How a Professional Photo Shoot Works

By Rachel Castro /

Holiday photo cards have become the most popular way to share a family update during the holiday season. Whether it’s a gorgeous family portrait or a hilarious outtake, the photo is the first thing you notice on a holiday card. The second thing you notice is quality.

Spoiler alert: If you want your holiday card to be awesome – even laugh-out-loud awesome – it’s a great choice to hire a professional photographer.

Working with a professional photographer allows you to get in the photo, instead of behind the camera. It also gives you the chance to document your family at a moment in time with a high-quality keepsake.

Selecting a Photographer

There are several types of family photography, such as portrait, lifestyle and documentary photography. To choose your favorite photography style, think about the types of photos you’d love to see on your walls. Then, consider the style of photo that you want for your holiday card. To get the most out of your time and investment, ideally your holiday card photo will end up as a framed print that you can enjoy all year.

Next, find a photographer who specializes in your photography style by asking friends or searching a network such as the National Association of Professional Child Photographers (  Your goal is to find a photographer whose work and style you enjoy. NAPCP has an extensive list of highly qualified photographers who are searchable by location (click here to see the directly). It’s a great place to start.

Portrait Photography: If you envision your children smiling at the camera, look for someone who specializes in portraits.

Lifestyle Photography: If you want a picture of your family laughing, perhaps outdoors or at your home, search for lifestyle photographers.

Documentary Photography: If you want an image of your family baking holiday cookies, plan a documentary-focused session with a lifestyle photographer.


Contacting a Photographer

Most photographers will want to know more about you– your family, your style, your wants, your vision. That’s a great thing. Professional photographers want to make sure that they can meet your needs. Be as specific as possible about your goals for your photo session.

Every photographer has a different process for finalizing and delivering your images so it’s important to discuss this during the hiring phase. Some photographers sell only print products, some sell digital images and some have combination packages. Make sure you hire a photographer who offers the products you want.

Scheduling Your Family Session

Most professional photographers book family sessions several months in advance, especially during the busy season leading up to the holidays.

If you want to take your photos in the fall when the leaves are changing and back to school excitement is in the air, you should contact a photographer during the late summer. To lower stress and get your holiday cards ordered early, you can also take advantage of the summer months and book in the spring.

Plan your family photo shoot at the best time of the year for you and your family. There are pros and cons to all seasons. The only bad time is never.


Photo Shoot Preparations

Once you select a photographer, it’s time to start thinking about your specific session: what to wear, the time of day, the location.

What to Wear

What to wear is always the number one concern. Most photographers will have tips and sample palettes for you to review. You can also turn to Pinterest to search for inspiration. Dressing a family for pictures feels overwhelming, but it shouldn’t be and it doesn’t have to break the bank. Professional photographers know how to guide you. If you have questions, make sure that you ask your photographer while planning your session.

Time of Day

When scheduling your session, it’s very important to think about the time of day that works best for your family. For example, most sessions with kids three and under happen in the morning. Young children are simply happier and more animated at the start of the day. Families with older kids usually need late afternoon session times because of sports and other daytime activities. Your photographer will advise you on the perfect timing for your family and then offer the best location options.

Location. Location. Location.

The first decision in selecting a location is whether or not you want to have pictures taken at home or elsewhere. Professional photographers usually have extensive lists of locations they love based on time of day, lighting conditions, seasonal color and more.  Locations range from natural green parks to urban city spaces with lots of farms, fields and funky spots in-between.

A great way to determine locations that appeal to you is to look through your photographer’s blog posts, or ask for sample images from those locations.


What To Expect During the Shoot

The day is here. You are antsy because you want everyone to rock the session but your kids are already acting like wild animals. What to do? Relax.

At this point, the best thing you can do is not stress. Just have fun and let the photographer handle your kids. Professional photographers expect silliness and even shy moments. You have hired a professional because of their experience and in these moments, a professional photographer will make everything work.

Your session will last approximately an hour. Seasoned photographers can tell when kids (and parents) are running out of steam.


Final Advice

As you can tell, scheduling a family photo shoot is a process. Take it step-by-step and you will be rewarded with wonderful photos that capture your moment in time.

1. Decide what photography style you like best. Find and contact a photographer in your local area. Use professional search networks like to make it easy to find professional and seasoned photographers.

2. Schedule and prepare for your shoot. Consider the time, day, location and clothing choices for your session. Lean on your photographer for their advice.

3. Have fun. Enjoy your session. Whether it’s laid back or hectic, your photos will capture your moment in time. And, years from now, you will look back on those moments with joy.

Abbe McCracken is a natural-light, portrait and lifestyle photographer serving Charlotte, NC and the surrounding areas. She specializes in family, child and event photography. Abbe is a member of the National Association of Professional Child Photographers and is the 2015 winner of Charlotte Smarty Pants’ Best Family Photographer, Hulafrog South Charlotte’s Most Loved Family Photographer and Charlotte Parent Readers’ Favorite Family Photographer.

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