know better…you don't!

Do you have a great story about a crazy family photo session? Post all the details in the Comments section below or on the Modern Manners Guy Facebook page.

As always, if you have another manners question, I look forward to hearing from you at manners@quickanddirtytips.com. Follow me on Twitter @MannersQDT, and of course, check back next week for more Modern Manners Guy’s tips for a polite life.

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Girl caught in the rain, Angry Teen and Family Wedding Photo images courtesy of Shutterstock